Online learning is becoming more popular with each passing semester. And it is no wonder. We live in a fast-paced world where it can be challenging to juggle all of our responsibilities. Individuals who are considering a return to college to build their skills so they can earn a promotion or get a better job are finding the flexibility of the virtual classroom is just what they need.
However, it is naïve to believe that online education is exactly the same as learning in-person. While many of the skills necessary for successfully completing any type of class are the same, some skills or personality traits are even more important in the virtual classroom. Before you decide that online education is right for you, ask yourself these questions.
Do You Like To Use The Computer?
Some people can use a computer, but they do not enjoy it. Perhaps if you work all day at a computer, you dislike the thought of coming home, only to have to get back online and stare at a screen again in order to complete assignments.
If you dread the thought of needing to be on a computer to “attend class,” you may want to consider how you could take evening and weekend classes in a brick and mortar classroom instead. Or, it may be possible for you to take a mixture of in-person and online classes so that not all of your learning is done in front of a screen.
Are You Proficient Using A Computer?
If you are brand new to online learning, there will of course be a bit of a learning curve, but if you feel uncomfortable using a computer for daily activities, such as emailing, surfing the net for information, participating in social media or banking online, you may want to build your basic computer skills before taking online classes.
This will make your educational experience more enjoyable, enriching and successful. Many public libraries and community centers offer free or low-cost basic computer classes that can attend to build your skills and confidence so that online education becomes a good fit for you.
Does Your Work Or Personal Schedule Make It Difficult To Attend Classes?
There are many reasons why people take online classes, but often it is because it is the only way they can fit a college education into their lives.
If you feel a strong desire to return to college and believe online education to be the only way to do that, you can find a way to make it happen, even if you answer no to some of the other questions here.
Do You Have Dependable Internet And Computer?
No matter what college you decide to attend, you will be required to have reliable access to a computer and the Internet. If your computer is more than 5 years old or not in good shape, it would be a good idea to get a new one before starting an online degree program. Students can get seriously behind if they have major computer issues during the semester.
It is wise to do all that you can to ensure the fewest number of possible challenges before starting. Likewise, if you have a spotty Internet connection, consider how you can make a change before starting classes. You may need to try a different Internet provider or a different type of technology to ensure a strong, trustworthy connection.
While technological issues will most likely occur during your time learning online, starting off in the best possible position makes your educational success more under your control.
Are You Willing To Work Ahead?
Yes, it is true that you must stay on top of reading and assignments to succeed in any college class, but time management and determination are even more important in the virtual classroom.
It is all too easy to put off completing work until the day an assignment is due, which does not allow for you to ask any questions you may have about the material or the assignment. Successful online students work ahead so that there is plenty of time to email their professor with questions, and to receive a reply before the due date.
Are You Willing To Schedule Class Time?
Many students get themselves into trouble right off the bat because they do not plan out time for “attending class,” so they get behind.
Just because you do not have to show up at a physical location a couple of times each week does not mean that you can leave your learning open-ended. Online learning allows you to learn on your own schedule, but successful online learners have a set schedule for when they will get reading and assignments completed each week.
They also understand that they may need additional time to review class materials or perform a bit of outside research before they can effectively complete an assignment. Time management skills are central to student achievement in the virtual classroom.
Are You Willing To Work Independently?
While there is a professor on the other side of the class, it is imperative to understand from the get-go that much of the learning in an online class is done independently.
Professors create modules that hold course materials, videos, podcast and links to additional resources, but it is up to the student to read and review the material as needed so that learning occurs.
And just like in the typical classroom, some professors are more diligent about returning emails, putting up assignments and returning grades than others. Understanding that the interaction will be, at best, very different than being in a class where you are face-to-face with your professor is vital to enjoying your educational experience.
Do You Have Effective Reading And Writing Skills?
Because you will be doing much of your work independently, it follows that there will be a great deal of reading and writing involved in the class. In fact, you should expect a good deal more of each in online education.
It is true that some professors use video, audio and other current technologies so that students have more options to listen to a lecture, instead of read it, but this is not, perhaps, the norm. Any college class requires a great deal of reading, and in online classes, much of the lectures and supplementary material will also need to be read by the student.
The same is true for writing. Rather than discussing the course material verbally with peers and the professor, you will be required to demonstrate your understanding by writing essays or responding to prompts in the discussion board.
Even asking questions and live chats will require writing, since email is the typical way that students and professors communicate and live chats are simply glorified instant messaging. Being prepared for this amount of reading and writing will give you a jump on what attending the virtual classroom will be like.
Are You Self-Motivated Or Willing To Push Through Procrastination?
As you may have already worked out, much of your success in an online class is up to the you. That is why it is so very important that you have a real desire to get a higher education, because if it isn’t important to you, you are most likely going to decide that it is just too much work.
There may be times in the semester when you find the material dry or boring, and you are just so ready for the semester to be over. This is very typical, no matter how excited you started out or how much you want an education. During these times you will have to rely on your self-motivation, since there is limited interaction between you and your peers.
It is human nature to put off what we do not want to do, but in this situation, you have to be willing to keep your nose to the grindstone and do your best work, even if you have lost your enthusiasm, no matter how temporarily. If you have never been able to push through procrastination, you may want to reconsider online education.
You might find that being engaged with the material, your peers and your professor in person is a more reasonable expectation.
Do You Enjoy Participating In Online Discussions?
With the popularity of social media, texting and instant messaging, it is easy to assume that people enjoy engaging with one another through digital communication. But some do not. Can you feel connected to people over a long distance by using digital means, such as Facebook or Skype?
Be honest with yourself about this. Learning is about more than the material. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the social aspect and learning from peers. If you are an extravert who learns best when surrounded by others, finding in-person classes might be a choice worth investigating. Going back to college is hard work. Making sure that you do all that you can up front to improve your chances of success is smart.
Do You Understand The Differences Between Informal And Formal Writing?
Even if you do enjoy engaging with others online, it is imperative for you to understand that writing for classes is very different than messaging friends or Tweeting an update. Academic writing will be required for all of your classes, not just in a composition class, so be prepared for this.
If you haven’t done much writing since the last time you were in school, it is a good idea for you to brush up on your writing skills. Try reviewing that information on one or more of the many quality websites available or get access to a writing guide. Renewing these skills will be vital to your success in all of your classes, so it is time well spent to do some of this learning up front.
Jacqueline Myers is a long-time college English instructor who provides expert tips, tricks and techniques for successful college writing and research at Nitty-Gritty English. Jacqueline is also a freelance writer/editor/researcher and is a proud contributor to AEGC. Get helpful writing tips by joining her on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.