5 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Online Courses

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Online courses have become increasingly popular over the last several years. Read on for our five tips on how to make the most of your online education.

Online Courses – Getting Started

Online education is here to stay – and there are huge benefits. Remote access to a wide array of online learning opportunities has generated options for a larger amount of people – at a fraction of the price. And truthfully, a well-designed online course led by a qualified and engaged instructor rivals the in-person classroom experience. The set-up of an online course often mitigates a level of interaction between both students and instructor that can be undervalued in the traditional classroom, especially the larger ones.

So…mastery of the online educational format has quickly become a necessity – but it is not always intuitive. Here are 5 tips for surviving and thriving in your online courses this semester.

1.) Enroll Selectively in Your Online Courses

Synchronous vs. asynchronous learning: Know the difference.

In an online setting, synchronous learning requires real-time interaction during the course. Perhaps you engage discussions during certain time windows, or your professors live-streams lectures in which you are to participate. Many enroll for online courses assuming (and desiring) an asynchronous format, but it is vital to know what the course requires before you enroll. You are in charge of adjusting your schedule to course requirements once you have committed to the class.

2.) Read the Syllabus (Then Read It Again.)

The syllabus will contain a course description, objectives, course schedule (including due dates for readings and assignments), requirements for assignments, a grading rubric and grade weights. In addition, the instructor will express any other goals, or preferences. While some instructors may not mind answering questions about content they spent hours fine-tuning in a very-detailed document, most will be irritated. A few may even refuse to answer questions from students who have clearly not studied the course information. And every instructor will inevitably make note of you, and your obvious question. Remember, in an online course, your natural charisma and charming good looks do not make a first impression, but your lazy email question does.

3.) Have the Technology

It is your responsibility to have the device and internet connectivity to access and participate in the course. If the internet fails in your normal workspace, go somewhere else. If you leave your laptop somewhere, use a computer lab, or the library. (But really. Do never leave your laptop anywhere. Don’t check it on airplanes or lend it to friends. Do not leave it in the kitchen, by the ocean, or around toddlers.) Having the necessary technology to engage the course is equal to being present in a traditional classroom. Without it, you are absent.

4.) Know the Technology for Your Online Courses

Your instructor’s role is to teach you the course material, not how to use the platform or any other technology required. If you are new to the platform or other programs used in the course, take the time to familiarize yourself with using online tutorials.  Also, it is important to note, that while professors at the same institution may use a shared platform, they will inevitably use it differently. Study how your professor has constructed the course and how to use it effectively. If you do have technical difficulties, know how to contact tech support for your institution, the platform, and the application. All of this information is available, (and often in the syllabus!)

5.) Make the Time for Your Online Courses

Many students find online courses appealing because they can customize learning around their schedules. And while this is a significant benefit, especially factoring in the absence of transit time to a classroom building, be careful not to exchange “on your own time,” with “not enough time.” The instructor will be clear (in the syllabus!) about how many hours of reading and coursework you should plan for each week. While this is a rough estimate based on a general understanding of the work pace, take it seriously. Discussions are often a significant portion of the grade in order to ensure participation and discussions require interaction with peers who are depending on you to contribute – before the deadline. Make a schedule of work time, as if you were going to a classroom. Remember showing up is required in online courses, it just looks different.

Have a great semester! (And read the syllabus!)

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