Nearly thirty percent of all students, an estimated six million students are enrolled in some form of distance/online education each year. However, not every student who enrolls will complete the program they signed up for. Some universities have had retention rates drop to as low as sixty-eight percent, while traditionally enrolled students remained high.
Well, online courses require more discipline than traditional classrooms. Online courses also require a different set of learning skills in order to be effective. It’s safe to say that in order to benefit from online learning you must first learn how to learn online.
In our formative years, kindergartens and pre-schools focused on teaching us how to learn. We learned the skills necessary to succeed in traditional, formal schools. Unfortunately, there aren’t any courses out there on how to succeed in online school. While online courses employ many of the techniques used in traditional school settings, i.e. textbooks, exams, essay writing, there are some differences that online students must adapt to.
Some experts recommend that learners seeking an online bachelors degree first sign up for “test class”. This can be a simple seminar on a topic of interest or a remedial course in a subject you struggle with. The point is to get an idea of what it takes to get the most out of an online class.
So what are the skills necessary to get the most out of your online learning experience?
- Choosing the right format?
Not all online courses are created equal. Some are little more than YouTube videos and a workbook with minimal interaction with the instructor and no opportunity to work with your peers, digitally or otherwise. This may work well for simple skills-based courses where the objective of the class is to give you a “how-to” guide, but for more complex subjects you are going to want to invest in a course that gives you many of the benefits of a traditional classroom setting without compromising the convenience of online study. Many people seeking a bachelors of science degree find that an interactive online platform is the best option for them.
2. Goal Setting
In order to maintain the motivation and discipline necessary to benefit from online learning, you need to set goals. They should be achievable, clearly defined, and personal. Ask yourself what “success” in this course looks like to you. If your answer is a grade, then you may find yourself struggling later on. While passing the class is, of course, an objective for those seeking to complete an online bachelors degree program it won’t apply for those of us who simply want to learn Italian in our spare time. Whether you are seeking a degree or gaining new skills to enhance your career, choose a goal that is born out of your passions. For those “must-complete” classes that don’t necessarily spark your fire, a more traditional setting or a hybrid class might be the better option.
- Planning and Time Management
I can’t tell you how many people have signed up for an online course that they never completed because they thought that having access to the class on their smartphone meant that learning would just happen. It doesn’t. If you’re going to succeed you need a plan. You need to map out your semester, setting aside specific times for study each day. Talk to your family and friends and let them know that you will not be available between certain hours every day. You have school. Create a schedule and stick to it.
- Optimize Learning Time
Create study blocks. These are chunks of time that are dedicated to learning. Treat it like you would any other class. Make sure you get enough sleep and eat a healthy breakfast or dinner if you are doing your classwork at night. Don’t be late for “class”, turn off your cell phone, disable your social media notifications, and don’t skip days. Many people find the act of preparing for learning to be key to getting into the right frame of mind. For some, that means taking their laptop to the library or local coffee shop to work. For others, it means grabbing a cup of tea and sitting down at the kitchen table for a few hours of uninterrupted productivity.
- Be Present!
This isn’t a new age concept. Remember the kid in your third-grade class whose mind was always wandering or the girl who never seemed to catch on to complex concepts because her mind was always racing? They couldn’t benefit from the lessons because they weren’t present. No matter how well designed the course is, the learning won’t just happen. You have to do your part to make it happen. The best way to do that is to take notes. The act of note-taking helps to keep you mentally engaged in the learning process. Recent research has suggested that it’s better to take notes by hand than to do it digitally. The act of note-taking itself, regardless of the method, is one that benefits recall and retention.
One of the key factors in student retention in online courses is whether or not the student connects with others through the course. That means emailing your professors, joining a study group, actively engaging in group projects and participation in class forums or discussions. You may not be in a room full of students but you aren’t alone either.
- Develop a Reward System
Whether you do it at home in your pajamas or in a classroom, learning is hard work. Don’t forget to reward yourself along the way. Break large assignments down into smaller units and reward yourself every time you complete a unit. Set personal goals and celebrate every time you meet one. Rewards can be as simple as a latte or thirty extra minutes in front of the television. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it keeps you motivated.
The development of online classes has put the world of self-development and academic achievement at our fingertips. We can learn everything from the history of modern stationary to forensic profiling from the comfort of our own homes. But access and success are not the same things. You can still get a stellar education online. Many accredited colleges and universities offer bachelors of science degree programs, bachelor or arts programs, and even master’s programs online allowing you to advance your educational goals without ever stepping foot inside a classroom. All you have to do is master the art of online classroom success.