Student Survival Tips for Successful Online/Virtual Learning

By Kathleen D. Carroll, MED.

Guy at Computer

Online courses give students the flexibility to take their class anytime, anywhere.  The main objective for students in an online/virtual class is to stay on track.  Doing so requires discipline, commitment, and organization—traits any successful student should possess, no matter what path the student is taking to complete their course, professional development or college degree.

There are two styles of online learning: synchronous and asynchronous. During a synchronous class, you will log in at the same time as the instructor and your classmates. This time will be predetermined by your instructor and can include such multimedia as synchronous chatting, viewing of online videos, posting to discussion boards, blogging, and the use of digital white board displays.  An asynchronous class provides more freedom to you, as you can log in at any time and place, convenient for yourself.  You will have to complete a certain amount of online assignments by given due date.  You may experience much of the same multimedia as mentioned above minus the synchronous chatting.

Most online/virtual classes combine both styles of learning (synchronous and asynchronous).  To be successful in this type of online setting involves applying new skills that you may not have used in a face-to-face classroom.  Below are some different strategies and tips that will help you succeed in an online/virtual classroom.

1.    Motivate Yourself:  since there is no teacher physically present in an online/virtual environment, it is necessary to motivate yourself.

2.    Time Management: common problem for many online/virtual students.  It can be hard to push yourself to study and get homework done when there aren’t other students around you doing the same. Many online students have jobs and families competing for their time as well, which just adds to the difficulty of getting down to business on your online/virtual homework.

3.    Get Organized: 

  • Keep a calendar with important dates.  This will help to make deadlines and complete assignments in a timely fashion.
  • Make a plan:  online/virtual students need structure.  Creating a study calendar may help you to stay focused.

4.    Before Class/Beginning an Assignment:

  • Set aside time:  when taking an online course you want to make sure that you have enough time before class begins, or you begin your assignment, to log on, organize your materials, and make sure the technology is working. 
  • Read:  review and read all directions before beginning the online/virtual learning task.
  • Understanding Text:  printing documents and web pages is helpful in reading and understanding text.  This can limit the distractions from advertisements and other multimedia while you are on the Internet.
  • Be prepared:  read the assigned articles before the class/assignment, set-up and test all technology pieces before class, and make sure that you have ample time set aside to complete activities and tasks.
  • Know your due dates/Look ahead:  knowing what is due in six weeks, not just the next day, can help you maximize your time.  This will help you to avoid getting stressed out if a technology mishap occurs.

 5.    During Class/Work Time:

  • Avoid distractions like social networking, email, instant messaging/chatting or TV noise:  minimizing interruptions will increase your efficiency and learning.
  • Internet Is Public Domain: whatever you type online can be read by many different people and there is no privacy with the Internet.
  •  Take Notes: reading articles online can take a toll on the eyes.  Print out hard copies of articles or web pages to take notes. This will help you remain organized.
  • Participate!  Whether you are working alone, or in a group, contribute your ideas, perspective and comments on the subject you are studying.  Read your classmates as well.  Your instructor is not the only source of information in your course.  You may gain great insight from your peers and they can learn from you as well.
  • Post Thoughtful Discussions: if you are participating in discussion boards or blogs       think about what you want to say and proofread your message before you post it.
  • Respond: be sure to respond to other classmates’ discussions/blogs to keep the discussion progressing, which will further your learning.
  • Proofread: check spelling, grammar, and punctuation when posting information on the Internet.
  • Be Polite and Respectful: remember you are dealing with real people on the other end of the modem.  Being polite and respectful is not only common sense, but is obligatory for a productive and supportive online environment.  In a positive online/virtual environment, you will feel valued by your instructor, classmates and your own work will have greater value as well.
  • Use Proper Online Netiquette:
    1. Mind your manners: you never know who’s reading your work/posts.
    2. Make sure not to use capital letters when messaging because it means that you’re SHOUTING!!!
    3. Think twice before using sarcasm. Sarcasm might not be appreciated by all participants and can sometimes be offensive.
    4. Avoid having a flame war (i.e., an argument with a nasty online exchange of words).
    5. Don’t overuse emoticons:  overuse of emoticons can take away from your perceived writing skills. 🙁
    6. Remember that you are communicating with real people on the other end of cyberspace.
    7. If you can’t back up what you say with evidence then don’t make the claim.

 6.    After Class/Assignment:

  • Don’t Procrastinate: get other future assignments completed in a timely manner. Use a calendar or plan book to organize when assignments are due and manage materials for class.  Remember, technical difficulties can ruin last minute assignments so make sure that you begin ahead of time.
  • Eliminate Distractions: when completing assignments, remain focused and eliminate outside distractions so that you complete your work in a timely manner.
  • Keep the Discussions Flowing: it’s perfectly okay to continue a discussion board/blog going so long as the topic hasn’t been overly analyzed.
  • Ask for Help as soon as you need it.  Don’t be afraid to speak-up, do so as soon as you start feeling unsure about a concept or lesson.  Ask your instructor for clarification.
  • Involve the Experts: if there is a topic that is of interest to the class, recruit experts to participate in the next discussion or attend the next online synchronous class.
  • Continue Your Professional Development: read up on the latest articles and join professional organizations to help you further your knowledge about the topic.

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