Here is a guest post from Ted Bongiovanni, director of the Office of Distance Learning at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
According to a recent study conducted by Babson College, approximately 1 in 3 students in degree programs are taking online courses at a degree-granting institution. Here are five tips to help you make the most of your online courses.
1. Get to know your faculty member and your peers. Make your virtual presence known. There are a few ways to do this, but one of the best is to create an online portfolio. Good ones include a picture of you, so that everyone can put a name with a face, and a brief biography that outlines both personal and professional interests.
Your institution's tools might support the creation of such a profile, but if not, you can easily create one on LinkedIn, or Flavors.me. Include the link to your profile in posts that you make in class and in one-to-one messages to instructors. When a class begins, you should have an opportunity to introduce yourself to your peers. When you do so, talk about the experience you may already have with the subject, and what you hope to learn from it. Make a point of reading about your classmates and commenting on a few of those posts. If you're feeling more adventurous, you might want to accomplish this same task by recording a video of yourself answering the same questions.
2. Learn how to learn online. Stereotypes abound about learning online — that it’s for geeks, or that it’s more suited to so-called ”digital immigrants,” those who grew up with the Internet. What’s interesting is that younger students are still developing information literacy skills that older students have. Those skills will serve digital immigrants well. Natives will have an opportunity to build them in an online program where digital sources are central to instruction.
Regardless, you get more out of our online learning experience if you learn about how to learn online. Your school should offer an orientation to being an online student. It’s more than learning which buttons to press. It’s about being at the center of many learning activities. You’ll gain practice expressing yourself online in a range of activities, from offering an opinion and supporting it with evidence in a discussion thread to reflecting on your experience as a learner in a blog. There are more ways than ever for teams to collaborate on projects across time and space. You might find yourself in a Google Hangout with your classmates so that you can see and hear one another as you work on a presentation. Though many workplaces allow for a remote experience, when learning online you cannot count on resolving something at a face -to-face meeting. Learning online promotes building new collaboration muscles.
3. In the spirit of collaboration, it is important to be present. As the old Woody Allen quote goes, 90 percent of life is showing up. You need to show up in your online course, and that means responding to discussions, blogging or participating in a work group. In a similar vein, your instructor’s presence should also be apparent in the form of announcements, regular, constructive feedback on assignments and a well-prepared course.
4. Avoid technical problems. If technology can fail during one of Steve Jobs’s famed keynote presentations, it will fail at some point during your online learning experience. Still, you can avoid some of the glitches by having a modern machine. Something manufactured in the last two years should do. Do not scrimp on this expenditure. While it’s possible to get by with the minimum, you will have a better experience if you invest in your technology. If buying something new, get as much RAM and the fastest machine available. New software takes advantage of computers that have more memory and faster processors. You can hedge by loading up on these features when you buy. A bigger screen makes it easier to keep track of multiple windows — if using a laptop, it’s possible to add a second screen. Also be sure that your institution provides 24-7 technical support.
5. Finally, get a degree from a reputable institution. Do your homework. Harvard University researchers writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that students at for-profit colleges wound up with higher unemployment rates and lower earnings compared to students from other schools, and they have more debt.
These are just a few tips for folks thinking of learning online. What tip would you offer online learners?