More and more people are choosing to continue their education via online learning. Pursuing a degree or certification online allows learners the flexibility to cover course materials when their work and family schedules permit. But along with this flexibility come unique challenges that don’t necessarily apply to students in a traditional classroom setting.
Students working on an online degree need to take greater ownership of their learning experience to make sure they get the most out of their courses. Here are the key habits and personality traits that will let you unlock the full potential of your online degree.
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Like many old sayings, there’s a grain of truth to it. Online education requires you to be on top of what’s happening in your course work because you aren’t going to be face-to-face with a professor or other students three times a week to get helpful reminders.
Have a planner—a paper or online one will do equally well. Read your course syllabus carefully and plug important due dates into your planner. Review your schedule on a regular basis so that you always know what’s due and when it’s due.
Going hand-in-hand with planning is organization. Keep all your files related to your classes in one specific place (and if that place is on a computer, make sure you back it up!). Create folders for your classes in your e-mail client. Bookmark important web pages with your browser and sort the bookmarks into files by class, or by project. Make sure all of your administrative paperwork, regarding registration, tuition, etc., is also stored somewhere central and backed up regularly.
In an online learning setting, if you don’t understand something, make sure you ask to have it explained. You won’t be in a lecture hall with classmates who will ask the questions you were thinking of, and you won’t be able to drop by a professor’s office to clear something up. Take notes during recorded lectures just as you would during a live lecture, and take notes when you read as well. If something confuses you, fire up your e-mail client and send a message to your professor, or use IM to chat with other students.
Your instructors and classmates aren’t just on the screen: you can really talk to them, but you have to make the effort. Joining or forming an online study group is a great way to get to grips with material in your courses, and any instructor worth his or her salt will be ready and able to answer your questions. Learn to write short, to-the-point e-mails and message board posts to make sure you’re understood—and don’t be afraid to ask someone to clarify what they meant in a message if it isn’t obvious. In some cases, Internet conference calls or video chats may be available, if you’re equipped, to allow for more free-form conversations.
Some people have trouble working at a project without a schedule that’s imposed on them from the outside. Online learning is often a challenge for these people. If you’re one of them, keep telling yourself that you can’t find time in the day to work on your studies—you have to make time. You might not be able to work at exactly the same time every day for the same period, but you need to be willing to put in some work consistently. Learn to go with the flow to balance your life and your courses.
It can be hard to work on something without a group to egg you on. You’ll need to motivate yourself to focus on your work just as you would at the office or in a classroom, so try to eliminate distractions as much as possible. Set yourself up with a space away from other members of your household. Break your assignments into small chunks, set a timer if you have to, and avoid the urge to surf the web by scheduling in some “surfing time”, or other reward, after you complete a certain task.
If you can successfully cultivate these habits, online learning should be an enriching and satisfying experience for you. With advances in technology, getting an online degree has become more interactive, so you’ll be able to get the help you need.