If you are thinking about starting or continuing your degree pursuit, then you have probably already figured out the advantages of online degrees – the flexibility, the convenience, the cost savings. Perhaps you are a working adult, have a family, or simply don’t want to be tied to a traditional classroom schedule? Distance learning will likely be your first choice. In the back of your mind, though, there may be a nagging doubt – “What if I’m not cut out for taking online classes?”
The good news is that even someone who may learn better in a face-to-face setting can become a successful online student. You can actually learn to learn online! So, what are the top qualities of an online student? Let’s explore them by putting you through the PACES.
P – Preparation and Pacing
Before you enroll in your first online course, you can set yourself up for success by taking time to prepare for the online learning experience. Consider your online degree program options, review admission processes, and contact an enrollment advisor to ask any questions you may have. You can also talk to other students who have taken the institution’s online courses or read reviews to get a feel for the quality and rigor of the experience. To eliminate any administrative stress, get all of your questions answered before even starting that first course.
Two additional resources can help you prepare for online learning. The first is an assessment tool, such as Ottawa University’s SmartMeasure Online Learning Readiness Indicator, that determines your strengths and weaknesses with regard to online learning. By identifying areas of weakness in advance, you can address those before enrolling in your first course. Some universities also provide prospective online students with an opportunity to sample an online class first-hand. You can learn the nuts and bolts of the platform, as well as get familiar with the online learning process.
Another key to online learning success is pacing. While you may be inclined to jump in with both feet to fast-track your degree completion, starting with one class your first term allows you to ease into the online learning experience and discover any of the other PACES you need to address for success. It also helps you determine the amount of time required for completing coursework so you will know how many courses to take simultaneously in subsequent terms.
A - Attitude
Chances are, if you are an adult learner, you are paying for your own education. So, the decision to return to school was not made lightly. That alone is a major indicator of your attitude going into your degree pursuit. You’re all in. Other character traits and attitudes towards online learning will go a long way towards your success in the online classroom, as well.
First, you must have the mindset that online learning is just as valid and rigorous as a traditional classroom education – sometimes more so. Next, you must be able to work independently and stay motivated. If you struggle with this, you may need to find an accountability partner from your class or personal life who can encourage you each week and help you stay on track. It also helps if you are open to learning new ways of doing things, as you will no doubt be challenged to “figure things out” in this new learning format. When you face speedbumps in your degree pursuit, it is important to have a “can-do” attitude of persistence. Always keep your end goal in mind and never be too proud to ask for help. Our Student Services Team is here to help you every step of the way in throughout your journey with Ottawa.
C - Communication
One of the biggest differences between face-to-face and distance learning is the way you communicate with professors and classmates. It may be hard to transition from real-time, verbal dialogue to delayed-response, written input and feedback. If you want to be a successful online student, mastering online communication is key. It may be tempting to hold back in your responses to classmates or to meet only the minimum requirements of feedback. Instead, choose to embrace this new form of communication. Allow yourself time to craft thoughtful, creative posts. Imagine what your face-to-face discussion might sound like and put that in writing instead. Intentionally engage with and get to know your professors early on via email or chat to establish a good relationship. Initiate chats with classmates on social media. In short, use the online communication platform to your advantage rather than seeing it as a drawback to learning.
E – Environment
Since you are not in the classroom, you must create your own learning environment. While each person has his or her preferences regarding the surroundings most conducive for studying, there are some guidelines that have been proven to be effective.
Having a designated space to study helps put you in the right mindset for buckling down to complete the week’s coursework. It can be an office, the kitchen table, or a coffee shop; you can even change it up, but it should be “off limits” to others in the house while you are studying. You also want to minimize distractions as much as possible. That might mean turning off the TV, silencing your phone (even putting it in the next room), turning on your favorite playlist (if music helps you), or shutting the door. Having an organized, uncluttered space may have a positive effect on your attitude, as well.
It probably goes without saying that you will need a reliable internet connection and a computer that isn’t shared with other family members as part of your successful online learning environment. An often-overlooked component of your environment, however, is on your computer. All of your degree files should be well organized and regularly backed up for easy access and storage.
S – Skills and Schedule
There are certain skills that are a must for success in the online classroom. The three most critical are reading, writing, and computer skills. Because no information is shared verbally by the professor in a typical online classroom, you are required to acquire all of the knowledge by reading course books and materials. It can be a bit overwhelming, so having a good notetaking and content highlighting system will help. If you are concerned about your writing skills, ask someone to proofread and edit your writing before it is submitted. Finally, you should be relatively proficient with Microsoft Office, a computer and the internet to successfully navigate the online classroom.
The last component of the PACES model for becoming a successful online student is your schedule. Look at the course syllabus early on, identify when each assignment is due, and put it on a master calendar. Then, analyze your work, home and social schedule to determine solid blocks of time you can allot to your coursework each week. Whether it’s weekends, evenings, lunch breaks or a combination, the important thing is to establish a routine for getting the work done. Nothing can derail online learning success like procrastination and failure to have a plan.
So, are you ready to put yourself through the PACES? By following these online learning strategies, you will be poised to get the most from taking online classes and become a successful online student in no time.
Read more about Ottawa University’s online degree programs today, and discover the wonderful opportunities that await you as you begin your journey in living a life of significance.
Contact us for further information about our online programs!