"Learning in an online environment is quite the adjustment if you've never experienced the platform before."
Distance learning is a trend that has rapidly expanded in recent years. Reports by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System indicate that nearly 5.5 million had enrolled in at least one online course in 2012, and an additional 2.6 million students were enrolled in fully online programs—and there’s significant evidence that suggests this number will only continue to increase in years to come, some even arguing that schools might someday be completely online. Online courses are even becoming more common in high schools and for professional development.
While online classrooms offer students flexibility, increased contact with professors and teachers, and additional time to review course materials, online learning is not without its own challenges. In fact, the learning in an online environment is quite an adjustment if you’ve never experienced the platform before, and special preparations are necessary in order to avoid online learning mistakes.
If you are considering pursuing a degree, or even taking a few courses in an online learning platform, here are a three essential steps you can take to ensure your success.
Step One: Plan and Stick to a Schedule
While online courses do offer students flexibility, it’s important that students create and stick to a reliable schedule for completing their coursework. As you grow to understand the expectations for your courses, take note of how long it takes you to understand the reading material, how long and how frequently you are expected to participate in group discussions, and how long completing exams and quizzes takes you.
Once you have a grasp of this information, spread the workload out throughout your week, month, and semester, so you have enough time to complete the coursework before major due dates and exams.
Step Two: Make the Most of Online Group Discussions
Without being a part of the traditional classroom, students can feel isolated or feel like they’re going through the process alone. Participating in online discussions and chat rooms is the easiest way to beat the isolation blues, and can give you added insight into the thoughts of your peers. Some professors go so far as to argue that online engagement can be even more productive than an in- person environment.
“They’re very dynamic discussions. In a class of 12 people, we might have a discussion question on reading a particular article of how a business has developed a sustainability plan…And out of 12 students, there’ll be a hundred different comments…they’re extensive,” notes Paul Ventura, Acting Director of the School of Business at Marylhurst University. “Our students are literally talking books. They’re bringing in resources. They’re bringing in links to videos–things that you can’t do in a spontaneous classroom.”
Step Three: Optimize Your Workspace
Online learning can be done in nearly any location, but optimizing your workspace will allow you to fully immerse yourself in learning materials and make the most of your busy schedule. Try to locate a quiet, dedicated space where you can surround yourself with no distractions.
Online learning also comes with the temptation to view distracting websites. In order to remain productive during your study hours, try using extensions or apps to block distracting websites.
The expanding presence of online learning is certainly exciting for students of all ages who are looking for more flexible, accessible, and affordable learning opportunities. For many students, however, learning in an online platform requires a new, unfamiliar set of skills, as well as a level of autonomy not found in a traditional setting. By simply keeping these three tips in mind, any student will be well prepared to transition into this new, exciting environment.
About the Author:
Danika McClure is a writer from the Northwest who enjoys covering politics and the future of education. She sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl