Congratulations! You have enrolled in school and are now taking your classes online. Or maybe the recent health crisis has thrown you into the black hole of online learning and you are not sure where to start. Do not worry! We are here to help. We’ve been educating thousands of students for decades with online learning and have some great advice to help you succeed. Keep reading to learn about our 10 things you should know about online learning.
- When and how often should you log in to the online classroom?
As an online student, you may have a very flexible schedule that affords you the opportunity to study in the early morning, midday, or late at night. Flexible schedules are great, but there are a few things to know. First, a flexible schedule does not mean assignments can be turned in whenever you want. In fact, it is the opposite. Assignments are usually due at specific dates and times. Our advice is to put reminders in your smartphone’s calendar for when assignments are due and set alerts/notifications a day or more in advance. You don’t want to wait until the last minute! Secondly, your class may require you to log in a certain number of times per week. This is sort of the online version of taking attendance. Your instructor wants to ensure you are engaged in the course, and this is demonstrated by logging in. You may be required to log in by a certain time each week and provide a quick discussion board post or comment. Be sure to check each class’s syllabus as the requirements may vary from class to class.
- How do you turn in online assignments?
Turning in your work for an online class is much different than a traditional class where you actually hand your work to a person. For online learning, you will likely have to upload a file from your computer to the online classroom, provide a link to where you have saved your work in the cloud, or even take a photo of your assignment and upload it to the online classroom. It is important to understand each assignment’s requirements as they will vary from class to class. If you have never performed any of these tasks, you should practice before your first assignment is due. Practice sharing a file with your instructor by messaging her with your link and seeing if she can open/access it. Practice by taking a photo of your assignment and sending the photo to your instructor. The more you master these basic skills, the less time they will take when you have real assignments due. Also, if your instructor is not available to help you practice, contact your school through the online classroom (or via phone, email, or chat), and reach out to someone in student support. They can help you practice as they want you to succeed and not let the technology get in the way. Practice makes perfect!
- How and when should you ask questions in the online classroom?
You should ask questions as often as you need help! In fact, asking questions shows that you are engaged in the online learning process and helps you get to know and build a virtual relationship with your instructor. Building a good relationship will help you continue obtaining support along the way. Instructors always remember the most engaged students and that can help you succeed. How to ask questions will vary from class to class and may depend on your instructor or your school. They may encourage you to use the classroom’s forums and discussion boards whereby you post your question either publicly for the class or privately to just the instructor. The instructor may also post their contact information and you can email/message them directly through the online classroom. In some cases, the instructor may encourage you to call, text, or email her when needed. So the key to success is to understand your instructor’s preference.
- How do you get help from the online school?
To obtain support from your online school, you may need to message them through the main online learning platform, or there may be a support hotline or live chat hotline you can use. Check the hours too! Sometimes there are specific hours that these systems are staffed by live persons. If you are in a different time zone, that may also affect when you can reach out and when you should expect to receive a response. That is why it is important to not wait until the last minute to complete an assignment. Because, if you need support for an assignment that is due in a few hours and it is already late at night, there may be no one online or available to support you.
- How and why you should introduce yourself in the online classroom.
Introduce yourself with some fun information and facts. How personal you get with your instructor and classmates is entirely up to you. To get started we recommend keeping things light and informal. For example, sharing where you are from or if you work part-time (and what you do), or perhaps a few details about your interests and hobbies. Getting noticed early on by your instructor as an active participator is important, so feel free to ask questions about your classmates, and even connect with them in the classroom or through social media. However, we do not recommend oversharing personal details until you are comfortable and trust others to be respectful. So avoid sharing things that are sensitive such as personal problems, tragedies, or viewpoints. Online learning is not like Facebook and is not online therapy either. Keep things reserved for being professional and productive to the community of learning.
- Know what’s off-limits for discussion.
You should not post, discuss, or otherwise make comments about 5 KEY TOPICS unless your instructor specifically grants permission. These five key topics are:
- Current news/events
When it doubt about whether your comments are acceptable, ask yourself if they are pertinent to the topic or assignment your instructor has posted. Diverting the discussion by interjecting an off-hand comment that is related to one of the five categories above is not productive to your community of learning. Leave those comments to your social media feeds and stick to learning in the classroom. If someone else posts comments related to these categories, you should report the comments privately to the instructor or school as being offensive or unproductive, and you should ignore them. Instead, redirect the conversation back to the assignment’s topic and do not engage in debate.
Now, let’s discuss the “three b’s”. Be positive, be empathetic, and helpful.
- Be positive.
Always be upbeat and contribute in a supportive, positive manner when participating in the online classroom. Avoid being passive-aggressive which includes making back-handed comments, blaming others, name-calling, or playing the victim. None of these behaviors are acceptable in the online learning community. Instead, be clear, concise, direct, and when possible, upbeat. Your positive attitude will set an example for others and reflect highly on you in the eyes of your instructor. You want to be admired in the virtual classroom and not despised.
- Be empathetic.
Empathy is a rare quality that can take years (if not a lifetime) to master. What is empathy? It’s having the ability to understand, acknowledge, and even care about the feelings of others, even if you disagree with those feelings. It is showing respect for someone else’s viewpoint and feelings rather than admonishing or attacking them for feeling the way they do. It also means helping stand up for someone’s right to feel the way they do when they express a specific feeling. Empathy is a hallmark of a successful leader, the heroes of our society. Be a hero by being empathetic toward others in the classroom.
- Be helpful.
If you see a classmate struggling with an assignment or having difficulty grasping a concept, do not be afraid to offer assistance. If you see someone who seems frustrated, reach out politely in the discussion boards or privately message your classmate and offer assistance. Helping others can help you master a skill and build relationships with your classmates. Even if you cannot directly help, perhaps you can point your classmate to potentially helpful resources such as student support links, hotlines, and so forth. Never try and be a know-it-all, but sharing resources that helped you succeed contributes positively to the online learning community.
- Have fun!
Finally, HAVE FUN! Online learning can be fun. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort to be fun and social because your classmates may all be logging in and participating at different times of the day (or even days of the week.) Get to know your classmates on social media or inside the online classroom. But remember, be careful about oversharing personal information and do so only if you feel safe. If your school and instructor permit, share photos in the online classroom too – just avoid anything inappropriate! If you are unsure what to share or if it is okay to share, remember, just ask!
Bringing it all together.
Your time as a student in an online learning environment can and should be productive, safe, and fun. However, you must actively participate and support others to ensure that it remains these things by following the rules, understanding the limits of what is appropriate, and being a good online citizen. If you follow these ten tips above, then you will be well on your way to having success as an online student.