What are your expectations for online learning and how do you know if it is right for you? Answering these questions involves doing your research about the options available and making some decisions about your plans for the future. In addition to assessing your skills and readiness you need to consider the financial obligation, draft an education and career plan, and evaluate your options to find a high quality program.
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As a student, online or traditional, it will be your responsibility to actively pursue your educational goals. You may have heard the expression: "You get out of it what you put into it." This is true of higher education! The experience you have and the learning you achieve are the results of not only the curriculum and faculty, but also of the efforts you make along the way. What must the online student bring to the table to foster a successful experience?
- Interest in learning: This may sound obvious, but what are your learning habits? Learning is a continuous process and online programs involve learning about technology in addition to the subjects covered in the courses themselves. Are you willing to continue learning new technologies, ways to communicate, problem-solving skills, and troubleshooting techniques?
- Inquisitive nature: Are you willing to speak up and ask questions? In an online course it is important to reach out to your instructor and classmates when you have questions and need clarification, as soon as the need arises. Look for opportunities, both in and outside of class, to find out more about the topics you are studying.
- Ability to adapt well to change: Higher education is going through a lot of changes and online programs are no exception. You may find yourself having to deal with and adapt to growing pains within your school and program, as well as changes in technology requirements. The process can be frustrating at times and a positive approach will take you a long way.
- Focus on personal and professional goals: Completing an online program can be a long process. Why did you decide to become a student? Whatever your reasons may be, remember why you are there and keep your education and career plan handy. Refer to it often to maintain your motivation throughout your program.
- Persistence: You will find that some courses are more difficult than others. Some courses will be more interesting to you than others. It's not always convenient to be a student and juggle the rest of life's demands. Be persistent and keep in mind that there will be challenges along the way. Work through the tough times and engage your support network when you need to do so.
- Self-direction and Self-efficiency: An independent approach to learning, self-direction in getting started in each course, and staying on schedule with assignments will be helpful as you begin your online experience. Start developing good habits with time management and study techniques. Take the initiative to search for answers through all of the services available from your program. These resources are there to support your efforts!
- An open mind: You will encounter a world of ideas and perspectives that are new to you. Whether you are enrolled online or in a face-to-face course, embrace the diversity represented by your classmates and instructors. Take a professional approach to class discussions that include thoughts that may be different from your own.
- Confidence and humility: While this may sound like a contradiction, both of these traits, working in balance with each other, will positively impact your online learning experience. After you have done your research and chosen your program, be confident in your decision. Put your best food forward, but don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Often, your instructor won't know you are frustrated or confused unless you reach out.
- An online presence: Develop a comfort level sharing information about who you are with your instructors and classmates online. You may already have some experience creating an online profile, and may be asked to share similar information about yourself in your courses. This provides a way for distance students to get to know each other, and for your instructor to get to know you as well. Consider sharing some of your story along the way.
- Respect for the educational process: The process of completing a degree or certificate program in higher education is filled with benefits and challenges. You can do a lot to prepare in advance – know what to expect and be ready to get involved. Be an active participant in your own learning!
Take the time to assess your readiness and reflect on the traits listed above. While you may be a natural at some, others will require your attention and efforts to improve. Allow yourself time to acclimate to the online learning environment and expect to make a few mistakes in the process. These lessons learned will move your forward in your higher education journey.