According to the Online Learning Consortium, more than 5.8 million students enrolled in at least one online course in 2014. If you’re thinking of becoming one of these online students in 2016, you’re probably wondering what you’ll need to succeed. How does studying online differ from traditional classes?
To help, we’ve created a list for first-time online students. These are helpful steps you can take to ensure a smooth transition into online education.
Manage your time wisely
One of the biggest challenges with an online course is that you control your time. This is also one of online education’s greatest strengths. Flexibility can help school fit into your schedule, but it also means you have to fine-tune your time management skills.
The best thing to do is to create a schedule—and not just in your head. Buy a planner or a calendar and write everything down. Assign specific time periods each day to get your work done. Then fiercely protect those study times.
Once you establish a routine, it will be easier to stick to that routine every day, and you’ll have your written schedule to help you keep track.
Even if your hours are irregular, you can still find pockets of time each week. Create your schedule week-by-week instead of looking at the whole month—that should help you make adjustments for unexpected work hours.
The key is to make finishing your schoolwork a priority instead of an afterthought.
Create your own study space
Don’t study at the kitchen counter next to stack of bills and toys under your feet. It’s best to remove yourself from as many distractions as possible. Even if you don’t have a home office, you can create a space just for your schoolwork. A good example is a small desk tucked into the corner of your bedroom or living room.
Be sure to keep this area neat and free of distracting technology like smart phones. The idea is to build a space that helps you relax and focus.
Understand the technology
For online classes, you’ll need to lay some groundwork before you start school so you can navigate the technology. Log in, look around and sample the tools you’ll be using—before you have to use them.
If the online technology seems daunting at first, don’t worry; there are lots of resources available if you know where to look.
For example, your school’s online hosting platform will usually have Frequently Asked Questions and tutorials. Take popular learning management system Blackboard. In addition to resources on the website, Blackboard also hosts a series of videos on Youtube designed to help students navigate the platform.
You should also contact your school to see if there are resources available from them. Usually you can find online student support. For example, Ultimate Medical Academy offers several resources for first-time online students, including a mock virtual classroom called the Sandbox, where students can familiarize themselves with posting discussion topics, watching videos, communicating with their instructors and more.
If you haven’t committed to a school yet, the amount of online student support would be a great criterion to consider when making your choice.
Make sure you have the right equipment
Online classes require a laptop or desktop computer. It is best to not use a public computer like the ones at the library—you won’t be able to save your work, and you probably won’t have access when you need it. You’ll also need a steady Internet connection, and possibly specific programs like Microsoft Word.
Be sure to check with your school prior to the start of classes to make sure you have the technology and equipment you need. The school may even have programs available to help you get the proper equipment, if you qualify. It’s good to ask about these kinds of things once you enroll.
Communicate with your classmates and instructors
In online courses, communication is key to building a community. Because you may never meet face-to-face, the best way to build relationships is to communicate via tools like email, video chat, text and telephone.
Make sure your course instructor knows who you are, and always ask them for help when you need it. You should also connect with one or a few classmates who can be study buddies and accountability partners. You might also have to work on group projects depending on the course—it’s good to know who you’ll want to work with.
Online learning doesn’t have to be a solitary experience, but it’s up to you to connect virtually with the people involved.
Hopefully these tips help you dive into the world of online learning. If you’ve already started classes, what are some tips you’d offer new students? Let us know in the comments!