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College Readiness and Online Learning

Assessing a prospective student's level of college readiness can take on many forms. While test scores (i.e., SAT, ACT, and GRE) are often used by traditional schools as part of the application process, there is some debate about how well they measure the potential to succeed, and they don't really address an online environment. What other indicators can be used to assess a prospective student's readiness?

Knowledge, Skills, and Competencies

Most of the work that has been done so far has focused on the traditional high school student's transition to college, but there are some take-aways for the non-traditional student as well, who may be returning to school after a long hiatus. David Conley from the Educational Policy Improvement Center outlined four inter-related components in his 2011 report Redefining College Readiness:

  • Academic Knowledge and Skills: Writing and research skills are identified as essential for all, with additional knowledge required in core areas of English, math, social sciences, languages, and the arts. These subject areas are representative of those commonly found in undergraduate-level general education requirements
  • Academic Behaviors: Are you a skilled learner? Self-monitoring skills (e.g., discipline, persistence, reflection) and study skills (e.g., note taking, time management, test taking) can have a significant impact on a student's learning experience.
  • Cognitive Strategies: Similar to what is often described as critical thinking, Conley lists the following elements or college readiness: intellectual openness, inquisitiveness, analysis, reasoning, interpretation, precision and accuracy, and problem solving. These strategies "are at the heart of how postsecondary faculty members think, and how they feel about their subject areas."
  • Contextual Skills: Understanding how college "works," how to navigate the organization and its administrative processes, is an important component of student success. Strong interpersonal skills are also necessary to develop positive relationships with peers and instructors.

Computer-related skills are also essential for learning achievement. The technology requirements of higher education, especially online courses, can pose significant challenges to both younger students, who may have experience with technology primarily for games and social media purposes, as well as older students who may not have a lot of computer experience under their belts. A 2009 study of community college students in "technology-rich learning environments" worked with faculty to identify three primary areas of skills required:

  • Computer basics: This includes the "ability to create, save, and find files within different directories."
  • Application basics: Students need to be able to use the software applications required in their courses to develop documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.
  • Internet basics: This includes uploading and downloading files, using email to communicate, and using web browsers and search engines to locate appropriate resources.

None of the elements of readiness listed in this post are unique to a particular academic discipline. Students in all majors will benefit from skill development in these areas and more institutions are providing assistance, even before the first day of class. Take a closer look at some of the programs available and ask your prospective schools for more information about similar offerings:

  • New student orientation: Whether you are a first-year freshman or a non-traditional student starting a new program at an online university, many schools are providing structured orientations to familiarize you with all of the resources available. These sessions allow you the opportunity to ask questions and develop realistic expectations. Miami Dade College and University of Phoenix provide just two examples of what is possible.
  • Preparatory courses: There are resources available to help prepare you for college-level work in math, reading, and writing. Some schools offer formal preparatory courses, but you can also look for informal online materials to help you get ready.
  • Learning strategies courses and workshops: Classes with titles like "Academic Strategies" and "Student Success" include a variety of materials and assignments to help you understand the expectations of your program and let you know about the student support services that are available through your school. Kaplan University shares an open academic strategies course online for your review.

Are you ready?

As a prospective student there's a lot you can do to evaluate your readiness and prepare to participate in your first courses. These skills are not out of reach, but do take some time and effort to attain. Tap into available resources before you begin your program and throughout your academic experience once you are enrolled. Developing learning skills is essential to your readiness and potential for success as an online student.

Image credit: mortsan, Flickr CC-BY

February 28th, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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