By Susan Hoffman
Edge Managing Editor
When I first started my bachelor’s degree program at a brick-and-mortar university, the educational experience was bewildering at times for a freshman. I had to sign up for classes, track down the location of my classroom’s building on a massive campus, calculate how long it took to walk there, find the classroom and get a seat. In addition, I had to locate other campus buildings like the library and student union and adjust to dorm life.
There was also the workload itself. An instructor once told me that for every hour I spent in class, I would spend two hours studying for that class. I was initially skeptical, but my teacher’s saying quickly proved to be true.
Taking online classes for my undergraduate certificate in e-commerce at the University was less bewildering but still required adjustments. I had been away from higher education for some years, so it took a while to get used to the new format of online education.
In some ways, though, online education was easier. I didn’t have to fight my way through rain or freezing cold to get to my online classes, I could study or take tests according to my schedule, and I had academic advisors to ask when I had questions.
But online education definitely requires a high degree of self-discipline. As I took my e-commerce classes, I put in at least two hours every weekday (with an occasional break on Friday) on reading assignments and participating in class discussion forums. I used the weekends to take tests, work on projects, write my weekly assignments or complete my final projects.
If there was a national holiday that occurred during that course, I’d make use of the extra time. I would put in a couple of hours that morning and take the rest of the day off to enjoy the holiday.
5 Tips to Help You during Your Online Education
Online education can be just as challenging as the traditional brick-and-mortar experience. If you’re thinking about trying an online class or starting your first class in a degree or certificate, here are five tips to get you started.
#1: Come with a ‘Ready to Work’ Attitude
Starting your online education with the right attitude is essential. Some people may assume that online classes are easy, but they require the same amount of effort – or even more effort, depending upon the syllabus – as the classes you’ll take at a brick-and-mortar university.
#2: Bring Your Computer Up to Speed and Remember That Classroom Support Is Available
Before starting your class, it’s a good idea to have the software you’ll need for the class installed on your computer and to familiarize yourself with it. If you’re having tech issues, you can also reach out to our Classroom Support team for assistance.
#3: Get Familiar with the Online Classroom as Soon as Possible
When I took my first online class, it took a while to get used to how it was organized and where to track down vital information. I strongly recommend that you explore the entire online classroom so that you’ll know where to find what you need for the class, and there are also tutorials to help you get familiar with using BrightSpace, the online class environment.
#4: Budget Your Study Time Carefully
When you first enter your online class, be sure to regularly look at the syllabus and grading rubric. That way, you’ll understand the work you’ll be required to complete every week and how it will be graded.
You’ll need to set aside some time during the day – morning, midafternoon or evening, whatever works best – for your classwork. Pay attention to the weekly deadlines the instructor providesm and be sure to follow them.
It’s tempting to procrastinate, especially if you have a lot going on in your life. However, procrastination can lead to you falling further and further behind in class or having to rush to complete assignments at the last minute, which increases the possibility of making mistakes.
You’ll also need to balance your job and your family responsibilities with your class workload. I preferred to have a weekly written to-do list and to write due dates on my wall calendar, but there are also various time management apps that you can use to keep track of your weekly responsibilities.
In addition, be aware that the amount of study time varies, depending upon the length of your class, the type of class and the class level. Generally, undergraduate classes (associate and bachelor’s) require 8-10 hours a week for a 16-week course or 15 to 18 hours a week for an 8-week course. A graduate course (master’s level) requires 10-15 hours a week for a 16-week course or 18 to 22 hours a week for an 8-week course.
#5: Don’t Be Intimidated and Enjoy the Wins
When you first review the syllabus, it’s only natural to think, “Whoa! I have to do all of THAT to complete this course?” But if you break down your workload into individual weekly chunks, the work is easier to do. You can also email your instructor or the University’s librarians if you have questions.
There was also the satisfaction of reaching that final week in class. I traditionally celebrated after the class was over, mostly with a simple event such as a dinner out or a movie. Whether it’s your first class or the final class before you graduate, take a little time to celebrate your accomplishment.
Online Education Can Be Fun
Although my online education experience involved a lot of time and effort, it was often entertaining as well. I’ve had both hilarious and meaningful discussions in forum discussions, and I had the chance to “e-meet” people from other states and even other countries.
The diversity of students in my classes increased my knowledge through what they said, and I had the opportunity to see different issues from opposing perspectives. It was an experience I won’t forget.