We have put together these tips for taking our online courses based on guidelines developed by Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Depending on the level, complexity, and duration of the course you are taking some of the tips may not be applicable.
There are many advantages to online courses; they allow you to learn whenever, wherever, and however works best for you, making it easier to earn a qualification or certification while balancing work and family commitments. Without having to attend classes in person, online learning affords you access to top courses that might have otherwise been inaccessible or highly inconvenient.
Online classes can present unique challenges however, if you are not prepared, or disciplined. However, if you develop skills for effective online learning, you will find these courses are an excellent alternative to a traditional classroom setting.
Here are some tips for online learning success to make sure you get the most value out of your course.
1. Treat an online course like a “real” classroom course.
When it comes to online courses, you need to have the discipline to sit down and say, “I am going to work on this for a specified time,” as well as the dedication to actually follow through and complete the process. Though you have the flexibility as to when you choose to complete your work, you cannot put it off indefinitely.
One of the easiest ways to ensure follow through is to remember that you have paid to take this online course, just as you would for a traditional, in-person class. You must “show up” if you are going to get real value out of your course. Treat your online courses the same way you would a face-to-face class—or, better yet, a job—and you will be off to the right start.
2. Hold yourself accountable
Set goals at the beginning of the course and review regularly. We help you do that by asking you specific questions up front and then getting you to complete a personal development or action plan to ensure that you “apply” the learning in real life and that it is not just an academic exercise.
In a traditional classroom setting, you will often receive verbal or visual reminders of an assignment’s upcoming due date. But without someone actively reminding you, it is up to you to make sure you have allotted enough time to complete the work. We generally track your progress by means of quizzes, assignments and self-evaluations, plus track the time you take to view a video, but this is not enough – you need to take the initiative.
By being organised, proactive, and self-aware, you can get the most from your online course even when “life happens” and becomes chaotic.
3. Practice time management.
The flexibility to create your own schedule is often one of the biggest benefits of taking online courses. But that freedom can also be detrimental if you do not have solid time management skills. Without them, you might easily find yourself unprepared or submitting below par assignments. Fortunately for you, we also have an intensive time management course in our arsenal, and it provides you with some useful tools, techniques and habits to be formed.
How you manage your time will depend on your schedule, learning style, and personality. Here are some universally valuable tips to help you practice and improve your time management skills:
- Look at the course content before you start and take note of any major assignments. Mark them on a calendar you check regularly so you know what workload is coming up. Do not forget to factor in prior commitments that may interfere with your regular study schedule, so you can give yourself enough extra time to complete the work.
- Create a realistic schedule that you follow, designating certain hours to reading, completing lessons and assignments, and participating in forums where applicable. Commit to making your online coursework part of your daily routine and set reminders for yourself to complete these tasks.
- When working on your lessons and assignments try time-blocking by allotting yourself a certain amount of time for each task before moving on to the next one and setting a timer to keep you accountable. Use you Outlook (or similar) calendar to do this. It is the same as making an appointment with yourself.
- Review how you are spending your time periodically throughout the course. Ask yourself: How much time am I dedicating to course reading and assignments? Am I regularly underestimating the time it is taking me to get things done? A little self-reflection and adjustment can go a long way. Remember that no course is complete without your own research and external reading, although we do try and provide you with all the material you need plus more.
4. Create a regular study space and stay organised.
Set up a dedicated learning environment for your course work. By completing your work there repeatedly, you will begin to establish a routine, both physically and mentally. Whether your workspace is your home office, kitchen table, a library, or the corner booth in a local coffee shop, it is important to determine what type of environment will work best for you and be motivational.
Experiment to discover which type of setting boosts your productivity. Wherever you choose to work, make sure there is high-speed internet access so you are not trying to take an online course over a lagging connection, because that creates a lot of unnecessary furstration.
Setting up a regular workspace or office will also help you to stay organised. Knowing exactly where important files, forms, syllabi, books, and assignments live, will help keep you on track towards hitting your goals.
When setting up your study space, make sure you:
- Have a high-speed internet connection.
- Have the required books, materials, and software for the course.
- Have headphones for listening to lessons or discussions (especially important in shared spaces) or a quite space, where this is not an issue.
5. Eliminate distractions.
From Outlook, Netflix, social media to household chores piling up, you will be faced with many distractions that can easily derail your learning. The best online students know how to lessen these distractions and set aside time to focus.
Exactly how much of a challenge these distractions will prove to be will depend on your own unique personality and situation. Some might find that they can tune a noisy environment out by listening to music. Others might choose to work from a local coffee shop or library to eliminate their urge to multitask at home. Ultimately, you will need to find a strategy that works best for you.
Regardless of where you choose to work, consider turning your cellular phone off to avoid losing focus every time a text message or notification pops up.
6. Figure Out How You Learn Best
Once you have established where you will learn, think about when and how you accomplish your best work. If you are a morning person, make time to study first thing. Are you more of a night owl? Set aside an hour or two after dinner. If the kids require your morning and evening attention, try to carve out a study session mid-day while they are at school. Brew your usual cup of coffee, put on your go-to playlist, and do whatever you need to get into the zone and down to business. There is a concept known as the energy cycle – practically, it means that most people are productive in the morning. Whatever your energy cycle is, you need to do the most challenging work during that time, if you can.
Not everyone learns the same way, so think about what types of information help you best grasp new concepts and employ relevant study strategies. If you are a visual learner, for example, print out learning material to review. Learn best by listening? Make sure to build time into your schedule to play and replay all audio- and video-based course content.
Our learning platform allows you to take notes as you learn. This has a number of benefits; you do not need to pick up a pen and paper or open a word document, and you can save your notes to word and then print them out at any time.
7. Actively participate.
Participate in online forums (where applicable) if they are available to help you better understand course materials and engage with fellow course mates. This might involve commenting on a course mate’s paper on a discussion board or posting a question about a project you are working on. Read what other students and your course co-ordinator are saying, and if you have a question, ask for clarification.
Should your course include access to your tutor, plan to make use of that time constructively. The same applies to webinars, if they are available for your programme. This concept is called, “flipping the classroom” because you are required to study by yourself and then ask the tutor questions, instead of being “lectured to”.
8. Leverage your network.
Online courses may sometimes make you feel like you are learning on your own, but this could not be further from the truth. Most online courses are built around the concept of collaboration, and we actively encourage students to work together to complete assignments and discuss lessons.
Build relationships with other students by introducing yourself and engaging in online discussion boards. Your peers can be a valuable resource so do not be afraid to turn to them to create a virtual study group. Chances are good that they will appreciate it just as much as you will.