Unless you've already had some experience with them, taking online college courses can represent a bit of a learning curve. And though studying online will require some adaptation, here are a few tips and tricks that can help make your transition much smoother.
1. Develop a Sense of Self-Motivation
Some of us are just born with a natural sense of self-motivation, while others have to work toward achieving this highly valuable trait. Although you might be used to professors, classmates, and parents reminding you when assignments are due and what criteria these assignments must meet, you will have to prepare for an educational experience that requires initiative, motivation, and self-reliance.
2. Utilize All Resources
Your online education will require a great deal of independence and self-reliance. However, many institutions offer a variety of helpful resources for students to ensure the utmost success from the program. These resources include support teams for help with coursework and technical problems, and chat rooms to help connect with the instructor as well as your fellow classmates.
3. Understand Degree Program Availability
Even if you aren't sure which major you want to stick with, it's a good idea to understand what your options are for each online school you are considering. Many online institutions offer a wide range of different degree programs. For example, American InterContinental University (AIU) offers degrees in the following categories: Business, Information Technology, Criminal Justice, Design, and more—with various concentrations to choose from in each program.
4. Establish Proficiency Using Technological Software
Since your academic success will rely partially on your ability to use various kinds of computer software, it's important that you familiarize yourself with the technology you will likely encounter on a daily basis. This includes databases, online forums, email, websites, webcams, and more. To ensure the greatest success in your online program, you must be able to navigate the web and use computer programs without any problems.
5. Be Able to Manage Your Time Effectively
Time management is one of the most important components of ensuring a successful online education. When your instructors provide you with a syllabus for each class, there is potential that this will be the only time you receive information about due dates for upcoming assignments. This means you alone have to keep a calendar and maintain a schedule to ensure that all of your work is completed on time.
6. Start Out Small
Although you may be eager to get your education underway, you want to avoid overwhelming yourself with a full course load if you have never experienced online learning before. For this reason, it might be in your best interest to take one online course during a summer semester to get a feel for how it all works and how well you like the program.
7. Proofread Everything You Submit
Unlike a standard college setting, much of your communication in an online course will be written. Grammar and punctuation are an important component of ensuring your message gets across accurately, but you should also check for clarity and conciseness when proofreading your work to ensure smoother communication.
8. Use Downtime Wisely
Chances are you won't receive instant feedback on discussions and assignments in an online course. However, don't waste your time playing games or watching television while you're waiting for a response. Instead, use your extra time to get a head start on next week's assignments or to complete your work in another course.
9. Get into a Routine
It's usually easier to maintain self-discipline for your online course when you develop a routine for doing work. For example, if you tend to work better at night when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet, plan on regularly completing your schoolwork by working a few hours each night to develop a productive habit.
10. Communicate Often with Classmates and Instructors
You may not be able to simply raise your hand to get the attention of your instructors and classmates, but using email and other technical communication features is an excellent way to stay in touch and avoid misunderstandings. If you have a question about an assignment, email your instructor and classmates to collaborate and determine a solution to your problem.
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As you progress in your online education, you will likely find that it shares more similarities than differences with the traditional institutions you're used to. Following the steps above will help you better prepare for your academic success and avoid potential challenges along the way.
---Zach Buckley is a freelance writer who is interested in exploring the intersection of culture, science, and education. He lives in the Midwest and enjoys music, literature, and good food.