Thursday, August 08, 2013

Are You Ready for Online Learning?

computer lab
Educators will often discuss the barriers to online education without considering what a student would need to do to overcome those barriers. The typical answer to "are you ready for online education?" is "online education isn't for everyone." As someone who has taught English at all levels, face-to-face and online, I could not disagree with this more.

If you are new to online learning, you might be wondering what skills you will need to be successful in your online classes. Students are often surprised at the fact that they already have some of the main skills it takes to be successful as an online student. Many of the skills that you need to take online classes you can learn as you take the classes; there are, however, some differences. The seven factors below are some of the considerations you may want to keep in mind as you take online classes.

1. Time Management
Time management is very important in online courses; be sure to download the course calendar and keep it near your computer. Keep "to-do" lists and take advantage of any calendar and alarm functions on your phone or computer. You can use online calendars like Google Calendar. Take some time to develop a system. Students tend to take online classes because they want to take advantage of the flexibility it gives their schedule.

 2. Academic Rigor
Often, students new to online classes expect them to be easier than face-to-face classes. Classes online are just as academically rigorous as face-to-face. Online classes require the same amount of effort as traditional courses, sometimes more; the convenience is that you can select (to an extent) when you show up in the course environment. They may require a little more for some students as they learn the technology. Online courses can rely heavily on reading assignments, written lecture, and written communication in groups. If you learn best by reading, then you have an advantage in an online environment.

3. Communication Skills
Online classes are primarily text-based environments. Communicating online lacks the visual cues we are all used to in conversations; be specific when you ask questions and don't assume that someone else can tell when you are joking. Remember to take a few moments to check spelling and grammar, as this it will affect the impression you create with your peers and instructor.

4. Technology Skills
You do not have to be an expert in technology to be successful in an online class. You should be comfortable navigating the internet, using email, and attaching documents to email. Technology skills are not a barrier to your success: just as you learned how to be a face-to-face student, you can learn to be an online student. Be sure to check out the minimum technology requirements recommended by your school's distance education department. As you take online classes you will become more comfortable with online technology. You can't "break" anything in your online class. Go ahead and click all the buttons and get use to the environment. Take the time to find out what kind of tech support is available to you and keep that information handy.

5. Networking Skills
Online learning is a social environment. Participate in your class. Online learning is about connections you will make with your instructor, your fellow students and the course content. Take some time to read about your instructor in the faculty area, and be sure to ask for a face-to-face or virtual office hour if you feel you aren't getting the information you need in the online environment.  Be sure to give some extra effort to all the group activities, discussion forums, or social lounges offered in the course. The real learning in your online courses comes in the connections you make with your instructor, fellow students and the content of the class. Use social media like Twitter and Facebook to help other students create learning networks - study groups and connections that will follow you throughout your academic and professional career.

6. Critical Thinking Skills
The same kind of critical thinking skills that are required in paper-based research is required online. You will need to remember that not all sources on the internet are equal as far as academic credibility is concerned. The same citation questions for paper-based research apply online: what are the author's credentials? What is the author's purpose in writing? Is the author an expert in his or her field? Remember that as an online student, you have access to a librarian for guidance by phone or email. Consult your college webpage for the reference librarian's contact information. Your college may even have a librarian that specializes in online learning or internet research.

 7. Motivation
The habits that you developed to be a successful face-to-face student are also required in online learning. Online learning requires a little more discipline. Online classes are generally not to self-paced classes and participation can be a major factor in your success as an online student. Typically, as an online student, you will need to check in with your class at least three times a week and take time to do your assignments completely and thoughtfully. Ask questions if you do not understand an assignment. Go into the discussion forums and see if there are students forming study groups (or form one yourself). Set course and personal goals in your calendar and don’t forget to reward yourself or celebrate your accomplishments. Remind yourself why you are taking classes online and keep fixed on your goals.

By keeping in mind these seven factors, any student can successfully take online courses.
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