Expert Advice for Online Learning Success –

Photo Courtesy: UMass Amherst

The convenience of earning an online degree is part of the appeal for many across the globe. But who makes a prime candidate for online learning? What should online students expect before pursuing their online degrees?

Typically, online courses cover the same material as classes taken in a classroom. The difference is in the methods used to teach students and the delivery of information, meaning online students will need to adapt to the online environment.

Time management skills, the desire to learn, accountability, and being a self-starter will all be assets to the online learner, said Raymond McNulty, chief learning officer for Penn Foster College.

“In the online environment, the teacher and the student are partners in learning,” McNulty said. “Students take a more active role in their learning, rather than just being given information in a classroom. By engaging in an online school, students show personal desire to improve themselves and take responsibility for the results. There’s not too many people to blame if you’re not successful.”

Elizabeth Brinkerhoff agreed, adding that organization is a key component of the online learner.

“Students need to be organized and thorough in their work habits and really good at setting aside time to do their course work,” said Brinkerhoff, senior lecturer and admissions chair for University Without Walls at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “They should find a place where they can do their course work on a regular basis, a place that is free from demands from other parts of their lives and allows them to focus. It doesn’t matter whether this place is the dining room table after the kids are asleep, the local library, or the corner coffee shop. What matters is they can take the time they need from their busy lives to become engaged in the learning.”

In a world where people are often judged by appearances, McNulty said online learning allows students to be judged based on their work and performance.

“If a student is overweight, has a mohawk, or an appearance that’s just different, that can negatively affect their performance in the classroom if they’re not perceived favorably,” McNulty said. “A woman once told me her son had more friends through his online school than he ever did attending high school.”

The young boy had Tourette’s, and online learning allowed him to be known for his work, not his condition.

“In a traditional classroom setting, sometimes people will be too shy to ask questions, thinking their questions are dumb or are afraid of being ridiculed,” McNulty said. “You have the opportunity to ask very specific questions to your professor online. It takes out the fear of asking questions in front of everybody. “

The interaction between teacher and student is one of the advantages of online learning, McNulty said.

“Communicating with instructors is critical to student learning. It’s so critical for students to communicate to the instructor what they don’t understand,” he said. “This lets instructors know whether the information is being delivered clearly. That feedback is so helpful because it creates customized learning. That’s definitely a strength of the online environment.”

Brinkerhoff added by connecting with professors and fellow classmates, students can also network and find students who share their same interests.

McNulty and Brinkerhoff said students should take full advantage of the online services and resources available to them, including study groups, tutorial sessions, and group discussions.

“Posing questions online and having time in between to consider what you are trying to express makes for more thoughtful and richer conversations and discussions,” Brinkerhoff said. “It also seems that students who might otherwise not have much to contribute in a live class feel less vulnerable in an online environment, and are more willing to participate in discussions.”

McNulty said many students of today are digital learners and the social aspect of being involved in an online community and connecting with other students is important to them. He said the online support is available, just as it would be in a traditional classroom setting.

Truthfully, there is no ‘perfect’ candidate for online education. A little self-analysis and discipline will go a long way in a student’s pursuit of a degree.

“The lifestyles we see among successful students are so widely varied that it seems to indicate to me that almost anyone who puts their mind to it can be successful in an online course,” Brinkerhoff said. “Above all, they have to be dedicated to reaching their goal – getting that degree – because in the end, their success can only be their own doing.”

Follow Valerie Jones on Twitter @ValerieJonesCMN