Online learning has really taken off in the past few years with more and more people enjoying the flexibility it offers, while receiving the same level and standard of education they would obtain by physically attending the course.
Often times online classes can be more financially attractive than actually attending colleges and course outlets, especially if you are living at home. This way you can save on student accommodation and the costs associated with living near the college.
Completing a course online also allows you to structure your time the way you want to. So you can decide to study when you like and at a time that best suit your needs and requirements. You can do your course work around your other commitments such as work and family life.
Enrolling in a class online can be very different than attending a class. Students who are used to being physically present in a learning environment with many other students, may find it a little difficult to initially adjust. There is still a lecturer or professor teaching you, but not in a direct style.
Having completed both types of education I have found that there is certainly benefits and disadvantages to both styles and it really comes down to what suits you best.
Attending a course has a nice social side to it and a feeling of safety. If you have a query relating to your course work or if you’re not sure that you fully understand something, you can ask your lecturer or other classmates for help there and then. However, attending a class or course requires a commitment that is far less flexible than doing it online. You need to fit classes into your schedule and adjust your other activities accordingly to suit predetermined lectures.
Online courses offer greater flexibility in that you can do the coursework and watch the classes as it suits you. You can spend as much time as you please watching a certain class or topic, pausing and replaying until you fully understand what the professor is saying. If you work during the day you can study at night. With online classes, it really is up to you when and where you do them. Financially, online courses can also provide the best solution.
What is online learning?
Online learning involves learning educational information via the internet instead of attending a physical classroom. The information can be delivered in a variety of forms but is commonly distributed by video format, audio, downloadable content, discussion groups, assignments, projects and assessments. Video can sometimes be viewed in real-time where you can speak with the professor, or it can be a recording of an actual on-campus lecture, or just a professor pre-recording a lecture specifically for the online course.
But how do we decide if e-learning is for us? How do we know if we have what it takes to complete a degree or course online? Just what is it that we need to be able to successfully complete an online course?
Here are some tips for deciding whether online learning is for you.
1) Be Organized
Successful online learning will greatly depend on you and your ability to be organised. You are responsible for the material that you are learning, for note taking, organising notes efficiently, completing coursework and assignments on time. You will be responsible for deciding when to study and how you plan out your day.
When studying online, there will be no lecturer or professor around to guide you on your note taking, filing or provide you with printouts of the relevant topics or course work. You will be responsible for printing your own notes and keeping on top of things. It is best to plan your time wisely rather than leaving it all until the end. Cramming is never a good idea as it will reduce your ability to study and learn effectively.
To be a successful online learner it is essential that you plan in advance all the things that will help you stay organised and make online learning fun and enjoyable. Online courses are a great way to learn and with a few highlighters, flash cards, folders, labels and a note systems you will breeze through any course.
Use technology to your advantage. Set up daily planners and reminders for important assignments and due dates. Establish a study schedule and time for revision. Online courses will vary in level of commitment required but it is a good idea to allocate from 8 to 15 hours a week to your course. You can then adjust this accordingly as you see fit as the course progresses. You can allocate greater time to those topics that you find more complex. This will help you eliminate the fear of not being able to organise your work effectively and help you stay on track. It will also enable you to break down your course into more manageable sections which will make it easier to learn. Good time management skills are essential to online learning.
You can download our free study plan template below and check out our guide on effective studying for more information.
2) Be Independent
Online classes will involve working through your course work alone and completing assignments with little or no input from others. While most online courses do have options for contacting the course providers or professor with questions, this may not always be efficient in terms of timing and availability.
The majority of people do prefer working alone, however, others prefer brainstorming with others or having the option to put their questions out there as they arise, giving them access to faster solutions. A lot of the time people find forums or discussion groups where they can have their queries solved by others who have knowledge in that particular field, or who have also completed that particular course.
There are plenty of discussion groups out there where you can ask questions that are causing confusion and talk with people who will help you gain an understanding of a topic. It may also be possible to find others who have completed, or in the process of completing, the same course as you. By finding other students you can then establish times with them to answer questions and help each other through problems.
Often times the college providing the course or the course provider will have a discussion board set up for students taking the course. If this is the case it is a good idea to post a message there in week one introducing yourself to other classmates. This will be an important source of information throughout the course and will provide you with valuable feedback and learning opportunities.
Online learning requires a person to be comfortable with working independently. Before you commit to an online course, it is a good idea to consider what works best for you so that you can proceed forward with the best chances of successfully completing your course of choice.
When taking a course online it is also essential that you read all the relevant notes and textbooks outlined. Textbooks are an important element of online learning and sometimes it may be tempting to only rely on the lecturer’s teachings, but reading textbooks will help you gain a good understanding of the topics being discussed and further your ability to do well on the course. It is a good idea to start reading these as soon as you get them rather than waiting for the course to begin.
3) Be a Good Communicator, especially with email.
Learning online can be quite simple for people who are not afraid to reach out and ask questions when they don’t understand something, or need confirmation about a particular topic. Because a professor or lecturer will not be physically present, you will need to be confident enough to reach out to them via email. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is important because the professor could be located anywhere in the world, so email is a very important tool for communicating with them.
You don’t have to wait till you have a question to email your professor, you can send him or her an email at the start to simply introduce yourself.
To successfully do this you need to be capable of expressing your question or query in an understandable way so that it can be resolved effectively and will enable you to continue on with the course. When you begin your course, be sure to go through the entire course syllabus and website so that you’re aware and comfortable with the structure, expectations and schedules. If you have any queries at this stage you should email the professor and get any questions answered early.
Some people may find this easier to do if they are physically present in a class, where they can ask the professor there and then, or fellow classmates. This again is another point that you should consider before signing up to a course so that you can have the best chances of doing well and completing your class.
4) Be Motivated
Motivation will inevitably play a huge role in whether you successfully complete your online class. Being motivated and remaining motivated will ultimately come down to yourself. It is certainly easier to put off your coursework as there is no professor or lecturer standing over you. Some people find that being accountable to a physical person greatly enhances their performance and motivation.
While it can certainly be easier to brush off the responsibilities of online classes, establishing why you are doing the course and what you want to achieve at the end of it can help you maintain your motivation. By focusing on your goals, you can help stay positive and upbeat throughout the period of learning. For example, if you decide to take a french language course, you will find it easier to remain committed if you are actually planning to go and live in France for a year or two. Rather than learning the language with no plan to travel there. In the latter situation there will be a greater chance that you will give up when it gets difficult whereas if you have always wanted to travel to France and actually plan to go live there, there is a good chance that you will persevere during the difficult times.
5) Be skilled with Technology
To do an online course you must be somewhat used to technology. You will not need to be an expert, because the majority of online course provider use simple easy to use platforms. However, you need need to be able to use Microsoft Word and Excel for completing assignments. Proficiency in creating and saving word documents will be needed, in addition to standard formatting abilities. You may also be required to convert documents, do your own research and often times you will be required you to submit oral presentations.
If you plan to engage with other students taking the course and participate in study groups, you may need to be familiar with Facebook, Skype and Google+ hangouts for example. Participating in discussion groups is a big part of learning online.
Although not essential, a high-speed connection can go a long way towards making online classes more enjoyable. It will mean that you spend less time waiting for your courses, course materials and documents to download.
6) Be capable of overcoming distractions
Distractions are plentiful, especially when studying online. However, there are many applications that can be downloaded to help you stay on track when studying. These apps can prevent you using certain websites such as Facebook for a certain period of time and are available for both your computer and phone.
By being aware of what is likely to cause a distraction and taking preventative action, you can really effectively utilise your time spend studying. This will help you stay on track and maintain your motivation as you see your progress increase.
7) Be disciplined
Discipline to make yourself sit down and do the course is essential. To successfully complete an online course you will need to be disciplined enough to make yourself commit to doing the required course work and not put it off.
When you make a schedule, stick to it. Ensure that when you’re creating the schedule you’re not signing yourself up for too much and that you’re rewarding yourself with breaks so you don’t burn out.
8) Be capable of rewarding yourself
Be sure to reward yourself after you have studied, even by taking a small break or walk. When you set yourself a goal and stick to it it is important to reward yourself. Especially if you spent the week studying, take some time off at the weekend to socialise with friends or engage in your favourite hobbies. This will help you stay positive and upbeat, plus it is a great way to help you stay focused and boost concentration.
9) Be able to re-evaluate your study techniques
Throughout your online course, it’s important to take some time to evaluate whether or not your study methods have been effective. If not you may need to adjust them so that you can fully utilise your time and efforts and obtain the grades you want. It is important to check your progress throughout the course so that you identify any areas that may be struggling with that require additional help or where you may need to allocate more time.
Is online learning right for me?
Before committing to an online class it is important to consider if you are suitable to an online course environment or would being present at a physical course suit you and your study needs better.
1) Do you like working independently?
This is probably one of the most important questions to ask yourself. While there will be discussion groups available to enable you to interact with other students and put what you have learnt into practice, some students work better in a classroom environment where there are other students and a professor present. If you find that this is the case for you then you may find online learning more difficult. If you thrive independently, you will have no problem completing online classes.
2) Are you comfortable with technology?
A big part of online learning will involve the use of computers while being a computer expert is certainly not required, completing assignments and coursework will require you being able to use the basics and submit your assignments and projects online in the required format. Whereas attending a course will usually involve you handing up your course work and projects to your professor and/or completing exams in the physical location.
3) Do you have the ability to motivate yourself?
Motivation is a very important element. So it is important to consider if you will have the ability to motivate yourself to commit to the required study and coursework without having someone standing over you telling you what is due and when. Attending courses physically have the benefit of providing you with someone to whom you are accountable. There will be a professor there who is guiding you through the work who you can ask questions and who is likely to remind you when your assessments should be submitted.
4) Do you have other commitments?
It is important to take into account what other commitments you may have. Can these commitments be rescheduled or moved? If they cannot then online courses may be your best option to further your education by providing you with the same level of education by using a different platform. The flexibility provided will enable you to meet your commitments while pursuing your education and qualifications further. Physical courses do not offer the same level of flexibility. When classes are scheduled at set times they cannot be re-arranged to meet your requirements so this will play an important role in your choice of learning.
5) Are you confident to seek advice and help when you need it?
Successful online learning requires confidence in contacting the professor and/or other students often by email or discussion groups when you have a question. If this does not pose a problem for you then the online learning environment is for you. Often time individuals who shy away from approaching the lecturer or other students find it easier to have questions answered by asking people that they have established a friendship with by attending the physical course.
6) Do you enjoy reading and learning primarily from textbooks?
A great deal of online learning will require an individual to read textbooks. Many courses are based on downloadable information and text which can make courses very text heavy. So it is important to ask yourself whether this style of learning is suitable for you? Everyone works differently and it is important to identify what works best for you. Some people are so used to the traditional methods of learning they feel overwhelmed when they take an online course for the first time.
Other Factors to Take Into Account
If we ask ourselves honestly, we can identify if online learning is the best route for us to go down. Why do you want to study? Is it a passing fancy or will it lead to something you really want? In fact, this applies to all types of learning. You have to dig deep to find the reason for studying. Those with the biggest reasons for attending classes are usually the people who find it easier to dedicate the time it takes to do adequate study and exam preparation.
If you have an important reason (for you) to study, then you will find it much easier to get through your work. While online learning does require a stronger streak of independence, the fact of the matter is that you will need a reason to keep motivated. Whatever way you choose to study.
Online learning is growing rapidly and one of the most amazing aspects is that it’s opening up higher education for people who wouldn’t have had access before. This can be in terms of location, course content, and most importantly, financially. Learning is a part of human development and it’s always important to keep continual education in mind. It is those who invest in themselves the most that tend to go the furthest. With this in mind, online education has an unlimited amount of courses available to you, at just the click of a button.