Why should I take an online course?
1. It can be a graduation saver
Taking an online course can be a graduation-saver. Having an illness, a family crisis, an unexpected failure in a course or a mistake made counting credits with one or two courses to go can create a situation where being able to take those last few credits without having to be on campus or pay for a full semester makes completing a degree possible. Taking an online course in the summer session can be a way to get a bit ahead on your coursework in order to graduate early. Some students use summer session as a way to raise their GPAs: take a course online and do very well at it and then also take one less course in the following semester which allows you to do better in all your courses. Because online courses are usually asynchronous, you can take one while you are working.
2. Scheduling flexibility
One of the advantages of online learning can be less distraction. You can set your schedule and work quietly and intensely without commuting time or the social interruptions that naturally come with attending class. You have the option to fit your coursework around work or other responsibilities, as long as you don’t procrastinate from day to day. You do have to make sure family and friends understand that you are not on vacation, that you are taking a difficult course with a lot of reading and that you are working towards your degree…and find a way to thank them for their support when you successfully complete your course!
What’s the downside?
Well, many students are surprised by how difficult an online course. There is a perception that online courses are easier and let you “work at your own pace.” Not really. Being permitted to do the daily work at any point in a 24 hour span doesn’t mean that you get to take tests, quizzes or complete writing assignments whenever you want. There are still actual deadlines. Moreover, many instructors require participation in online discussion forums where you have to read classmates’ comments and participate with your own. If you don’t log in fairly frequently to participate it’s very hard to participate well. The posts accumulate quickly and you could miss out on taking part in fast-moving threads. This may lower your grade. In other words, the online course potentially requires even more self-discipline and time-management skills than taking a face-to-face course in a physical classroom. You no longer have the built-in structure of having to show up in class a few times a week—something that enforces reading and smaller writing deadlines from day to day in a way that adds up to meeting the deadline for the big assignments. Online courses tend to require consistent attention and work. You should plan to spend about 8-12 hours a week (depending on your reading speed) taking an online course. While that is the best thing to do for for face-to-face courses as well, it is possible to postpone work until just before the big assignments and then do a big work splurge to catch up at the last minute and still eke out a passing grade. For an online course, you need to stay on top of things all the way through.
What is essential to my success in an online course?
1. You must be an independent learner
Learning in an online course tends to be more independent. You don’t have as much contact with the professor and you don’t have frequent encounters with other students in the class. Some courses facilitate students forming study groups or assign group work but this is different from class attendance. Although there are tools that professors use such as video lectures, office hours, and whiteboard simulations, you may end up with less direct instruction about the readings. This can be good for students who are fairly experienced with the demands of college courses (at least a year of good grades), who practice active learning, and who like to work on their own. In fact, when I’ve had the same student in both a face-to-face course and an online course I have sometimes been surprised to see students who did not participate in class discussion bloom in the online discussion forums. When these students had more time to think about the discussion or when they didn’t feel so many eyes directly upon them, I surmised, they were better able to articulate their ideas. Students who count on being able to “lurk” in the back of the class and not speak during discussions may not do well in the online environment. Professors can and do quantify your level of participation. They can look carefully at what you “say” because they can call up a record of all the comments you’ve made when they grade your participation. Some students report that the higher level of class participation on the part of everyone in the class makes the class more stimulating in some ways than a face-to-face version.
2. You should be technologically fluent (or at least know how to use Skype)
This may seem obvious, but to take an online course you need to be comfortable using computer software and have equipment in your home that is current enough to be compatible with whatever Learning Management System your school is using. If you are easily frustrated/confused using a computer or being online, have outdated equipment or operating systems, don’t have a good internet connection, or share a computer to such a degree that you can’t count on having computer access whenever you need it, online learning may not be for you right now.
Are you interested in learning more about online tutoring at Cambridge Coaching?
Itching to read more advice for your undergraduate and graduate work? Read more blog posts below!