My Introduction and Thoughts on Online Learning

  • Last Post 11 June 2011
MissShona posted this 11 June 2011 - Last edited 06 August 2015


I am a big fan on online degrees and education opportunities. I completed by BA online; I am currently enrolled in an online MBA program; and I work for another college in a graduate online program in education. However I am also a realist; who would rather tell the facts then sugar-coat the pitfalls of online college education today.

So just a bit of background...

Way back in 1998, I had my very first experience with 'online learning'. And it wasn't very good or impressive. I was in a Engineering Design class and the professor had deployed this online learning platform where the entire class could collaborate on a final project. The chat software and file management system were extremely buggy. We had to do online quizzes of our units, and if you opened multiple browser windows, then you had unlimited opportunities basically to do the quiz. Very underwhelming...but that was also 1998.

My next taste of online education was very different. It was technically a hybrid class; with required lectures twice per week and all homework and quizzes were online. It actually made great sense to me....why waste class time on an exam and homework review? It was an Accounting at first I was skeptical. But soon it made perfect sense! Modern accounting is computer-based anyway (except for the old-school accountants who prefer hand writing a general ledger....but they are a fast dying breed). You would work on the assignment online and once submitted, get instant feedback on your mistakes and areas you need to work on (the textbook had a companion website with the assignment spreadsheets included). Online tests were timed; so while they were open book, you still didn't stand a chance of passing if you didn't truly know what you were doing.

When the opportunity arose to complete my BA, I didn't hesitate to plan to do so with online classes. What I soon discovered was the very wide range of quality in online learning. From horrible (one course professor just uploaded scanned pdf's to a wiki and then required that we go to a local test proctor to be examined on them. No teaching, no class interaction, nothing); to wonderful (I had an online statistics class where the professor filmed herself talking, giving a short introduction to the units and also recorded herself giving software demonstrations on her laptop). Most classes are in-between however; having some good points...but leaving some things to be desired. Just like face-to-face classes!

I will be the first to say that online learning is not for everyone...maybe not even most people. Every year as software advances and professors/educators incorporate that technology into courses, it improves. But we still aren't there yet! But after earning 50+ credits online, I have these pointers to give:

-Stay organized - learn to use the LMS (Learning Management System; i.e. Blackboard, Angel, eCollege, etc.) well. More than likely it contains features that will help you manage your documents, communicate with others, and remind you of deadlines. -Communicate well, and often! Especially to your professors; and also to your classmates. If you need help, you will know who to reach out to and where to get it. -Work in advance! Know your deadlines! I will freely admit I've been that person typing my fingers to the bone at 11:15 p.m....trying to make a midnight deadline. It is NOT a good feeling and you never do as well as you could have. The main advantage to online learning is the time DO use it to your advantage! -Don't dwell on the shortcomings of the course, the software, your professor, etc. In our consumer-driven society, we are quick to sit back, criticize, and hold the stubborn stance when things aren't to our liking. We forget that we are in college to earn a degree...and you can't do that without getting a passing grade! So see the problem(s)...but don't dwell on them. They are challenges for your to overcome, not issues for your professor or school to fix. Even if they really are, concentrate on working the course to get the best grade you can. Trust me on this! -If there is a campus...visit it. I am a firm believer that your psychological well-being is imperative to your success. Walking around the campus gives you a "charge" and helps you feel connected to your school. I'll even go out on a limb and suggest buying a college sweatshirt, going to your school's sporting events, or joining a student club (if possible). If you are excited and invested in your college and your'll really excel! (And it helps when you are an alumni as well). -Make your voice heard! Working for an online college program and being an online college student I know that the saying, "Out of sight, out of mind" is absolutely true! Students in the online program call me all the time wondering why their adviser didn't notice that they registered for the wrong class, or why didn't I notify them that their paperwork for their internship was outstanding. To be fair, these things are updated online, but the student must access the system to discover it. I have no issue talking to a student or helping them. But if you have questions or have to come to me! I don't spend my days scanning the online courses and student databases, identifying potential student issues! And neither do professors. Another thing that gets me are the online students who write asking for letters of recommendations. These are very hard to do...if you didn't engage yourself outside of your online course.

The most successful online college students are not the ones who log in and do their homework on time. That will get you to pass; and you may even earn your degree, but an opportunity is still being missed. A great online student experience is one where you find ways to be 'a college student who happens to take their courses online' and not just someone who logs into a system and does work. Online classes open up higher education to a much larger population. It's a great opportunity; the question remains, "Are you going to use it to your greatest advantage?"

VickyPhillips posted this 11 June 2011 - Last edited 06 August 2015

Those are great tips for succeeding as an online student!

Thanks for the post. I am sure others who are considering taking online courses for the first time will benefit from this advice.

Like you, I enrolled in (and also developed and taught) my first distance learning courses awhile back. In fact, the first distance learning course I took was not even online. It was by paper mailed correspondence from the University of Iowa: a course in fiction writing. It a was a great course but it took weeks to get a response and then there was no way to reach the instructor except to write back. I love to write, but it was very hard to keep motivated and also I missed being able to connect with other students.

My first online course was so great because I could "talk to" and meet fellow students and get back and forth advice quickly via email.

Even today there is a lot of uneveness in course development and responsiveness of instructors. And as you know, faculty mentor response time is so very important in online student perseverance and course retention - completion.

I like your ideas about getting out of online learning in proportion to what you put in. In the end education is not something that is done to you ; it is something you participate in and help to make happen. It takes work whether you are online or on campus.

Keep your ideas and thoughts coming!

I am curious if you have found ways or tips/tricks to keep yourself motivated even when the course is poorly designed or operated.

Vicky Phillips Get Educated Founder

MissShona posted this 11 June 2011 - Last edited 06 August 2015

VickyPhillips wrote: [quote] I am curious if you have found ways or tips/tricks to keep yourself motivated even when the course is poorly designed or operated.


Well like anything, I've had to live and learn. But what I find that works for me is to keep things in perspective. Yes, it would superb if every course (online or not) you took in your college career was just knock-your-socks-off good. But the reality is that it is unlikely that will happen. The good thing about every course is that there is a definite start date and end date; so there is a predictable cycle at least. Keep your eye on the prize and try to see how you can get the best grade possible. Try to connect with your peers; if the course is poorly designed, most likely they are suffering too. No need to struggle and spin your wheels in a vacuum.

And finally don't waste time and effort on playing the blame game. It may be the professor's fault, but they are not working towards their degree/certificate; you are. So communicate...find out what you need to know and do to make the best out of the situation. Then once the semester is over....move on to the next stage and start anew.