There is no doubt about it—online learning is awesome! It provides a world of opportunity for students who otherwise could not easily access a college education. But there are some ugly truths about taking classes online that students need to be aware of before they register.
In a traditional classroom, students can choose when they wish to participate in discussions. If they feel they have nothing significant to add or, dare I say, they didn’t get through all of the reading for that class period, they can stay silent, yet still learn from what their professor and peers contribute. But in an online class, students must submit meaningful discussion postings to all of the topics which the professor assigns. That means there is no slacking off if too many responsibilities fill your calendar that week—you still must be prepared to offer insight into the discussion. This often ends up being more work than students anticipate. Preparing yourself for a heavier work load will go a long way towards making the class more enjoyable.
Another misnomer about taking classes online is that students will have access to their professor all the time, unlike in a brick and mortar classroom where they can usually only see them during class time or office hours. But professors have many obligations, just as students do. They are real people attempting to balance their work and home lives. They most likely teach several classes each semester, meaning that their work schedule cannot be devoted to only the students in your class. It’s especially important to keep this in mind when taking an online class where the professor lives in a different part of the country than you do. The differences in their time zone will determine when they are online verses when you are.
When students take a traditional class, they know that they must look ahead so that they can ask questions regarding assignments before the due date, since they may not see their professor again until the final submission date. But, for some reason, when students take classes online they often feel it’s appropriate to wait to look at the assignment guidelines until the day of (or just a couple of hours before) the deadline. If you get into this habit you will end up frustrated and angry because your questions probably won’t get answered in time. Remember, just because you are online right before an assignment is due doesn’t mean the professor is. Make sure that you take responsibility for your learning and budget your time wisely from the first assignment on, so that you can move through the class with ease.
Universities and colleges want students to succeed. That is why they make it very clear what types of technical resources a student must have easy access to before registering for online classes. And yet, students often register for these classes when they know that they don’t have access to reliable internet or when they can’t afford a specific computer program necessary for the class. If you are considering taking online classes, review the college material on technical requirements carefully. If you don’t have access to certain necessary programs, can you afford to buy them before the online class starts? What will you do if your internet goes down and you have an assignment due? Once you can access a class, find out what common programs, such as Adobe and Flash, are needed to access class materials and then don’t wait until you need them to download them. Install everything that you will need for the semester before it really gets busy. That way you will be prepared. A “Plan B” is always necessary when dealing with technology, and online classes are no different.
There is a good deal more writing required in an online class because students can’t respond to assignments or discussions orally like they do in a traditional classroom. This, added with the belief that online classes are less formal and our culture’s addiction to “text speak” can all do irreparable damage to your final grade if you aren’t careful. What students need to understand is that no matter what they write for the class, the quality of writing makes an impression on their professor. Think about it. Your professor probably will never meet you or even see a picture of you. Your first impression is your writing. Academic writing is required for all online classes, even if such things as grammar and mechanics aren’t spelled out in the syllabus or rubrics. An online class is not the place to disregard all writing conventions or standards. You are not texting friends, tweeting or writing a thank you card to Grandma. You must uphold quality, formal writing standards to be successful taking classes online, no matter what the subject or discipline.
About the Author: Jacqueline Myers has been improving writing skills since the 1990’s and is still hard at work, struggling to put an end to poor grammar. She is an online college English instructor and owner of Nitty Gritty English, a blog dedicated to assisting UN-enthusiastic college writers improve their skills. Connect with her!