Enrollment in distance learning courses has increased for 14 years straight, according to Babson Survey Research Group's recently released Grade Increase report. In fact, more than one in three higher education students is currently taking one or more of these types of courses.
If you're one of them, but have never taken online courses before, you may be a little apprehensive about what lies ahead. So, to help ease any angst you may have, here are nine things you can expect as a new online learner.
1. Coursework You Can Do Anywhere
One of the main reasons online courses are so desirable is that you can do your coursework anywhere, as long as you have a computer and, in some cases, an internet connection. This makes earning your degree much easier because it's not just about sitting in class and then sitting at a desk at home.
Want to work on your classwork during your lunch break? No problem. Just take your laptop and you're good to go. Maybe you feel most invigorated mentally when there's a little bit of movement around you? Your local coffee shop may be just the place. There are no limits here. Just find the right place for you to maximize your learning and productivity as a student.
2. Both Online and Bookwork
Taking classes online also means that you'll likely have both online and bookwork. This means setting aside time to take care of your computer work when you have one available, but it also gives the flexibility of handling some of your homework when you can't (or don't want to) take an electronic device with you.
3. One-on-One Access to Instructors
If you've ever taken an on-campus class, then you already know that it is sometimes difficult to interact with the instructor. Usually, other students surround him or her at the end of the class, making the asking of a question nearly impossible unless you want to wait. And if you don't have any other way to get in touch, asking outside of class becomes problematic, too.
Online courses are different in this regard because you always have one-on-one access to the person who is teaching your course. Have a question? Simply send an e-mail or start an online forum. No more standing in line or wondering how you're going to connect.
4. Facing Deadlines (Without Reminders)
One area in which new online learners sometimes struggle is that they now face deadlines for homework and classwork, but they aren't necessarily getting reminders like they'd typically get in class. In most online courses, the syllabus at the beginning is the only notification of when your work is due.
This makes finding some way to remember these dates critical to your online success. Place them on your calendar right next to your other important dates. Don't forget to give yourself a little wiggle room, too, so you're not rushing to hand things in last minute should an emergency pop up in the meantime.
5. Engaging with Classmates from All Over
In an online learning environment, you can also expect that your classmates will be from different geographic areas. Sure, some may be across town, but others may be across the state, country, or even the world. This is especially true at Saint Leo University because the school strives to accommodate active-duty military personnel, some of whom are taking courses from very distant lands in which they are deployed.
Diversity is also something you'll face in the work world, so this is a great time to engage with individuals from other locations. Who knows? You may even strike up a friendship and want to visit them personally. How great would that be?
6. Group and Individual Projects
Since online learning doesn't confine students by location or time, expect to have group projects as well as individual work. While this may not be the case in every class, many instructors assign work that must be completed in pairs or teams.
Some people find this challenging, especially in having to rely on others for part of a grade. But, again, try to look at it as an opportunity to learn how to work with others from various backgrounds. This skill is required to succeed in the work world, so why not learn it now?
7. Having to Prioritize School with Work and Home
Because you don't have to do your coursework at a predetermined day and time, online learning requires that you prioritize your schooling with your obligations at work and home. One way to do this is to create a routine. For instance, maybe you take two hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and take care of your homework at those specified times.
Another option is to actually put your schooling time on your schedule. This helps cement in your mind that the work needs to be done. It also reinforces that it is just as important as your other obligations, such as doctor's visits, kid's sporting functions, and everything else you make it a priority to attend.
8. Dealing with Distractions
A large number of online learners do their classwork at home, which can bring about an issue they didn't necessarily foresee: distractions. If you have a busy household with kids or loud roommates or spouses, completing your schooling can be difficult to say the least.
The sooner you find ways to deal with these disruptions, the more you'll be able to stay on task. Maybe you get up earlier or stay up later than others in your house and do your work then. Or, if it's kids you're trying to keep busy, hire a sitter for times when you're going to be studying. Limit the distractions, and you'll get your work done faster.
9. Sharing Your Input
Another great feature of online courses is that you're able to share your input along the way more easily. This teaches you the art of both giving and receiving feedback, both with instructors and fellow students, and this is one factor that is critical to success in any environment.
Being a new online learner can be a little scary at times. But as long as you know what to expect, you can set yourself up for success, Just like the one in three students already taking this type of course.