The flexibility of online learning can make it a highly effective alternative method of delivery, but it isn’t without its unique challenges. Students must be mature, self-disciplined, organized, and have excellent time management skills to succeed. Ironically, it’s the same flexibility that makes online learning so attractive to students that can sometimes cause others to fall behind. Students who are prone to procrastination or who fail to engage in the process altogether can be fraught with challenges. Isolation, lack of preparation and participation, and technical barriers can all also prevent an online student from making the most of the chosen course work. Without the structure of a traditional classroom, online students must take greater ownership of their learning to succeed.
If you are considering pursuing a degree online, here are some tips that can help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls of online learning.
1. Plan your schedule. As you gain an understanding of the expectations for your class, create a schedule for yourself. How much time you need to spend each day doing coursework? Do you need to spend time participating on discussion boards commenting on class readings? Put it all in your calendar and make sure you have enough time to complete assignments by spreading them out instead of trying to complete them all the day before they’re due.
2. Make the most of online discussions. Without a traditional classroom, you can engage with other students and instructors through online message boards and chat rooms. Not only does this help you think through and discuss the course material, it can give you the opportunity to build relationships with your peers for future networking opportunities.
3. Use all of the materials available. You may be provided with links to audio or video clips, or supplementary readings beyond those in the assigned textbook. Spend time with these materials and incorporate them into your overall participation of the course. Without in-class lectures, these extra materials provide an added depth that will contribute to your understanding of the course subject matter.
4. Consider your study environment. Online learning can be done anywhere with an internet connection, but certain environments will allow you to immerse yourself in your studies and make the most of your time. Find a quiet, dedicated space where you can set up a “learning zone” and position your monitor to allow your neck and back to stay straight when viewing your screen. Choosing the right environment will allow you to be more effective in less time.
5. Take a break! It’s easy to become absorbed and lose track of how much time has passed. You might also feel pressure to “push through” and get as much work done as possible within the time you’ve set aside for your learning session. Resist the urge to soldier on; stepping away from your your studies can prevent eye strain and allow you some space to consider what you have been learning. Take time to stretch, have a snack, and focus your eyes at something in the distance.