You’ve enrolled in your online course, you’ve got your computer and your latte by your side. So everything’s in place, right? Except that there are those emails to read, and you don’t actually have any assignments due just yet, and you just got that message through Facebook…
Successful distance learning is often complicated more by the act of being an online student than by the coursework itself. E-learning is not the same as classroom learning, and adopting some good strategies at the beginning will help you avoid the dreaded independent-study pitfalls later. We’ve got ten tips for being a great e-student and making the right adjustments from the past where you sat in a classroom, to the future where you’ll be sitting…well…anywhere!
1. Accept that online doesn’t mean faster
It’s a common mistake. People think “self-paced learning” means faster learning. Self-paced just means at the speed you want or like best. If you want to go for hours on end you can, but for most people that’s not really practical. The amount of work per unit hour is the same as classroom instruction – 2-3 hours per unit of coursework. So when you’re scheduling your courses, take into account the course time, reading time, study time and the time your life needs in general.
2. Practice good time management
If you don’t pay attention to it, time slips away faster than you can say, “Mafia Wars.” If you’re using an online program so you can study around your work schedule, make sure that study hours are as integral a part of your day as your job. Plan out how many hours a week you want to give for listening to lectures online or watching videos. Schedule your blocks of study and reading time into your life and make them non-negotiable. And whatever you do, don’t plan on cramming 30 hours of coursework and study into three days – even if you manage to finish something like that you won’t remember anything later (which was the point of the education, right?).
3. Pay attention to course requirements and scheduling
One advantage to a traditional class is that they schedule things for you. Classes are at the same time every week, and assignments are doled out as the class progresses. With online learning, the schedule is totally up to you. Which can sometimes be where the problem happens. Create a time line for papers and projects that includes how far in advance you need to start working on them. Without an instructor to remind you that an assignment is coming, it’s really easy to find yourself waiting till the very last second, or worse yet, not finishing them at all. Make your schedule and stick to it.
4. Pay attention to body mechanics
No one worries about what you might be doing to your hands or neck when you’re sitting in a lecture hall for an hour or two, but pay close attention to the physical demands of prolonged computer use. Think about the ergonomics of your workspace when you’re typing for long periods of time, and schedule breaks from the computer screen for the health of your eyes and neck. You don’t want to derail your studies with wrist pain or headaches.
5. Know your distractions
Pay attention to what pulls you away from paying attention to the hard stuff. Is it email? Shut down Outlook. Facebook? Close the page. Twitter? Turn it off. Some people like background noise and others don’t, but if you find yourself constantly turning away from your studies to take a peek at what the Real Housewives are up to, then that’s definitely not the right kind of ambient noise for you.
6. Engage with other students and create interaction
One of the problems with online learning can be the sense of isolation. It’s easy to get excited about a subject when you have other enthusiastic students around you, and when you’re excited about something the easier it is to stick with. But unless your pooch Ralph is keen to discuss sociology with you, you might find yourself a little low on contagious excitement. Use your online program’s forums or webchats to connect with other students, and sign up on email lists if your course offers them. This way you not only have other people around you excited about the same thing that you’re excited about, but you have people to go to when you’re stuck, confused, or just need a study buddy.
7. Notes are not just for classrooms
Online does not necessarily mean paperless. Writing down key concepts, making flashcards and summarizing content with good old fashioned paper and ink remains one of the best learning strategies there is. Writing creates a second level of information embedding in your brain, and it’s just as effective in front of your computer as it is in the classroom.
8. Manage your space, but not the way you think
The old adage “make a study space” may actually turn out to not be the best strategy. New research suggests that varying where you study may actually help your brain learn new information. So while you want to pay attention to the basics – good light, a comfortable place to sit, limited distractions – moving between a few comfortable places may help all that learning stick around.
9. Be tech savvy
Be ready for what’s going to be asked of your computer set-up for your online courses. If your course expects collaborative video chatting, make sure you download the software and test it before study-group time. If your lectures are viewable online as videos, make sure your internet connection can handle the bandwidth. Don’t let a technical barrier short circuit your learning opportunities, especially when it’s crunch time for exams or projects.
10. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Motivation is one of the key elements of online success. You are your own engine when it comes to online learning, and it can be hard sometimes to find the spark to keep all cylinders firing. So if you find yourself without any gas in the gas tank, think to the outcome. What do you get at the end? What career? What life? Visualize it and put yourself in it. That’s what all the hard work is for, and when you remember why you’re doing it, you’ll find that rolling the car down the highway gets a little easier.