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Online Teacher Tough Love: 3 Online Learning Tips for Students

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Want to attend an online college? That’s great!   You’ve done your research. You know the most common complaints about online learning degrees and you’ve checked your school’s reviews to make sure the program you’ve chosen is a quality one.   But before you dive head-first into an online degree program, you should step back, take a deep breath, and take a cold hard look at your preconceptions about online learning.   I’ve been an online teacher of college students for almost five years, and the one constant I’ve found is that the majority of students who begin online learning are woefully unprepared for the realities of such a difficult undertaking.   Therefore, consider this lesson #1… we’ll call it Tough Love 101, three tips sent to you (with love) from me, a real online teacher, about what it’s really like taking online classes.    


3 Online Learning Tips – What to Expect from Online Classes:


1. Online Classes Are Easier…Right?

“This will be academic Easy Street,” is the number one misconception students hold about online classes. Many students enter the online learning world thinking this will be the path of least academic resistance. They think online classes will be easier, less demanding, more lenient in terms of expectations, and so on.


Online classes require tremendous discipline. The expectations are just as high, if not higher than with residential classes.

Online colleges are struggling to meet federal mandates and legal requirements to maintain accreditation and funding. Online learning is constantly being asked to prove its merits. As such, all legitimate online institutions of higher learning are scope-locked on maintaining high academic integrity so they do not risk losing accreditation. They are dead-set on exceeding all standards set by the U.S. Department of Education.

Make no mistake, the classes will NOT be any easier than if you took them on campus. They will demand the same level of commitment and hard work as traditional college or university classes.  

2. Online Teachers Are Less Demanding…Right?

Wrong again! As an online teacher, I can admit that online instructors are at a huge disadvantage in one remarkable way: we lose all the sensory contact with students that accompanies traditional residential learning.   In short, we can’t see you. We can’t hear the inflection in your speech. We can’t decipher the tone of your questions. We can’t gauge your understanding of the material by reading the look on your face or by hearing your snoring as it comes from the back of the room.
All we have to judge the extent of your learning is what we see online via your participation and e-paper submissions.   Thus, the standard we use to determine whether you digest the material we teach is set higher than a traditional instructor might set it, due in no small part to the lack of personal perceptions that come from human interaction.   As a consequence, we don’t expect less from you, we expect far more from you. It’s your job to convince us in your posts, participation, and papers that you “get it.”  


3. It’s Easier to Get Away with “Shortcuts” and Cheating in Online Classes…Right?

So not true! If I had a dollar for every student who tried a little “shortcut” in my classes I wouldn’t have to work as an online teacher. By shortcuts I mean things like cutting and pasting your homework answers from or or some other site that provides so-called “answers” to difficult academic questions.   Unfortunately, the brutal truth is that students think they can get away with shortcuts — aka plagiarism — when in reality it’s far easier for online instructors to detect academic dishonesty.   The average online teacher teaches the same courses term after term, hence we see the same answers term after term. As a result, we often recognize plagiarized material almost instantly.   Truthfully, we also possess more resources and have more time to catch such shortcuts than traditional instructors. Most of us are adjuncts. We work online for a college as an instructor, and nothing more than an instructor.   Committees don’t eat up our time. We don’t have to publish or perish. We don’t have tenure requirements to meet. All we do is teach.   Furthermore, we have sophisticated tools and software that help us detect many types of academic plagiarism.  

Now, it would be career suicide for me if I discouraged students from taking online courses; that is not my intention. Online colleges offer quality education and the convenience of attending school and earning a degree at your own pace, working around your schedule and your busy life.   Online education is the wave of the future, with escalating numbers of traditional colleges offering online degrees. However, student success in any academic undertaking starts with a clear picture of the expectations the instructor holds for his students.   I wrote Tough Love 101 to help give you some online learning tips that paint a realistic picture of what to expect as you begin your online learning career.    



About the Author: Marc Hatten is a freelance writer and college instructor who lives just outside Missoula Montana and teaches online courses for Corinthian Colleges Inc. where he has worked for the last five years. He is a graduate of the University of Montana with Masters Degrees in Political Science & Public Administration.