College students new to taking online classes can easily buy into the misconception that they will be simply- an easy “A,” a walk in the park. While online classes aren’t necessarily more difficult than traditional ones, they differ in important ways. The same techniques students have used to be successful in the traditional classroom may not be as effective in online classes, but rather, other skill sets will become more important to successful learning. As an online college instructor, I can speak from experience when I say that students who succeed in online classes come prepared to work independently, stay organized and focus on self-motivation. Of course, these traits are also important in the traditional classroom, but not to the extent that they are in online classes
. Review the technical requirements
Each university that offers online classes has a set of technical requirements that students must meet to participate fully in the class. Besides the obvious easy access to a computer, software programs such as Java, Adobe, Microsoft Office, Flash, etc. are usually required. Before you begin online classes, make sure that you double-check that you have all of the latest updates and software that you will need for the class. If you don’t have easy access to some of these items, you would be better off attaining them before you register for online classes. Colleges have these requirements in place because without them, students simply cannot be successful in online classes. “My dog ate my homework” has been replaced with “My computer crashed.” And, this excuse goes over about as well as the original. You must be ready for the unexpected to happen by having a plan B in place. I suggest to my students that they learn the hours, availability and requirements for using computers, printers, scanners, etc. at the local public and university libraries, as well as the college’s computer labs, just in case. Hopefully you will have no technical glitches, but knowing that if you do, you know what action to take will go a long way towards making you more comfortable in the online classroom environment.
Every semester I get emails from students that begin, “I hate to bother you, but…,” and my reply is that it is my job to be asked questions! Some students feel isolated when taking online classes; they feel they don’t have as much interaction with their professors, so a good deal of their questions go unanswered. Don’t be shy about “bothering” your professor with questions via email! That is part of their job, and they love hearing from students. They would much rather answer a few questions and have students learn than to have students do poorly because they didn’t get the information they needed. If you aren’t clear about something, you have to ask, because, unlike in the traditional classroom, you won’t know if another student asks the same question.
Join Optional Live Chats
Online classes often include various optional chats, webinars or presentations during the semester. As an online instructor, I do a couple of these each semester, centering them around assignments that students typically have a lot of questions about. Even if a live session is optional and no points are involved, do your best to make it fit into your schedule. It’s a great time to get questions answered and interact with others who are in the class too. Attendance also makes a good impression on your professor-they definitely notice the students who make an extra effort to learn.
Review Assignments Early
Certainly you should do this in a traditional class also, but it is even more important in online classes. The reason is because you may not have access to the professor if you wait until right before an assignment is due to get feedback or clarity. Students often think that since their class is available 24/7, so is the instructor. But of course, that isn’t the case. Add to that the fact that your professor might live in a different time zone than you do…maybe even in another part of the world. Advisably, it is best to ask questions about assignments or material as soon as they come up. Carefully reviewing assignments days before they are due will make your experience much less stressful.
Use Standard English
Think about it: There is going to be a lot more writing in an online class. Writing will be the way you communicate with all members of the class. Rather than charming the professor with your witty verbal retorts, you need to write coherently so that your meaning is understood by all. In a traditional class, people can ask you what you mean if they are unclear, but it’s a whole new ballgame in online classes.
Having said that, it’s important for students stay diligent in using formal, standard English
in the online classroom, even in “informal” situations. The only impression that your professor and peers get of you comes from your words and the way in which you formulate your ideas. Even in emails or discussion board postings, don’t ignore the basic structures of English, such as using complete sentences, proper capitalization and correct punctuation.
Read All Supplemental Materials
Interestingly enough, many times students think that taking online classes will be time-saving because they won’t have to show up in a classroom several times a week. But in reality, the “lectures” are still a part of online classes, they just come in different formats. Professors often add multiple types of supplemental materials so that all students, no matter what their learning style, will comprehend the material. Not only are these supplements more enjoyable than reading from the textbook, having several ways in which to take in material makes it stick with you longer and more completely. Take advantage of all of the supplemental materials that your professor includes in each section or unit. There is a purpose for each particular video, audio or PowerPoints
in the class modules, and you will miss out on important information that may be vital to successfully completing the class if they are ignored.
Schedule Your Time
As students don’t have to be in the classroom at a particular time every week, completing the classwork for online classes can easily get pushed to the back burner and forgotten about. It’s especially important that students schedule specific blocks of time for working on their online classes. Add “class time” to your weekly schedule and stick to it, just like if you had to show up to a class. That way, you will stay on top of the required work. College classes move quickly and it can be tough to get caught up if you get behind. Little-known fact: Many online class platforms allow students to add their own personal schedules privately into the class calendar. This is a marvelous way to keep track of assignments and your other responsibilities all in one location.
Respond In Meaningful Ways
“Great post, Susie” is not a significant comment made in response to a peer’s discussion board posting. Take time to mindfully craft your discussion posts and responses to demonstrate that you understand and can apply the material under investigation. Sometimes students see the discussion board as a boring way to earn points in the class and nothing more. But this tool affords students an opportunity to really dig into a topic, like they would in a brick and mortar classroom. If taken advantage of, discussion boards are places where learning and connections happen.
Engage With Peers
Friendship and learning (and sometimes even romance) transpires in those times before and after a class session begins. These conversations start naturally, but in online classes, these “chance” meetings have to be consciously sought out. Most online classroom environments provide students the necessary tools to chat with one another privately, similar to private messaging on Facebook, Gmail or Skype.
Striking up conversations with peers can help with the isolation that some students feel when they take online classes. It’s also a way to increase learning, since most of us learn best from peers. Ask questions, explain material, chat about the class…all of these things support learning in online classes. Online education is a fabulous way to gain access to college, that is clear. But perhaps the most important consideration that should be made before registering for online classes is this: Am I a good candidate for online learning? Not all types of learning work for all students, and I’m a firm believer that online classes are not for everyone. Some people don’t do well with little structure. Some people need physical interaction with their professors and peers. There is nothing wrong with that! Questioning your personal strengths and personality are essential before registering for online classes
so that you set yourself up in the right learning atmosphere for your success.