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Tips to a Successful Online College Experience
Online learning is a new revolution in education. More and more schools now offer extensive catalogs of distance learning programs. From undergraduate to doctoral, you can earn a degree from an accredited college or university in a variety of subjects without stepping foot in a classroom.
But online learning requires more than an Internet connection. In order to be successful in this new educational environment, you’ll need to plan carefully and be well-organized from the start. Our list of 15 tips will help you make the most of your time online as a student (and beyond!)
Tip #1: Decide if Online Learning is for You
Before you apply to an online program, make sure you know what online learning is all about. It’s not for everyone! Is face-to-face interaction with teachers and classmates important to you? Some students find they learn better in a physical classroom while others are comfortable learning independently. How good are you at managing your time? Online learning requires high autonomy and high accountability.
Tip #2: Find an Accredited School
Accreditation is one of the most important factors in choosing an online school. It can mean the difference between earning a legitimate degree and one that’s worthless and gets you nowhere. The accreditation database brought to you by the U.S. Department of Education can help prevent a costly mistake. Other accreditation databases include:
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
- Council on Occupational Education
- Distance Education and Training Council
Tip #3: Choose the Right Program
Accreditation and program assessment go hand in hand. Make sure you research each degree program carefully before making a decision. Enrolling in a program that does not relate to your career aspirations is a time- and money-sink. We provide a list of top online colleges to help start your search.
Tip #4: Meet the System Requirements
An absolute must! Make sure your computer meets the system requirements for all of your e-learning courses. Check your computer – is it up to date? Or is your box an old clunker running on fumes? Call your school to verify that your computer is up-to-date and ready to handle all the applications and data flow with acceptable performance.
Common system requirements (vary by school):
- PC Users: Windows 2000, XP, or Vista; 64 MB RAM
- Mac Users: OS X 10.4 or better; 2 MB RAM (64 recommended)
Tip #5: Meet the Browser Requirements
Another must! In order to access course materials and assignments, you must have the right browser and plugins. Only certain browsers work effectively with course software.
Common browser requirements (vary by school):
- Windows Users: Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.0 or higher, or Mozilla Firefox 3.0 or higher
- Mac OS Users: Safari 3.0, or higher, or Mozilla Firefox 3.0 or higher
Tip #6: Meet the Software Requirements
You’ll also be expected to meet specific software requirements. At a minimum, you’ll likely need the following:
- Word processing software such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or OpenOffice
- Adobe Reader (for Windows) or Schubert-it PDF Reader (for Mac)
- Presentation software such as Google Docs, Microsoft PowerPoint, or OpenOffice
Tip #7: Ensure Reliable Internet Access
While you might think “duh, that’s obvious,” a reliable Internet connection is not always available in your area or deemed too expensive. You’ll need to have a cable modem or a fast DSL connection in order to connect to your courses. Reliable is the key word here. If your Internet connection has a tendency to crash your browser or drop altogether, you’ll need to diagnose the source of a problem or find a new way to access the Web.
Tip #8: Find the Right Study Environment
Study space has a direct impact on study effectiveness. If you’re home office is the family living room, you may find it hard to focus. Evaluate your current study locations to find the best spot to access the Internet, complete your assignments, and connect with your classmates and teachers. A quiet area with good lighting, comfortable seating, and enough space to spread out your books and papers can make all the difference in how productive you are.
Tip #9: Participate, Participate, Participate!
Distance learning doesn’t mean you’re on your own. You don’t have to study in isolation. In fact, you have all the support you need, if you take full advantage of it. Participate in online group forums and chats to stay connected with your peers and instructors. Discussion is a big part of learning, whether online or face-to-face.
Tip #10: Take Advantage of Student Services
Think of Blackboard, Angel, or whatever learning management system your school uses as a college campus. You’ll have access to a variety of student services, not the least of which includes:
- library and bookstore
- career center
- writing center
- IT department
- alumni center
Tip #11: Log On Each Day
Log on to your courses a few times a day to read announcements and check the discussion board. This way you’re always in the loop and up-to-date with the latest news and events.
Tip #12: Think Responses Through Before Posting
This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes we click “send” or “post” too fast without reading through our comments. Be detailed and thoughtful and think responses through before posting.
Tip #13: Stay Committed!
Commitment is critical and a commitment to your online learning experience requires you to:
- Ask questions
- Be an active learner
- Think critically
- Set aside time
- Do your homework!
Tip #14: Embrace the Experience
You’re part of a new and exciting chapter in education. With cutting-edge technology and rich online media, online learning offers you the ability to attend class on your own. Embrace this new platform with an open mind and heart for learning.
Tip #15: Evaluate Your Courses
When it’s all said and done, provide feedback – good and bad. Teachers and administrators want to know about your e-learning experience. Consider the following when submitting your evaluations:
- online organization and design
- instructional design and delivery
- faculty use of student feedback
- innovative teaching with technology
- learner support and access to resources