Tips for Success in Your Online Course

The Successful Distance Learner

Based on advice from experienced distance instructors and students, tips are provided to help you get the most out of distance learning.

Good Study Habits and Abilities

One way to be a successful distance learner is to develop good habits and abilities early. These habits and abilities are: check your email at least once a day send copies of all project-related email to the whole group (when working on a group project)

Depend on yourself as much as possible

  • Use resources available to you, including online help, tutorials, manuals, course syllabi, assignment directions, and the Internet.
  • Monitor your own progress by noting where you are in the course, which assignments you have completed and which lie ahead.
  • Communicate with your instructor and peers.
  • Reach out when you need someone to talk to, feel frustrated or need help. Remember you are not alone.
  • Contribute advice or ideas about the real-world as it applies to the subject matter you are studying.
  • Learners who have good learning self-awareness usually have good strategies for better understanding new information and may be more successful in a distance learning environment.
  • Learning self-awareness (metacognition) is your ability to be aware of how well you are learning; in other words, to know when you understand or don’t understand new information when you read it or it is presented.

Learning Style

When it comes to learning, everyone is different, having their own preferred approaches to new material and their own preferred style of learning.  Assessing your skills and preferences will help you select the type of learning strategies that are most likely to keep you interested and help you reach your learning goals.  Visit this site for a self-analysis and more information on learning styles,http://www2.piedmont.cc.nc.us/DL/LSI/canfield.htm.

Self-Discipline and Motivation

Another characteristic shared by successful distance learners is self-discipline. This characteristic is usually seen in the learner’s ability to stay current with class assignments, participate on a regular basis in online discussions, and develop and adhere to a schedule for class activities.

One thing you can do to promote self-discipline is to dedicate a place for studying. Your own space where you can shut the door, leave papers everywhere, and work in peace is necessary. If you try to share study space with the dining room or bedroom, food or sleep will take priority over studying.

Distance learners must have self-motivation. Unlike traditional courses in which the students and instructor meet face-to-face once or several times a week, most learning activities and communication in distance courses are asynchronous, meaning that class members participate and complete their assignments at different times throughout the day or week. This arrangement can allow you to do class work when it’s most convenient for you. However, with this increased freedom and flexibility comes responsibility. It will be up to you to motivate yourself to keep up with assignments.

Time Management

Set aside a significant amount of time each week for class work. Distance education classes require as much time and effort as instructor-led classes, if not more. Develop a schedule and stick to it. Without the structure of weekly class meetings, you may be tempted to put off class work until the last minute. Instead, you should give yourself extra time to do your work, because technological difficulties and asynchronous communication can slow down the process.

To be prepared, read the syllabus and other course materials carefully to understand:

  • Class requirement
  • Assignment due dates

The proper form assignments should take the time it will take to get assignments in the proper form, and contact information for your instructor and classmates in case you need help. Once you have the big picture, mark important dates on your calendar.

Technology is not all that we might expect and problems occur that are beyond our control. Servers go down, computers crash, programs freeze and work may be lost. There are, however, things that are very much in your control. Plan ahead; allow time for downloading and installing software (such as plug-ins) that you need for class. Your instructor will often list these in your course syllabus. Download and install this software early, then practice using it. Software programs take time to learn, and the night before an assignment is due is not the time.

If you’ll be accessing the Internet from work, find out if your company has a firewall. A firewall may prevent you from accessing particular web sites or using browser plug-ins to view video and audio, and interfere with file transfers.

Expect and plan for glitches and delays by starting assignments early, backing up your work regularly and making contingency plans for chats or online exams. Don’t wait until the last minute!

Time Commitment

Along with time management goes time commitment and perhaps creating your own study space away from outside distractions as mentioned above.

Completing course assignments and other learning activities can take from five to fifteen hours or more per week. And you may find that you need to be online almost every day. So before enrolling, be sure you can set aside enough time to keep up with your daily or weekly assignments.

Class Communication

Distance classes require a great deal of communication with the instructor and fellow students for assignments and class activities. But without regular face-to-face meetings, it’s hard to develop personal relationships. In fact, it’s easy to get isolated and feel lonely. Get to know your instructor and classmates by sending email, participating in discussions, and joining chat rooms. You’ll find that just like in regular classes, people are your greatest resource. They can give you help, advice and support when you need it, and help get you through the rough spots. You’ll also have a richer, more rewarding learning experience if you reach out.

Good communication skills for distance course participation include:

  • Clearly expressing yourself in writing
  • Thinking ideas through before responding
  • Observing “netiquette,” remaining polite and respectful in your communications
  • Asking for help when you need it

In distance courses, nearly all communication is written, so it is critical that you feel comfortable expressing yourself in writing. If you feel that you are weak in this area, try to brush up on your writing skills and find out how much writing is required for the course before enrolling.

Communicating clearly on the Internet without creating misunderstandings is a challenge. One problem is that you haven’t any facial expressions, body language, or environment to help you express yourself.

These guidelines should help you:

  • Be clear. Make sure that the subject line or title matches your content.
  • Always include a subject line with an email message. The subject line should include, at the very least, the course ID as well as a description of what the email is about. Include your first and last name.
  • Think two or three times before responding to a posting in anger. Try writing out what you have to say, editing it and setting it aside for a few hours before rereading it again and deciding to post it.
  • Think to yourself, am I sure this is what the other person really meant with their posting? Could I have misinterpreted it? Better to ask for clarification before launching.
  • Do not use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS–it’s equal to screaming.
  • Avoid offensive language.
  • Make a good impression. Your words and content represent you. Review and edit your words and images before sending.
  • Be selective on what information you put in an email. Information on the Internet is public and can be seen by anyone in the world, including future employers.
  • Remember you are not anonymous. What you write in an e-mail can be traced back to you.
  • Be brief. If your message is short, people will be more likely to read it.
  • Be careful with humor and sarcasm. They come across differently online and can easily be misinterpreted. This does not mean to avoid humor. Humor has its place in any classroom, on-ground or online. Just be sure to identify humor as such to avoid misinterpretation.

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