The ups and downs of the global economy have sent more learners back to school to retool or add credentials to their résumé. Additionally, we all have experienced the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Online learning allows learners to address their professional development needs at a time and in a manner that may be more flexible with their lifestyles. To succeed online, you need a few basic technology skills and pointers on how to stay safe; you also need to evaluate online programs carefully, communicate clearly, and develop good study habits.
Prepare to Learn Online
You should have a few basic technology skills down pat before you enroll in any form of online learning, whether it’s a single online course for fun or a fully online bachelor’s degree program. Make sure you know how to
- Attach a microphone and headset to your computer (or use what’s built in)
- Create folders and subfolders on your computer’s hard drive or a flash drive to help facilitate organization of coursework
- Open your preferred Internet browser and navigate to various websites
- Open multiple browser windows, either in separate floating windows or in multiple tabs in a single window
- Send and receive emails with attachments
- Save and open attachments, including audio and video files
- Download and install applications and application plugins
Stay Safe While Learning Online
Stories abound about the dangers of the Internet, but a few simple measures can go a long way toward ensuring that your online experience is safe and worry-free. Follow these guidelines:
- Make payments for classes, books, and the like only at a secure site with https:// as the prefix.
Create a single word processing or spreadsheet file where you keep all your login information. Save that file securely with a password. You then have to remember only one password rather than many.
- Never tell your password(s) to anyone.
- Don’t disclose your life story to classmates. Maintain some privacy.
If you need to provide contact information to your instructor or peers when working on a group project, provide only information necessary to complete the project, such as your school email address and your mobile phone.
Questions to Ask as You Evaluate Online Programs
Many schools offer online courses, but not all schools are created the same. To help you decide where to apply, ask yourself these questions as you investigate online programs and their staffs:
Is this school or program accredited (proven to meet academic standards by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education)?
- Are the courses self-paced or instructor-led?
- How many class hours (total time in hours) a week will each course take?
- What is the student/faculty ratio?
- What is the student retention rate?
- Who are the faculty and what kind of training have they received?
- When do classes begin?
- What if I need to stop out (temporarily withdraw)?
- Is financial aid available?
What are the minimal technology requirements (hardware and software) for taking an online course at your institution?
What are the minimal technology competencies a learner must have to take an online course at your institution?
Will I be expected to be online at a specific time to conference with my instructor or classmates?
Communicate Clearly in Online Courses
Communication is vital in all forms of education, and online education is no exception. The following tips can help you communicate effectively online:
- Get to the point. Succinct writing is valued.
- Always reference other authors — use proper citation methods! Your instructor will tell you which specific method to use.
- Don’t type in all caps. It’s like shouting.
- Be aware that anything written can be misconstrued. Try to write as if your grandmother would read it — use polite and professional language without innuendos or sarcasm.
- If you’re working on a group project, copy the instructor if you’re using email so that they know your group’s progress.
- Don’t be afraid to use the phone. It’s okay to call the instructor if you have a question.
- Don’t overpost in discussion forums. If your instructor asks for 2 posts, 4 is fine, but 14 is too many!
- If possible, communicate special circumstances as soon as possible (family emergencies, vacations, and so forth), not after the fact.
A Few Habits of Successful Online Learners
Some of the most successful learners are those who learn self-discipline with respect to their study habits. The lack of pressure that comes with meeting face-to-face is absent in the online environment. Therefore, it’s important to heed the following suggestions for establishing good study habits for online learning:
- Set a schedule for studying and log in frequently (daily, if possible).
- Print the syllabus, instructor contact information, and course calendar on day one.
- Read all rubrics (documents outlining assessment criteria for assignments) and guidelines carefully, and self-check before starting assignments and again before submitting them.
- Find out how to use the library services for your institution. Seek credible resources for your work, and don’t just rely on Google or Wikipedia.
- Double-check citations and references for accuracy. Avoid plagiarism!
- Compose assignments in a word processor and save everything before transferring it to the online environment.
- Actively participate and interact with your classmates and instructor. Don’t be a wallflower.
Source: By Susan Manning, Kevin E. Johnson