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Online classes make it possible to enjoy a quality education without even leaving home.

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Furthering your education helps you improve your quality of life and can potentially boost your income. It’s no secret that people who pursue a post-secondary education have a higher chance of earning a promotion or finding a better job.

Before the Internet, if you had family responsibilities, held a full-time job, or had no transportation, it was challenging to attend classes at a college or university. Would-be college students with small children or people who worked full time during the day needed to make special arrangements to take classes. Finding childcare or taking night classes were a few solutions to the problem, but those solutions were either expensive or inconvenient.

With the explosion of the Internet, long distance education gradually became a respected way to earn a degree or certificate. Today, it isn’t unusual to know people who take classes online in order to pursue professional development or earn an accredited college degree. You no longer have to sign up for courses at a busy registration office or fight rush-hour traffic to get to an evening class.

Online classes make it possible to enjoy a quality education without even leaving home. There’s no need to sit in a classroom with your stomach growling because you didn’t have time to grab a bite to eat before you arrived on campus.  In fact, since you attend class from the comfort of your laptop or computer, you can even participate in class discussions while in your pajamas and bunny slippers.

But don’t be fooled by the PJs and fuzzy slippers, though — today’s online courses are just as rigorous as the classes taught on a brick-and-mortar campus. If you want to succeed in the world of online learning, it’s important to understand the strategies for college success. In other words, you must learn what is required to excel at courses offered online. Read on for several tips on how to succeed in an online class.

Tip #1: Get your computer up to speed.

Before taking an online course, it’s important to possess at least a basic understanding of computers and the Internet. Not surprisingly, computer literacy is the first step to developing online learning strategies. A few skills include:

  • Feeling comfortable using basic software such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
  • Having the ability to conduct simple Internet searches
  • Using online databases
  • Sending and receiving email
  • Uploading and downloading attachments
  • Saving and opening files

These are just a small sample of computer operations required during a typical online course.

Before taking steps to make your computer faster, backup all your important files on an external hard drive.

In addition to these key computer literacy skills, you also need to have a computer that runs efficiently. Before taking steps to make your computer faster, backup all your important files on an external hard drive. Whether you’re a Mac or PC user, you can take steps to speed up your machine. If you’re a PC user, try to:

  1. Restart your computer. Save anything you’re working on and restart your computer. Doing so can refresh your computer’s memory, making it run more quickly.
  2. Remove any programs you don’t use. Go to the Control Panel and remove any unused program by clicking “Add or Remove Programs” or “Uninstall a Program.” You’ll see a master list of programs, and you can delete those you don’t need or use. After you remove the programs, make sure you empty your recycling bin.
  3. Stop unnecessary programs from automatically running when your computer boots up. Chances are, you have programs that automatically start when your computer does, running in the background and taking up vital memory. You can prevent this from happening by opening the Start menu and running a search for “msconfig”. You can then uncheck any programs you don’t need that are running in the background.
  4. Increase your desktop computer’s power plan to high performance. Select “Power Options” in the Control Panel. These settings tell the computer how to use power, which will lower performance to make the most of battery life. With a desktop computer that’s always plugged in, it makes sense to choose “high performance” since battery isn’t a concern.
  5. Keep your machine up-to-date and install spyware scanner, an anti-virus program, and anti-malware. Your computer will have more resources to devote to key processes instead of bugs, adware, and viruses.
  6. Run a Disk Cleanup. You’ll free up massive amounts of space by removing unnecessary system files, temporary files, and trash in your recycle bin. To do this, click “My Computer,” right-click “hardrive” then click “Properties.” Choose “Disc Cleanup”, which you’ll find in the “General” tab. Simply check the files you wish to delete from the pop-up menu.
  7. Run a Disk Defragment. By defraging, you can organize data to free up space and allow your computer to put data together more quickly. Click “My Computer,” then right-click “Hard Drive.” Choose “Properties,” “Tools” then “Defragment Now.”

If you’re a Mac user, try to:

  1. Remove any unnecessary programs. Drag the apps into the trash to uninstall manually, or you can download a program that will help you sort and remove them. Consider removing Garage Band and iMovie — all large files that many people don’t use.
  2. Compress, delete, or remove large, unnecessary files. Find large files by pressing command + F in the Finder window. Click the “Kind” button and select “Other.” Scroll down to find “Size” and check the “in Menu” box, then click OK. Now you can search by file size. Choose any to compress, delete, or move to save on a backup drive. To compress a file, click it while holding the control button. Choose “Compress.” If you double-click the zip file, it will decompress the file.
  3. Stop programs from starting when you boot your Mac. Your computer will be slower if you have many programs trying to start at the same time you boot your Mac. Go to “System Preferences” from the Apple Menu. Then Select “Accounts” and “Login Items.” Choose the items you don’t need, and click the minus symbol to remove them. You should also clear your desktop by moving all items into folders.
  4. Fix disk permissions. Under “Applications”, choose “Utilities” then choose “Run Disk Utility.” Select your startup disk. Choose “First Aid” and “Repair Disk Permissions.” Restart your computer when it’s done.
  5. Get rid of any unneeded dashboard widgets. You don’t need to have your dashboard activated for these widgets to take up RAM as they run updates in the background. You can use the Widget Manager if you have OS X 10.4.2 or later. Go to the “Dashboard”, and then click the plus symbol in the corner to open the Widget Bar. Click “Manage Widgets.” From here, you can either disable or remove widgets. If they’re third party, press the red delete button to get rid of them.
  6. Get rid of any languages you don’t use. You can download a free program called Monolingual if you use Mac OS X. This will allow you to remove languages you don’t use to free up space. Just never delete “English” because it could cause your OS X to malfunction.
  7. Beef up your RAM. If you find your computer runs slowly when switching between programs that are running or opening apps, you may need more RAM. Open the “Activity Monitor” to see if you could use more RAM. If you see mostly green and blue, your RAM is fine. If you have red and yellow, add more RAM. Apple support will tell you what you need to know to add additional RAM.

Tip #2: Access All Course Materials?

You’ve got all the basic computer skills? Great! But do you own a computer that has the ability to connect to high-speed Internet? Dial-up Internet won’t get you very far when you’re trying to access an online course. They have certain technical requirements that must be met before you can get to the material.

Dial-Up Internet won't get you very far when you're trying to access an online course.

At least two weeks before the course begins, make sure your computer plays nicely with all the course’s online tools. Take time to learn how to navigate through the course portal so you don’t waste precious time trying to understand the technical aspects of the course. There’s nothing worse than starting an online course and realizing you don’t know how to find various features and functions of the classroom portal.

Before you know it, the class is progressing without you, and you’ll soon become overwhelmed. So set yourself up for success by making sure you know your way around the course website!

Tip #3: Take Initiative.

With online classes, it can take even more work to get feedback and set yourself apart from your classmates. Take the initiative by communicating more with your instructor. When you get a low grade on an assignment, touch base with your instructor to find out why.

Make sure you convey that you want to improve your work — not that you don’t agree with the grade. This shows your instructor you can take critical feedback, a key trait in the real world. By being professional with your interactions and reaching out with the intent of improving, your instructor will get a positive impression of you. You never know where this relationship will lead. Your instructor could become a key resource in your career, from providing suggestions and internship ideas to letters of recommendations.

Tip #4: Embrace every opportunity to learn and perfect your skills.

Are your writing skills not quite up to par? Are you terrible at spelling and grammar? Even though this online course might not be for English, it can play a crucial role in helping you become a better communicator. No matter what career you pursue, you will need to be a good communicator (even if it’s just over email) to help you succeed.

Since courses are delivered through the Internet, you will be expected to communicate through emails, message boards, research papers, and slide show presentations. Proper grammar, spelling, and syntax are a must. If you cannot clearly communicate through writing, your instructors, classmates, and future boss will have a hard time understanding you.

Tip #5: Develop Your Time-Management Skills.

You’ve registered for the course or degree program. You own a computer that has everything it needs to access the materials, and you possess some excellent computer skills. But all of this means nothing if you don’t have good time-management skills.

Online courses provide you with flexibility. You can study and complete assignments on your own schedule. While this can be a great advantage — such as the ability to work when you’re most alert — it can also pose some challenges. You need to be in charge of your schedule. By holding yourself accountable and being a self-starter, you’ll have traits that will translate perfectly to the real-world work environment.

Online courses provide you with flexibility.

Create a schedule for taking care of classwork based on the time of day when you work best and stick to it. Since you know your optimal working schedule, you can base your assignments around it.

Consult your syllabus, making note of important deadlines and due dates. Log into your course on a regular basis. In fact, log in at least three to four times a week to keep up with your assignments and messages from professors and virtual classmates. Estimate how long assignments and tests will take and add additional time to your estimates for breathing room.

A key part of time-management is organization. Find the style that works best for you and stick to it. Choose a software or a good old fashion day-timer that can support your organizational style and use it to keep track of everything related to school.

Tip #6: Find a Quiet Area to Work.

Don’t try to study and complete your homework in the middle of the living room where all the hustle and bustle is. If the TV is blaring, your dog is barking, and your kids are arguing about who gets the last chocolate chip cookie, you can forget about trying to concentrate on school. Instead, find a quiet area away from the rest of the family. It could be a home office, a bedroom, a spot at the kitchen table, or an out-of-the-way location where you won’t be disturbed.

Don’t have a quiet place to study at home? If possible, take your laptop to the local coffee shop or library and access free Wi-Fi as you study, read lecture notes, or do your homework. Sip a cappuccino, stick your earbuds in your ears to block out any noise, and get to work!

Maybe you have small children who keep you from studying in a peaceful environment. If that describes your situation, consider asking a family member or close friend to watch the kids while you study. You can even trade babysitting services with a friend. Offer to watch your friend’s children while he or she runs errands or takes a class. In exchange, your friend can babysit your little ones while you hit the books.

Tip #7: Network With Your Classmates.

The classmates of today could be your co-workers of tomorrow. They could prove invaluable to your career, giving you tips and opportunities. Make sure you communicate frequently with your classmates and make a good impression. This means engaging in discussions, providing valuable advice and support. It also means completing your share and excelling during team projects. Instead of just pulling your weight, find ways you can propel your team forward.

Tip #8: Use Problem-Solving Techniques.

Being an online student requires you to think out-of-the-box, using problem-solving skills whenever disaster strikes. Maybe your Internet or your computer stops working. The electricity may go out, or you might have trouble contacting your instructor with a question about an assignment or due date.

To be successful in an online class, you must be prepared to devise creative solutions to any issues that may arise. For example, if your computer breaks down, use a friend’s computer or visit the public or campus library to use one of the computers in the computer lab.

Online Courses Help You Achieve Your Goals

Not everyone has the desire or time to physically attend classes at a local college or business school. Long hours at work, caring for family members and inability to attend classes during the day prevent some from enrolling in traditional classes.

Thanks to the Internet, however, if you want to improve your career prospects, you merely have to enroll in online courses. No matter the time of day or night, online classes let you attend school on your own schedule, providing both flexibility and convenience.

But with these benefits come additional responsibilities. If you want to succeed in an online course or program, self-motivation is a key factor. Dedicating sufficient time for study and school work is crucial to perform well in an online program.

If you want to succeed in an online course or program, self-motivation is key factor.

Demonstrating strong organizational skills as well as the ability to use technology is important, too. Managing your time wisely and communicating with instructors and classmates will also go a long way in helping you to succeed.

If you incorporate these online learning tips into your daily course assignments, you will be armed with all the tools you need to successfully complete a course online. Whether you are interested in upgrading your job skills, earning a certificate, or trying to pursue a college degree, online learning is one way of achieving your goals.

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