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Finding Success in Online Education: By Mike Petronella

Taking online classes in the comfort of your own home can sound too good to be true. Too good to be true? Not so fast. This situation can be ideal, but there are some unique challenges to this format of learning.

The major benefit of online instruction is flexibility. You have the flexibility to do your assignments on your time, but this can also lead to problems. This flexibility can lead to procrastination, which can lead to late and or missing assignments. It takes exceptional discipline to be a successful online student. What does it mean to be a disciplined online student? One must have the determination to set aside the time required to absorb the material and complete the work each week.

I have been teaching for SDI for two years now, and I have found that successful students share some of the following traits or habits:

  1. They set aside a block of time each week for study. This block of time is always on the same day and time. Think of it as going to a brick and mortar “classroom,” but this classroom is just your own home or workspace. Make sure that this time is not the evening before the assignment is due. Nothing is perfect, so things can go wrong. I have seen computers crash, internet outages, power outages, or just plain old family emergencies create situations that the student can’t recover from if their class time is the evening before a paper is due.
  2. Set up a secure workspace. What I mean by secure is one that is isolated from interruptions. It is hard to absorb and retain information with constant distraction.
  3. Make sure that you are computer-literate. No, you don’t need to be an expert or a software developer, but you do need to be comfortable with email, message boards, word processing, and taking and sending digital photographs, as well as have basic operational knowledge of computers.
  4. Ask questions! You would be surprised how often students don’t ask questions. Ask questions ahead of time. Don’t wait until there is a problem. Avoid potential problems by asking questions.
  5. Be proactive as a student. All too often, a student will see an issue with their work, encounter an obligation that interferes with school, encounter financial trouble, or have trouble coordinating schedules to have a conversation with staff. These situations can be frustrating, but they can also easily be solved by being proactive and communicating clearly with instructors, academic advisors, or the school finance team. It’s important to understand that online schools are talking to hundreds of students per day, and unless you are proactive in communicating possible issues, it is hard for the staff to address your concerns.

All this might make online learning sound difficult, but just like any other type of school, you will get out of it what you put into it. Online education is a matter of convenience for the student and will require trade-offs, such as discipline on behalf of the student. By following steps such as setting aside time, securing a distraction-free workspace, getting comfortable with computers, asking questions, and being proactive, you can help yourself to have the best online education experience possible.

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