Education has changed dramatically in just the past 10 years. If you undertook a traditional university degree, then you were physically on a campus, you attended lectures in person. While many undergraduates still attend a traditional higher educational institution, there are increasing opportunities to take online classes. Digital technology is advancing higher education in exciting new directions.
As exciting as it is, it can feel alien to someone who is not experienced in a digital learning platform. If you’re considering returning to university to complete an online MBA, for example, you’ll need to refresh your academic skills and prepare yourself for a new learning environment. After all, there’s a learning curve to the environment itself – and it’s not just about the technology.
Because most online programs are asynchronous, they offer a flexibility not found in the traditional classroom. There are deadlines for assignments, for example, but things like watching lectures can be done in your own time. This flexibility is terrific, but it’s important to set aside time to do the work. You’ll have to manage your time carefully to take full advantage of everything an online program offers. According to a study How students develop online learning skills carried out by Alan R. Roper, for students who have performed particularly well in their online education the best method is to establish their own schedule around class time ensured enough time for class participation. One student commented:
“Setting specific study days was one factor that worked for me. For example, in the evenings throughout the week, I read my lessons. Saturdays were generally reserved for writing assignments.”
“You have to discipline yourself in maintaining your schedule and not allow any distractions to disrupt your plan. I would allow myself one hour of winding down from work, eat my dinner, and get to my study room. I found that if I put in about 3-4 hours of studying during the week, the weekly assignment would be completed by Thursday or Friday.”
Learning Management Platforms
A typical online course is conducted on a course management platform (or a learning management platform). This is a website hosted by the institution where you’ll access your course and most course materials, participate in discussion forums or other interactions, and submit your work.
Take the time to learn the landscape of your course’s learning platform. Make sure, for example, that your computer meets the course’s technology requirements. This will probably include operating system, word processing file format and PDF reader requirements. Make contact with the school’s IT department to make sure you don’t buy anything you don’t actually need. Some institutions, for example, offer free programs or trials for enrolled students to download.
Today’s platforms are sophisticated. Students can meet with their instructors and classmates via video conference programs within the platform. This allows for real-time interactions where you can see and hear each other. Other real-time programs include text messages and discussion forums, although the latter are more like emails, so your messages won’t necessarily be viewed immediately.
According to How students develop online learning skills participating in threaded discussions helped 52.6 percent benefit most from interaction with their classmates, while reading the responses of others helped 15.8 percent. About 21 percent found e- mailing outside of the course platform a useful way to interact with their fellows.
Instructors can also take advantage of video lectures and tutorials, which serve the same function as face-to-face lectures. In some cases, they may conduct lectures in real time to allow for question-and-answer sessions and discussions. This can be a really good way to learn, as well as a chance to connect with your fellow students. As a student in the study identified:
“Weekly discussions were best when the teacher encouraged it, especially by having pro versus con discussion, or asking ‘why’ or ‘how’ questions.”
Your university’s website will provide important information about what offices and services can support your work. For example, you’ll want to visit the university bookstore’s website to find out what books you may need to purchase for your course. You may also find this information on your course page. Give yourself enough time to order the books online or at a bookshop.
Many instructors will send out a video introduction. This is like a first-day-of-class video. The instructor will explain a bit about the course, how it’s run and give you some tips on how to get started. Sometimes they’ll also include instructions for logging into your course. If they don’t, your course login details will probably be the same as the ones you used to log into the university’s website to register. The university will be happy to help if you have any problems accessing your course materials or logging in.
Once the course has started, read the syllabus to plan your learning schedule and introduce yourself to your instructor and classmates. Your instructor may prompt these introductions themselves with an ice-breaker. The next step is to start learning!