Perhaps it is the convenience, flexibility, and comfort of being able to pursue a college degree online from their own homes that makes some virtual college students let their guard down when it comes to preparing for elearning. It may also be that other students who are new to both online and postsecondary education are simply unaware of the realities of academia and how vital it is to start off well.
Whatever the explanation or situation, here are two preliminary steps that every online student must take in order to set themselves up for success.
Just as you balance the other areas of your life, such as family and job responsibilities, so too you must carefully plan for online learning in order to succeed. Try to think this through chronologically. Here are some important points to consider.
• Scheduling: Although online students don’t have to pay as much attention to days, times, and locations of class meetings, do be aware that some online programs and classes may require in-person activities and/or synchronous meetings. You may have to go to the campus for an orientation or exams; you may have to log into a meeting site to participate in a discussion in real time. Also, the total number of courses you plan to take should be considered carefully. These are real college classes with the same objectives and outcomes as their F2F versions. Therefore, do not overbook yourself by signing up for more than you can handle. Finally, be sure to schedule specific days/times within your own schedule in which you can complete coursework. Preferably, this should be times that have the least potential for distractions (e.g., during the day while the kids are in school). Make others respect that time. Ignore the phone, the doorbell, social media sites, and other interferences.
• Attitude: Think carefully how important a focused, positive mindset is to your academic success. As I recently wrote in “How Online Students Can Turn Distractions into Academic Success,” remember why you’re going to college and what rewards await you (and perhaps your family) when you succeed. Keep negative triggers, such as an educational failure in the past, from interfering with the present (4 September, 2012).
• Materials: Most schools with online programs do what the University of Western Alabama does, and they make available on their website both the technical requirements and the textbook information. These and any additional materials may typically be found in the class syllabus or site, too. Make sure you have what you need before classes begin.
Being fully prepared at the start of a semester will help to ensure that you have a good foundation upon which to begin your education.
Be Tech Savvy
As an online student, it is vital that you be tech savvy. This involves a bit more than just having the right hardware and software. You also need to know how to use it and how to back it all up.
• First, find out what the technology requirements are for your school and particular course. Most colleges and universities publish a list on their website. The University of Toledo offers a typical example. Note that most of the software is readily available for free online for this program. Some postsecondary institutions offer software at deep discounts in their bookstores. There are also websites and stores that offer students reduced prices, such as Microsoft which sells its Office suite at a considerable discount for students, so shop around.
• Once you have the needed technology, start familiarizing yourself with it. The same goes for the course site itself. Click menu buttons, links, and other options. Explore available resources. Many professors, schools, and Learning Management Systems (e.g., Blackboard) offer short video tutorials that show how to navigate the course site. Here is one example
• A third characteristic of being tech savvy is being prepared for technical issues. Back up all of your work onto an external hard drive, email a copy of a draft to yourself, or use the Cloud via Dropbox or Windows Skydrive. It would be wise to print off important documents, such as the syllabus, contact information for your instructor and helpdesks, and your grades in case you can not access your course site for a time. Be sure you have two or three backup places where you can work on your courses. These may be the houses of friends or family members, a public library, a campus site, or even with permission, your employer. Computers and systems do crash sometimes; it’s best to be prepared.
Understanding not only what technology is needed, but also how to use it will give you the necessary tools and understanding to do well in the course.
Just as you prepare and plan for other major events and undertakings in your life, do so with your online education. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of readiness by elearning’s convenience and comfort. Instead, be prepared and tech savvy in order to have the most beneficial learning experience possible.
Do you have some preparation or technology tips to share with other online students? Please feel free to add them to this post in the “Comments” area below.
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