Think that taking online classes is a cake walk? Study from home. Work at your own schedule. No one ticking off your attendance. No pesky instructors staring you down while you squirm in your chair and stutter to explain the symbolism of Moby Dick.
Maybe so. But taking classes online also includes a number of challenges that force students to become more responsible for their own time and their own learning. Showing up to class and pretending not to sleep won’t cut it in a virtual environment.
Here are a few tips for being successful in an online class:
1. Manage your time effectively. Most online courses only require that assignments are turned in by a certain date and time, but they do not require students to be logged in at a specific time or to be “in class.” Therefore, students have the flexibility to complete assignments and study the material at a time that is convenient for them (assuming that deadlines are met). Determining your schedule depends on your circumstances: Would you prefer to study in the morning or at night? What are your work or family obligations, and where can study fit in to that schedule? Without the demands of a set schedule, it can be easy to postpone study and to fall behind. Managing your time and being self-disciplined will help you to succeed.
2. Create a study space. Just as you need to set a schedule for study, you also need to create a place to study. The benefits of studying at home mean that you can do it anywhere. The drawbacks of studying at home are that … you can do it anywhere. It’s easy to plop down in front of the t.v. or to turn on some music or chat with a friend while you are supposed to be studying or finishing an assignment. Those are distractions that will easily cause you to fall behind if you’re not careful. It’s best to set aside a space where you can concentrate and be free of distractions. If that’s not home, then take your laptop to a local coffee shop, or haul your books to the library. Do whatever you need to do to ensure that you can do your best.
3. Hone written communication skills. You can’t just raise your hand and struggle through your responses with “Well, you know, it’s like…” All of your responses and discussions will take place virtually, which means typed out on a keyboard. Give thoughtful consideration to your responses before you send them, as these will likely count towards what would be a traditional participation grade. Also remember that you won’t any one-on-one personal interaction with your instructor, which means that whatever impression you make will be down through writing. Consider your message carefully.
4. Ask for support. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, or to take advantage of support services. You can’t meekly ask your teacher your question as you’re running out the door at the end of class one day. You have to speak up and be assertive when you need help, and you have to seek out the answers to your questions. Instructors are always available through e-mail, and many are available by phone. Other supports services are also available online, including registration, financial aid, academic support, and more.
5. Balance personal responsibilities. Just because you can work on your own schedule doesn’t necessarily mean that you can then fill up your time with work or family responsibilities. Don’t take on overtime if you don’t need to, don’t volunteer to be your child’s Little League coach, don’t volunteer to lead that committee. Be sure that you have the time to fulfill all of your obligations, and be sure to make your study a priority. You are making an investment in your future.
6. Be a good team player. Online learning usually involves a lot of collaborative study, and you will be given a lot of group assignments. Learn how to communicate effectively and work together in a group. This is a skill that will serve you well long after you graduate!
7. Have or develop technical savvy. Obviously, having access to and knowing how to use both a computer and the Internet is essential. But it helps to have some familiarity and ease with technology, as there are bound to be some glitches along the way, which will require your patience, at the least, and possibly your knowledge and resourcefulness to fix.
8. Have good family support. Starting a degree program is a big undertaking — whether online or in a traditional classroom setting. Family support is crucial to success, as students will often need support, in the form of encouragement, or help, or even just confidence in their ability. For an online program, it is also important to get family support in terms of recognizing “class time” and not intruding on that and giving it the full respect it needs.
9. Put in what you want to get out. As with any study program, you will get out of it what you put into it. If you put in hard work and long hours studying, you will not only be successful in your program, but also in the industry in which you choose to work. You will be better prepared for the job market and the task at hand. Treat an online program with the same respect you would a traditional campus-based program: You are learning the same information and the same skills, regardless of the format.
10. Have an open mind. The format of your degree program may take some getting used to at first. Online learning is still relatively new, and many people (including the students) may not give it the respect that it deserves. Know that you can receive the same quality of education through an online degree, and that employers will respect the degree you earn.