Are you Ready to Learn Online?

female student looking at monitor for the internetHow do you know if you’re ready to take an online course?  There are many benefits to taking online courses, especially if you live far from campus and are juggling other commitments in your life. However, online learning may introduce unique challenges.  

I.   Technology Resources: Do you have access to the right technology?

II.  The Classroom: How does online learning work? How is a virtual classroom different than a physical classroom?

III. Balance: Does anytime anywhere mean all of the time everywhere? How should you manage your time to be successful?

IV. Blackboard: Where can you learn more about how to use this valuable tool? 

4 students looking at laptopI. Technology Resources

What technology will you require in order to be successful in an online course?  
You will need: 

  • A good working computer 
  • Up to date software 
  • A webcam, microphone, and speakers (or headphones)
  • A fast, reliable internet connection 

All courses rely on the use of Blackboard Learn so you will need to check the browser and operating system requirements in the Blackboard section.

Make sure you are familiar with the requirements for online courses you take. For example, a finance course may require that you have access to a recent version of Microsoft Excel. A communications course may require PowerPoint and access to a webcam or microphone on your computer. 

A Note About Mobile Devices:
Using a tablet or phone may be convenient since they are so portable, but some things may not work as well as they would using a computer. It can also be more challenging to type papers, take quizzes and participate in online collaborative activities using a small screen. Learn more about the Blackboard Mobile App and its features.

Computer Skills

No one expects you to know all there is to know about technology but you should be comfortable trying new things and troubleshooting issues that may come up. Obstacles are going to come up that will challenge your patience. The power may go out when writing a paper or taking a test, you may temporarily lose your internet connection. 

  • Don’t allow yourself to get frustrated easily when something doesn’t work as hoped. 
  • Protect yourself by backing up your work and anticipating challenges. 
  • Leverage skill sharing websites and resources to learn how to improve your skills. There are many ways to teach yourself specific technology skills before giving up on using a new technology.  

 

II. The Classroom

How does online learning work? How is a virtual classroom different than a physical classroom?
 

How do you learn best? What study habits work for you? Does it help you to use visuals, listing to audio, touch and manipulate physical materials, or talk about what you are learning? 

We all have different preferences, strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. Learning styles aren’t set in stone and may change based on the material you’re learning. What study skills work best for you. 

Learning Style Activity:group of students studying around a table
Try taking one of the following learning style inventories to learn more about your own learning styles and preferences:  

You may be tempted to post a quick informal reply on a discussion forum in your online course, but make sure you communicate appropriately and respectfully online. 
Please follow these “Terms of Service” or “Conditions for Use” or “Netiquette”:

  • No sloppy postings, please use a spell check and then copy and paste into the discussion box
  • No inflammatory messages, count to 10 before posting, No (masked) vulgarity,
  • No trolling
  • No spamming
  • No mentioning of pink elephants, etc
  • YES, be polite
  • Yes, be helpful
  • Yes, copy and paste materials into your posts to support your positions
  • Yes, ask questions of your classmates
  • Yes, point out inconsistencies, contradictions and vagueness
  • Yes, respond to those you respond to you in acceptable posting language
  • Do NOT use all CAPITAL letters. It is considered rude to do so
  • No spelling short cuts or emoticons
  • No lower case “i” in referring to oneself
  • No sentence fragments and sentences that begin without an upper-case letter.

Source: CUNY Academic Commons, Student Preparedness- why is it important? https://hybrid.commons.gc.cuny.edu/students/student-preparation/ 
 

1.    Write Clearly and Professionally
You won’t be able to raise your hand to ask a question in class but will need to communicate your ideas and questions clearly in writing through online discussion boards, email or virtual meetings. Online courses demand strong reading and writing skills. Before writing to your professor, make sure you’ve read the instructions and information posted in the course online. 

2.    Read Carefully
Professors may share a lot of detailed instructions and information about the course in writing. They may also use announcements to share weekly reminders and clarifications or to inform you on last minute changes in the course. Read everything posted in the course very carefully, especially the syllabus, so you don’t miss important details. Check your Blackboard settings to make sure you receive course notifications in a timely manner. 

3.    Be an Active Online Participant
You can’t sit in the back of the room in an online course. Everyone’s participation is noticed and appreciated. Online discussions are a common way to get everyone talking about concepts introduced in the course. One of the benefits to communicating in an online forum vs in the classroom is you’ll have slightly more time to reflect on what you’re reading before sharing your thoughts. More and more collaborative, synchronous tools are being brought into online courses every day which can help broaden the ways professors and students communicate with each other. 

4.    Be Social!
Just because you’re taking an online course doesn’t mean you can’t meet up with your classmates! Online courses shift the way you engage with your professor and other students but don’t be afraid to reach out with questions or to connect about the course. When you study and collaborate on projects you won’t have as many opportunities to run into each other on campus so you don’t be shy and reach out to set up study meet ups and try getting to know your classmates. 

Your coursework will generally fall into two categories: course materials and course activities.

Course Materials:

  • The course materials may include readings from a textbook, multimedia, video or audio lectures, PowerPoint presentations and more. 
  • You may be expected to read, watch and/or listen to these materials prior to completing your assignments. 
  • Your materials may be offered in an electronic format.

​​​
Course Activities: 

  • These can include all of the same types of activities you would do in a face-to-face class except you will be expected to submit them online. 
  • Some activities will be asynchronous, meaning you can work on them at your convenience. They will still have due dates but you have more flexibility than you would if you had to meet in a classroom. These types of activities include threaded discussions, wikis, blogs, journals, group work and more. 
  • Synchronous assignments will require you to be online at the same time as your professor, and/or classmates. These may include live chat sessions or virtual video conferencing sessions. Your professor may also offer virtual office hours synchronously. Virtual sessions in Blackboard will use Blackboard Collaborate. 
  • You may have a combination of group assignments and individual work. 
  • Activities may be brief such as weekly homework and others may involve semester long projects. 
  • It’s important to familiarize yourself with the tools needed for the activities early on. 

 

III. Balance

Time

group of students studying around a tableLet’s face it, you’re probably interested in taking an online course because of the flexibility. Although many online courses are promoted as offering learning “anytime” and “anywhere” online courses still have deadlines. You will need to manage your time to ensure that you keep up with your weekly assignments and progress on long term assignments. Time doesn’t fly out the window when taking an online course. 

Time Commitment Per Week
You are expected to invest a certain number of hours in a course based on the number of credits, regardless of the format. For every 1 one credit you’re taking over a traditional 15 week semester, you should expect to spend about 3 three hours per week engaged in course activities. In a 3-three credit course, you should expect to spend about 9 nine hours per week on a combination of  readings, writing papers, communicating with your fellow students and the professor working on projects, and preparing for quizzes and tests.

Don’t Procrastinate!
Many courses follow a Monday through Sunday format where the week is front-loaded with readings and multimedia viewing and writing papers, participating in discussions and taking quizzes occurs during the tail end of the week. Schedule your time so that you can be successful managing this workload. 

Space

laptop and books in a libraryWith online learning, the course comes to you. Your lifestyle and competing commitments have a much larger influence on your success in an online course than when you travel to get to an in person classroom. The location you chose to engage in your online course work will make all the difference in how focused and productive you may be. Your classroom may become your living room. It may be your kitchen table or your commute to work. Some people have no problem working on their course work in a busy coffee shop while others need the quiet of a library environment. You will need to figure out which environment helps you be successful.  Try to set up a dedicated workspace where you’re comfortable and won’t be distracted. 


Learning Environment Checklist:

  • High-speed internet access
  • Free of distractions
  • Ample outlets to keep computer charged
  • Quiet / Able to use headphones
  • Large desk space to layout multiple materials, notebooks and other study materials
  • Bright lighting to reduce eye strain
  • Comfortable seating 
     

Focus

Distractions are a part of life. We would all rather spend our time enjoying ourselves rather than focusing on understanding challenging issues or working. They key is finding the right balance so that you are able to focus on course work when it’s needed and able to find time to relax. 


Multitasking is a Myth
We all like to think that we can multitask effectively but many people find that multitasking is not as effective as focusing on one task at a time for shorter, more concentrated periods of time. Some people recommend using noise cancelling headphones and a timer to help focus attention on one thing more deeply rather than being involved in many things at that same time in a more shallow way. 


Tips for staying focused:

  • Identify Goals - What do you hope to achieve? Try to break down long term goals into smaller, attainable tasks. 
  • Create a schedule - It can be helpful to schedule the times you plan to work on course activities just as you would have had to schedule being in a classroom on certain days/times. Just because you have flexibility doesn’t mean you don’t need a schedule!
  • Connect with Classmates - Learning is a social activity and connecting with your classmates may alleviate stress and enhance your understanding of the course material. Reach out to your classmates to set up time to meet up online or over the phone to discuss your assignments and get to know each other. 
  • Prioritize! - What is most urgent and essential to focus on? We all get caught up in topics that interest us, just make sure that you put the most important assignments front and center.
  • Practice Self-Care - Don’t forget about yourself in all of this. Get a good night sleep, exercise and eat well. Taking care of yourself will help you be a more successful online learner.