Online classes are the wave of the future. More and more people are discovering the benefits of going online to learn anything from daily life hacks to advanced degrees. The ease, accessibility, and flexibility with which information is shared as well as the increased interaction through web applications and social media platforms have made it efficient and popular.
With this new way of learning, you will need to use new tools and follow new rules. Whether you are enrolled in an online course or MOOC (Massive Online Open Course), a virtual chat, or webinar, keep the following guidelines in mind to help you (and your virtual classmates) maximize the learning experience:
Change your mindset
Despite its growing acceptance and popularity, many still view online learning as a second-rate alternative to face-to-face learning. Well, it is definitely different, but it is not inferior. In fact, learning online can be more effective because it is mainly self-directed. This means you take control of your learning path and decide the best way to go about it. You also set your own schedule and goals. But just like in any other course, you get what you put in. So if you are engaged and studying conscientiously, then you will reap the rewards.
Learning online requires:
- A good grasp of your personal learning style
- Clear learning goals
- Focus (there will be a lot of distractions when you’re not inside a classroom)
- Being proactive
Synchronous or asynchronous learning? Have you heard of these terms? Some online classes are synchronous, meaning that students and instructors are online at the same time. Synchronous lectures, discussions, and presentations are scheduled to take place at a certain time, so you must be online at that time to participate. Asynchronous activities allow students to complete the course at their own time. Students are given a certain time frame – say, a week – to access materials, study, take quizzes and finish assignments. But they can do so anytime of the day. Some courses have both synchronous and asynchronous components. You may be required to attend regular online lectures at fixed times and days. And then you can study or finish papers at any time within the week.
Get a handle on technology
Just like in a regular class, know the requirements beforehand and prepare before the class starts. Be clear about the following:
- Registration – follow the registration guidelines on the appropriate learning platform or website. Bookmark the site for easy reference.
- Technical specifications – know the system requirements. Those are usually posted on the Intro page of the course and include things like the operating system (will the course and materials run on Windows, Mac or Android, and which version?), suggested browser or internet bandwidth requirements. You may also require speakers, headset, and a microphone.
- Other software or accounts needed – you may need an email address to register. For forums and other activities, you may need a Skype and/or social media account.
It would be a good idea to do a dry-run before the course starts. If you are using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) software like Skype, read 5 tips for better online video communication to prepare for your class.
Set your study area and schedule
Get organized. You should set up a good study nook or area where you will have privacy, silence, and a good wi-fi signal. The fewer distractions, the better. Also, make a regular study schedule. Especially if you are a creature of habit, setting a specific time on specific days to study and work on the course will help you become more focused and productive. If you are attending a synchronous class, be online at least 15-30 minutes early to work out any technical issues you may have.
Always mind your manners
Practise good netiquette to create an online atmosphere that is conducive to learning. This means:
- Communicating respectfully. Talk to your facilitator and classmates as you would in real life. Greetings of Hello or Good morning are customary to signal that you are online and ready to join your class (in a synchronous session). In the same way, if you need to step out of the session, say so or set it as a status that you’re “away”, or say goodbye when you are leaving. Always proofread your responses before hitting send if you communicate via text.
- Ask and answer. Asking questions is a good way to let your facilitator know that you are engaged. You can also ask your classmates questions in the forum. But don’t waste other people’s time with redundant questions – those that have already been answered in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section, those that are easily searchable, or those that have been answered in the forum previously (if you came in late into the forum, read past posts first). Also, leave an appropriate amount of time for people to answer. Asking the same question repeatedly can be annoying. And if you know the answer to some of your classmates’ questions, by all means, share your knowledge too.
- Don’t monopolize the session by talking too much or going off-topic. Also, respect other people when they are talking. Don’t butt-in or speak over them, especially when you disagree with what they are saying. Everyone has a right to their opinion. If you can’t avoid disagreeing, do it in a calm and respectful way. In general, don’t start fights online. It is a waste of everyone’s time.
Let your presence be felt by asking questions, sharing your learnings or resources. Touch base with your facilitator regularly to let him/her know how you are progressing or if you need help. Always submit assignments or take exams/quizzes on time. You can also:
- Join the forum – this is the proper venue to share your views, opinions, learnings, or questions.
- Connect with your classmates – engage and build a community by connecting with your classmates online. You can extend your experience to other platforms like social media or even through informal meet ups in real life. This will make your class more fun as you build friendships, exchange new resources and expand your network.
- Blog – If you like writing, blog about your course and share your learnings with others. Who knows, maybe your blog will become popular. You may even be considered an authority on the subject. This can boost your professional reputation.
- Give feedback – this is a great way to show your appreciation to your facilitator. Your constructive feedback can also help improve the course and benefit other learners.
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