Furthering your education helps you improve your quality of life and can potentially help when it’s time to search for a job. It is no secret that people who pursue a post-secondary education can gain a higher chance of 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 is common to know people who take classes online 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 is no need to sit in a classroom with your stomach growling because you did not 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 do not 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 is 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 is 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.
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 are a Mac or PC user, you can take steps to speed up your machine. If you have a PC, try to:
- Restart your computer. Save anything you are working on and restart your computer. Doing so regularly can refresh your computer’s memory, making it run more quickly.
- Remove any programs you do not use. Go to the Control Panel and remove any unused programs by clicking “Add or Remove Programs” or “Uninstall a Program.” You can delete those you do not need or use from the master list of programs. After you remove them, make sure you empty your recycling bin.
- 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 by opening the Start menu and running a search for “msconfig.” Then, uncheck any programs you do not need running in the background.
- 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 is always plugged in, it makes sense to choose “high performance” since battery life is not a concern.
- 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.
- Run a Disk Cleanup. Removing unnecessary system files can free up a ton of space, temporary files, and trash in your recycle bin. To do this, click “My Computer,” right-click “hard drive,” then click “Properties.” Choose “Disc Cleanup,” which you will find in the “General” tab. Simply check the files you wish to delete from the pop-up menu.
- Run a Disk Defragment. By defragging, 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 “Optimize.”
If you are a Mac user, try to:
- 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 — both large files many people do not use.
- 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.
- 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 do not need, and click the minus symbol to remove them. You should also clear your desktop by moving all items into folders.
- 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 is done.
- Get rid of any unneeded dashboard widgets. You do not 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 are third-party, press the red delete button to get rid of them.
- Get rid of any languages you do not use. You can download a free program called Monolingual if you use Mac OS X. This will allow you to remove languages you do not use to free up space. Just never delete “English” because it could cause your OS X to malfunction.
- 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: Ensure You Can Access All Course Materials
You have got all the basic computer skills. But do you own a computer that has the ability to connect to high-speed Internet? Slow Internet will not get you very far when you are trying to access an online course. They have certain technical requirements that must be met before you can get to the material.
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 do not waste precious time trying to understand the technical aspects of the course. There is nothing worse than starting an online course and realizing you do not know how to find various features and functions of the classroom portal.
Before you know it, the class is progressing without you, and you will soon become overwhelmed. So set yourself up for success by making sure you know your way around the course website.
If you have a documented learning disability or other disability that might impact your ability to complete assignments, most schools can accommodate a wide range of physical and mental impairments. You can also see if your school offers technical support for assistance with accessing course materials.
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. If you get a low grade on an assignment, touch base with your instructor to meaningfully engage with their feedback.
Make sure you convey that you want to improve your work — not that you do not 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. Your instructor could become a key resource in seeking a career, from providing suggestions and internship ideas to letters of recommendation.
Tip #4: Practice Good Communication
In everything you do, communication is essential. Maybe you do not write like Hemingway or Morrison, but that does not mean you cannot communicate well. To make sure you are successful in your online coursework, follow these essential skills for online communication:
- Identify yourself. When writing emails to instructors, remember they have many classes and many students. State your name and what course and assignment you are messaging them about.
- Use clear and concise language. Try to avoid wordiness and beating around the bush. After a simple greeting, get straight into why you are contacting them. Try to keep the message as brief as possible to allow them more time to respond.
- Be aware of your tone. Online communication lacks the features of body language and vocal cues. It is always best to use a professional tone, so take a step away if you need to compose yourself before writing a message.
- Give proper context. Sending a question like, “Can you help with my essay?” may not be the most productive way to ask for help. Always contextualize the communication so the receiver knows how to respond. For the above example, explain the difficulties you are having with your essay, like, “Can you help me with the thesis statement in my essay?”
- Proofread your message. Always check for spelling and grammar mistakes to convey a manner of professionalism and ensure your point is clear.
- Avoid overcommunication. Before sending an email or message, ask yourself if you have done everything possible on your end to find the answer. Overcommunicating can be just as inefficient as under-communicating.
Tip #5: Develop Your Time Management Skills
Online courses provide you with flexibility so 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 are 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 will develop traits that will translate perfectly to the real-world work environment.
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 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 an online organizational program or a good old fashion journal 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
Do not try to study and complete your homework in the middle of the living room among the hustle and bustle. 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 will not be disturbed.
If you do not have a quiet place to study at home, you have some options. 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 is the case, and you have exhausted other options like childcare or babysitting, try to schedule your most intense work times around their naps and sleep schedules. You can then leave easier assignments to when you may be subject to interruptions.
Tip #7: Network With Your Classmates
The classmates of today could be your co-workers of tomorrow. They could prove invaluable to seeking a 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. Making an effort to engage with others’ ideas creates a cohesive classroom environment and enhances the learning opportunities for all.
Making a good impression also means completing your share of the work during team projects. Whether it is a simple group assignment or a huge final project worth half your grade, make sure you are contributing equally. Better yet, 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.
Tip #9: Schedule Breaks
It is always a good idea to schedule breaks for yourself when studying and doing coursework. As you work longer hours, your productivity might decrease. Be sure to take advantage of your high energy levels to get more work done, and refresh yourself when you lose momentum.
While it might seem counter-intuitive, scheduling regular breaks can make you more productive. If you do your online coursework during the day, take a break for lunch and another one or two to have a snack. If you work mostly in the evening, start your studying with a short walk to re-energize yourself.
Tip #10: Hold Yourself Accountable
Without going into a physical building every day, it can be easy to put off work or let assignments pile up. When doing online classes, it is essential to hold yourself accountable for the work you need to complete. Developing personal discipline will help you commit and follow through on your work schedule.
Equally important is being honest with your instructor. If you forgot about an assignment or did not have enough time to complete something, own up to it. Avoid coming up with elaborate excuses — getting caught in a lie might make your instructor less likely to accommodate you if you face difficulties in finishing your work.
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, andan inability to attend classes during the day prevent some from enrolling in traditional classes.
Thanks to the Internet, however, if you want to potentially 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 schoolwork is crucial to perform well in an online program, as is ensuring you have the right mindset and the best tools to complete your work to your best ability.
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.
View Our Online AAS Degree Programs
If you incorporate these productivity tips for online learning 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 an AAS degree, online learning at Vista College is one way of achieving your goals.
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