What You Need to Know About Online Learning

by on January 10th, 2011
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When I decided to attend college online full time I was told by many people that taking an online class is difficult and that I might not do very well. I was told that you should not try going online full time without ever having taken any online classes. When registering for classes I was almost denied the 16 credit load I wanted to take because the registrar was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I ignored them all and two years later I am set to graduate in the spring with honors. I believe that online schooling is an innovative and convenient way to learn. However there are a few things that you should know before taking this route.

1. You must be extremely organized. It takes a lot of organization to be able to go to school online. You have to be able to track all of the due dates. Most professors give you a week or two to get each assignment done, which means they are not very forgiving when you miss a deadline. The best approach is to buy a day planner that has a column for each day and then right down every assignment on the due date. I actually prefer a planner that show an entire week at once, that way I can just look and see what is due when.
2. You need to be technologically savvy. If you are not able to deal with technology proficiently then online schooling is not for you. You need you own computer. Your own computer is essential because it gives you a private space to work one that doesn’t contain other people’s digital clutter. You also need to be able to effectively use a search engine. If you cannot find information on the internet then online learning is likely not for you. You need to be able to deal with the headaches that come with technology, when a site crashes don’t panic. Blackboard, a commonly used online format, crashes periodically and your teachers will understand just tell them.
3. You need to be able to express yourself through your writing. One of the most important skill an online student needs is the ability to express themselves through there writing. This is because writing is the only way that you have to communicate with your professor and the rest of your class. Most online teachers require weekly discussions about the material. These discussions are set up like an online forum where students come in at different times and post. This means that you need to be able to post your thoughts intelligently and clearly. You also need to be able to remember to log on and check the discussion boards periodically throughout the week.
4. You need to be comfortable reading. Online classes involve a lot of reading, in fact they are almost purely reading. You read your teachers lessons on the subject matter, you read your classmates comments, and you read the textbook. You must be comfortable reading, and comprehending, a lot of information. You also need to be comfortable reading for long periods of time. For each semester there is a lot of information, and it all comes at you through the written word. If you are not comfortable learning through reading then I would suggest a traditional class.
5. You have to have Microsoft Office. Many colleges will tell you that any word processors will work- it isn’t true. I went through an entire semester struggling with Open Office. The truth is all of your professors will have Office and you need it to. The way my courses were set up, I was required to upload my documents to the website my classes were hosted on then my teacher would download them. Somewhere in the process my formatting got messed up- this is really bad if you are taking English 101 online. So I stress you need Microsoft Office.
6. You need to be willing to ask questions. This is something that is very important in an online class. You need to be willing to ask about everything that you don’t understand. In a traditional classroom you can listen to the teacher’s response to other students’ questions, this is not the case in online classrooms. Even if it feels like a stupid question, ask it anyway if you don’t understand the material you will not do well. Most teachers like being asked questions in online classes, so ask away!
7. You need to be independent. This is the most important thing you need to be successful in an online environment. Online classes are not teacher centered like traditional classes are- they are student centered. This means that you are responsible for doing, and submitting, all of the homework. The teacher will not be there to explain something you don’t understand, you can always ask questions but the answers will not be immediate like they are in a traditional classroom. You will need the ability to sit down and make yourself do your work, because there is not a teacher there every week to remind you. You need to remember all of your due dates, again because the teacher is not there in class reminding you. Independent learning is key to online success.

In the last two years I have come to realize that online is definitely not for everyone. There are many different types of learners and some are simply not compatible with the online format. However if you are motivated and willing to apply yourself then online schooling can be a convenient way to obtain an education. There are an increasing number of accredited colleges who are offering online classes in many different fields. Full time online attendance also tends to be cheaper because you do not have to pay for gas to get there. Online learning is a great alternative to a traditional classroom but not everyone is suited to the environment, so do your homework and look into all of your options before you make any decisions about college.

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