Tips for Being a Successful Online Learner

Adapted from the Illinois Online Network, UW-Stevens Point &

the ATTC of the Northwest Frontier 

In general, online learners should strive to possess the following qualities:

  1. Be open-minded about sharing life, work, and educational experiences as part of the learning process.

    Introverts as well as extroverts find that online learning requires them to utilize their experiences. This forum for communication eliminates the visual barriers that hinder some individuals from expressing themselves. In addition, the learner is given time to reflect on the information before responding.

  2. Be able to communicate through writing.

    In the virtual classroom, nearly all communication is written, so it is critical that learners feel comfortable in expressing themselves in writing.

  3. Prepare for a sizeable amount of reading.

    Successful distance learners have good reading comprehension skills. While most people learn by listening to lectures and taking notes, the majority of distance learners are expected to master material through reading alone.  Although some distance learning courses offer video and audio clips, most programs require that students understand a large amount of information that is only available through written text. These students are able to comprehend text at the college level without the direct guidance of a teacher.

  4. Be self-motivated and self-disciplined.

    With the freedom and flexibility of the online environment comes responsibility. The online process takes a real commitment and discipline to keep up with the flow of the process.

  5. Be willing to “speak up” if problems arise.

    Many of the non-verbal communication mechanisms that instructors use in determining whether learners are having problems (confusion, frustration, boredom, absence, etc.) are not possible in the online paradigm. If a learner is experiencing difficulty on any level (either with the technology or with the course content), s/he must communicate this immediately. Otherwise the instructor will never know what is wrong.

  6. Be willing and able to commit to 2 to 4 hours per week per course.

    Online is not easier than the traditional educational process. In fact, many learners say it requires much more time and commitment.

  7. Be able to meet the minimum requirements for the program.

    The requirements for online are no less than that of any other quality educational program. The successful learner will view online as a convenient way to receive their education, not an easier way.

  8. Accept critical thinking and decision making as part of the learning process.

    The learning process requires the learner to make decisions based on facts as well as experience. Assimilating information and executing the right decisions requires critical thought.

  9. Have access to a computer and a modem.

    The communication medium is a computer, phone line, and modem; the learner must have access to the necessary equipment.

  10.  Be able to think ideas through before responding.

    Meaningful and quality input into the virtual classroom is an essential part of the learning process. Time is given in the process to allow for the careful consideration of responses. The testing and challenging of ideas is encouraged; you will not always be right, just be prepared to accept a challenge.

  11.  Feel that high quality learning can take place without going to a traditional classroom.

    If the learner feels that a traditional classroom is a prerequisite to learning, s/he may be more comfortable in the traditional classroom. Online learning is not necessarily for everybody. An online learner should expect to:

    • Participate in the virtual classroom 3-5 days a week
    • Respond to classmate’s ideas and questions
    • Be able to use the technology properly
    • Be able to complete assignments on time
    • Enjoy communicating in writing

    The online learning process is normally accelerated and requires commitment on the learner’s part. Staying up with the class and completing all work on time is vital. Once a learner gets behind, it is very difficult to catch up. Basically, the learner needs to want to be there, and needs to want the experience.

  12. Participate!

    Contribute your ideas, perspective, and comments on the subject you are studying, and read about those of your classmates. Your instructor is not the only source of information in your course-you can gain great insight from your peers and they can learn from you as well.

  13.  Take the program and yourself seriously.

    Elicit the support of your colleagues, family, and friends before you start out on your online adventure. This built-in support system will help you tremendously since there will be times when you will have to sit at your computer for hours at a stretch in the evenings and on weekends. When most people are through with work and want to relax is the most likely when you will be bearing down on your course work. It helps to surround yourself with people who understand and respect what you are trying to do.

  14.  Make sure you have private space where you can study.

    This will help lend importance to what you are doing as well. Your own space where you can shut the door, leave papers laying around, and work in peace is necessary. If you try to share study space with the dining room or bedroom, food or sleep might take priority over studying.

  15.  Become a true advocate of distance learning.

    Discuss the merits of the process with whoever will listen. In order to be successful in this new educational environment, you must truly believe in its potential to provide quality education which is equal to, if not better than, the traditional face-to-face environment. In discussing the value of online learning, you will reinforce its merits for yourself.

  16.  Log on to your course every single day.

    …or a minimum of 3-5 days a week. Once you get into the online system, you will be eager to see who has commented on your postings and read the feedback of your instructor and peers. You will also be curious to see who has posted something new that you can comment on. If you let too many days go by without logging on to your course discussion group, you will get behind and find it very difficult to catch up.

  17.  Take advantage of your anonymity.

    One of the biggest advantages of the online format is that you can pursue your studies without the judgments typical in a traditional classroom. Unless you are using video conferencing; no one can see you-there are no stereotypes and you don’t have to be affected by raised eyebrows, rolled eyeballs, other students competing for the spotlight, or people making other non-verbal reactions to your contributions. You don’t have to feel intimidated or upstaged by classmates who can speak faster than you because you can take all of the time you need to think your ideas through and compose a response before posting your comments to your class.

  18.  Be polite and respectful.

    Just because you are anonymous, doesn’t mean you should let yourself go. Remember, you are dealing with real people on the other end of your computer. Being polite and respectful is not only common sense, it is absolutely obligatory for a productive and supportive online environment. In a positive online environment, you will feel valued by your instructor, valued by your classmates, and your own work will have greater value as well.

  19.  Apply what you learn.

    If you are able to apply everything you learn as you learn it, you will remember it more readily. If it is possible, take the things you learn in your online course today and use them in your workplace tomorrow. Also, try to make connections between what you are learning and what you do or will do in your job. Contributing advice or ideas about the real-world as it applies to the subject matter you are studying helps you to internalize what you are learning. Your classmates may also say that it counts for them, as they will gain valuable insight from the experiences you share.

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