APU Careers & Learning Online Learning

Know What to Expect When Taking Online Courses

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accessories-online-learningBy Dr. Patricia Campbell
Dean, Graduate Studies at American Public University

Almost every college in the U.S. has online courses/programs and yet many of these schools do nothing or very little to prepare students for just how different online learning can be. So, here are some tips for those interested in what is quickly becoming “traditional online learning.” In order to be successful in an online program, you need to:

  • Be self-motivated. You have to actively engage your professors, advisors, and classmates and you have to be able to work independently. Think about this as good training. After all, your supervisor will not call you in the morning to make sure you show up for work.
  • Possess self-discipline. Online learning takes a lot of time. Be sure to set aside the proper amount of time to dedicate to each of your courses each week. Remember, don’t take too many courses at one time because you will have a much greater quantity of work than you did in high school. Also, some online courses are shorter than a traditional 15-week semester, but they nevertheless cover the same amount of material, so expect double the workload. Be sure to log into your courses regularly and keep up with each week’s work.
  • Be dedicated to your studies. This will mean some sacrifices; plan your personal life accordingly. Make finishing your degree a priority.
  • Be adept at reading comprehension. College means a lot of reading and you will want to be an active reader. You’ll need to develop into someone who reads and takes notes and re-reads if necessary in order to be sure you understand the material. This applies to course materials but also to other communications from the University. For example, it is the student’s responsibility to read and understand the student handbook and all related policies and procedures; likewise, students are expected to read all assigned course materials including, but not limited to the course announcements, the syllabus, forums, messages from your professors as well as any other email communications from the university.
  • Communicate clearly in writing. You may not think that every course is an English course, but remember that clearly communicating your ideas and your knowledge is the main way your professors will be able to measure if you have successfully understood the course materials. If you struggle in this area don’t despair, seek tutoring or mentoring help. Remember writing well is a skill, and just like any other skill, whether it be playing the guitar or learning a language, the only way to get better is to practice. There is no magic formula. Good writers are not born that way, they write, rewrite, and rewrite and then rewrite some more–that is how you will improve!
  • Be responsible for your decisions. For example, it is your responsibility to work with your advisor and to seek guidance.  You advisor will help you determine your course progression. Before registering for a course, check in with your advisor.  Likewise if you are confused about an assignment, ask your professor.
  • Communicate. Be sure to let your advisor and your faculty member know if something comes up that may impact your course performance.  Be sure to check your email regularly for critical announcements from the university and be sure your files are up-to-date, e.g. personal email address, phone number, etc., and let your disability office know if you need any special academic arrangements.
  • Be academically honest. You must abide by the ethical guidelines that underpin academic inquiry. This means no cheating. Cheating includes claiming credit for others’ work as well as plagiarism, so be sure to cite your sources and learn how to quote appropriately. Ensuring you don’t violate your university’s academic honesty policy is your responsibility!
  • Be committed to learning. Successful undergraduates demonstrate a genuine desire to expand their own knowledge. Your intellectual curiosity may be your most important asset.

About the Author

Dr. Campbell has numerous publications in academic journals including Journal of Political Science Education, International Feminist Journal of Politics, African Studies Quarterly, Politics and Policy; and Africa Today. Her co-authored textbook on Global Studies was published in 2010 (Wiley-Blackwell). She has been active serving on various committees of the American Political Science Association (APSA), most recently she was elected to the APSA’s Committee on Teaching and Learning.

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