APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

Eight Tips for Success in the Online Learning Environment

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By Dr. Barry Chametzky
Faculty Member, School of Arts and Humanities, American Public University

Most people know what traditional classroom learning is like because many classes follow the same format. The instructor arrives, faces the seated students and lectures for a prescribed amount of time. Students take notes and perhaps ask a question or two.  At the end of the class, the instructor and the students depart. This scenario is called passive learning. Information is spoon-fed by the instructor to the students, who absorb it to regurgitate that information on assignments and tests.

Online learning, however, is anything but passive. In fact, students are misguided if they think they can behave in an online environment as they would in a traditional, face-to-face classroom. In many respects, online learning is more demanding because students must take a more active role in their education. Here are eight tips that students need to follow to be successful in an online learning environment.

1. Be Familiar with the Course Environment

In a face-to-face class, it is easy to know where things are located. In an online class, however, information is not always as evident as it could or should be. There are different learning management systems (LMS) used for online classrooms and many different course components.

Also, when you first enter an online class, you can be easily overwhelmed. The more comfortable you are with the online environment, the easier it will be for you to succeed.

Some of the important components with which you need to be familiar are as follows:

  • The discussion board
  • The assignment area
  • The assessment area
  • The various lessons
  • The syllabus
  • The instructor’s contact information
  • The announcements area
  • The grading area

If there are other course-specific areas in the online classroom (such as video conferencing tools or break-out rooms), it is important to know about them as well.

2. Read the Syllabus

The syllabus is the contract between you and the educator that details the requirements of the course, grading procedures, assignments and their due dates, and important school policies. While it is always acceptable to ask the instructor a question, it is highly preferable to have already checked the syllabus in case the answer is there. Keep a copy of the syllabus handy, so you can refer to it whenever you need it.

3. Make Sure You Know what Is Required of You Each Week

Review the lessons so you know what is expected each week. Ideally, assignment topics and due dates will be in the syllabus as well as what each lesson will cover.

Sometimes, the instructor will use announcements to explain assignments or clarify requirements. So be sure to check the announcements area frequently.

4. Log into the Online Classroom at Least Three To Five Times a Week

Unlike a traditional, in-person class, in an online learning environment a great deal of new information will appear every day and night. It is highly preferable and necessary for you to log in and review the course area at least three to five times a week to see what new information has been posted since your last login. By logging in to the online classroom frequently, you can stay on top of all new information and not feel overwhelmed.

5. Participate Often in the Online Classroom

Depending on the course and the instructor, waiting until the last minute to make required posts in the discussion area can cost you valuable points. If you are late with a forum post, you are likely to receive a lower grade.

Some instructors have specific guidelines for participation, so review the syllabus to keep informed about what they are. The more you participate in the course, the easier it will be for you to master the material.

With increased participation comes increased familiarity and comfort with the subject matter. With increased familiarity comes the potential for greater understanding. You might even discover how some classroom material can relate to your life.

6. Ask Questions and Reach Out When Problems Exist

Because it is easier to “hide” in an online environment than in a traditional classroom, there is a greater tendency online not to ask questions. Do not be afraid to ask questions when you have them.  Many online classrooms have a Q&A area where you can post your questions. The worst thing you can do is tell yourself that you’ll figure it out later.

It is also possible that a classmate could answer your question quicker than the instructor if you post it online. Similarly, if you are having problems, do not hesitate to contact your instructor. The worst thing an online student can do when there are problems is to not promptly communicate with the instructor.

7. Read and Closely Follow Assignment Directions and Rubrics

Follow all assignment directions and rubrics closely, just as you would in a traditional class, to ensure that you address all required components of the assignment. If not, expect to lose points on your grade.

If the directions are not clear, speak up immediately. If a rubric is provided, keep a copy handy.

8. Do Not Be Afraid to Explore Online Resources outside the Course

You have a tremendous resource at your fingertips in an online learning environment, the Internet. Use it to explore a concept presented in the course about which you want to learn more or about which you have a question.

Take advantage of the resources you have and use them to learn. If you are still confused, talk with your peers or your instructor.

By following these eight suggestions, you will play an active role in your online education. You will also be in a better position to succeed in whatever courses you take because these principles apply not just to individual courses, but to all online education.

About the Author

Barry Chametzky earned his Ph.D. in Education from Northcentral University with specializations in educational technology, e-learning and classic grounded theory. He also holds master’s degrees in music, French and foreign language education. Dr. Chametzky is an active researcher in the fields of andragogy, e-learning, and classic grounded theory with numerous peer-reviewed publications and book chapters to his credit.

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