Five Essential Online Learning Strategies
Online learning environment can seem intimidating to students who haven’t tried it. But, according to Dr. Jennifer Bachner, Director of the MS in Government Analytics and Certificate in Government Analytics, online learning isn’t much different than a classroom. By employing a few essential strategies, any student can learn not only to succeed, but to flourish in the online learning environment.
Top five strategies for success in online learning:
1. Devote consistent blocs of time to the class
Online courses are often attractive to students because they offer flexibility, particularly for those with demanding professional or personal responsibilities. This flexibility, however, can lead students into trouble. It can be tempting for students to delay working through the course material, thinking they’ll find time later in the week. But online coursework is like exercise – you never find the time for it, you make the time for it. Schedule consistent, multi-hour blocks of time during the week that you can devote to coursework and adhere rigidly to this schedule. The lack of regular class meetings is more (not less) reason to establish a consistent work schedule for yourself.
2. Communicate regularly with the professor
Opening and using these lines of communication will benefit you both during and beyond the course. During the course, it’s important to ask questions when the material or assignments are unclear and discuss larger assignments such as research papers. Use the mode of communication preferred by the instructor (e.g. email, Skype, phone) but don’t shrink away from these conversations. Students who fail to get their questions answered and concerns addressed often fall behind quickly and significantly. Moreover, establishing a working relationship with your instructor is essential for expanding your professional network and developing a list of references you can use for career purposes.
3. Engage with your classmates
Don’t limit your discussion postings to responding to the prompts posted by the instructor. Add your own insights and questions to the discussion. I always appreciate when students post a relevant news article or scholarly publication they’ve come across. These contributions help other students relate the course material to the real world and other areas of study. In addition, share appropriate information about yourself, such as your career interests and other courses you’ve enjoyed. Like your instructor, you should consider your classmates to be part of your professional network, and you should cultivate relationships with them.
4. Begin your work early
In an online class, particularly for first-time students, there may be technical difficulties to overcome. Take the risk of these difficulties into account, and give yourself time to acclimate to new software and hardware. Further, give your instructors a reasonable amount of time to answer your questions. In an online class, exchanging emails or arranging phone conversations takes time. In short, expect that you will encounter hurdles when completing the work and leave yourself time to overcome them.
5. Remember that online classes vary greatly
Just as with on-the-ground classes, there are many ways to design an online class. Research course offerings ahead of time to determine if the instructor, structure and material are a good fit for you. Some online classes, for example, rely largely on the discussion boards to further your learning while others make heavier use of group projects, individually-written papers or collaborative problem sets. Don’t be shy about contacting the professor (and students who have taken the course previously) to find out what you can expect. Online instructors are using a wide array of exciting technologies to enhance their instruction. Think seriously about how you learn best, and select a course that meets your needs.
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Jennifer Bachner, PhD, teaches online and on-ground courses in statistical analysis, survey research methods, public opinion, elections and American political behavior.
She received a PhD in government from Harvard University and undergraduate degrees in political science and social studies education from the University of Maryland, College Park.