College Preparation Guide

5Succeeding in Your Online Program

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Achieving success with online education requires a lot of dedication and self-directed work. This final guide features some of the most important study strategies, technology considerations, and digital resources to help you get the most out of your online program.

Study Tips

Get Familiar with the Technology

Each school has a different user interface for their student portal, discussion boards, and web resources. No matter how computer-savvy you are, be sure to explore different online student tools once you gain access. This can reduce the amount of time you spend trying to navigate the website while trying to complete your coursework.

Set up a Study Area

While you may see no harm in working at a cluttered dining table or messy living room, it is better to establish a dedicated study space at home. It should be a quiet area of the house, away from the television and other distractions. If you find yourself getting restless in this environment, then mix things up by studying at a coffee shop once in awhile. In fact, studies show the ambient noise in public areas, like cafes, may be conducive to productivity and creativity.

Show Up

Even though you aren’t expected to show up in a classroom at a given time, logging onto your digital courses should become a daily habit. It’s easier to maintain interest in a discussion if you personally ask a question or provide a response because you can then look forward to replies from your professor and peers. Online institutions have embraced collaborative assignments and interactive message boards, because they strengthen student engagement and, hence, success.

Schedule Breaks

You can try to force yourself through a five-hour study marathon, but your brain will get tired and your efforts will gradually become less effective. Give your mind a break after short bursts of studying by standing up, moving around, and snacking on healthy foods. Don’t let yourself get distracted by TV shows or games, since your break can turn into a long stretch of inactivity.

Eat Well

The human body is very fickle, requiring certain amounts and types of nutrients to function effectively. Avoid large meals before a study session, because it can make you groggy. High-protein snacks, such as nuts, eggs, meat, or yogurt can help improve your concentration and give you a long-lasting energy boost.

Gather All Your Materials

Before you dig into an assignment or post a discussion topic, be sure to have all of your study materials on hand. This means placing your notebooks, highlighters, pens, flashcards, and textbooks near your computer. It can get distracting if you keep standing up to look for something.

Write Things Out by Hand

A cognitive study conducted by University of Washington professor Virginia Berninger shows that children who write out sentences and essays by hand composed them more accurately and quickly than children typing on a computer. Writing things out by hand engages your brain differently, and can be a welcome break from your computer screen.

Get to Know Your Professors

Don’t be shy — chat with your professors, ask questions, and build a rapport. Having a close relationship with your instructors can be instrumental upon graduation, when you need advice and recommendation letters for your job search.

Schedule Deadlines

Whether you rely on a digital calendar or a paper appointment book, be sure to log major test dates and assignment deadlines. You may even wish to pace your progress on an assignment by scheduling your own due dates for first drafts, research, and other incremental goals. Prioritize your education, so social engagements and leisure activities don’t suck away valuable study time.

Talk with Your Classmates

College is the best time to network and make connections within your field. You may meet a future business partner or colleague in an online class. Helping explain something to others on a message board can actually help you retain information and master a subject.

Tendencies to Avoid

Passive Learning

While you may have relied on teachers in a traditional classroom to explain things while you just sat back and listened, passive learning habits won’t fly with online education. You will need to take a proactive approach to understanding course material, grading structures, and timelines. You never want to learn last-minute you’ve been submitting assignments incorrectly or you’ve missed due dates.

Ignoring Technology

Traditional classrooms often provide students with Internet and computer access through libraries and labs, so you don’t need to keep your technology up-to-date. When you are enrolled in a self-directed online course, however, you are responsible for having the right technology and maintaining it. Don’t be careless with your computer ­– make sure files are backed up regularly. You may also want to set house rules to prevent accidental damage, such as restricting food or drinks near the computer. Just remember that a computer is usually the sole access point online students have to their education.

Interacting with Your Online Community

Both campus-based and online colleges give students the opportunity to network with faculty members, professors, and students. These interactions can provide major learning opportunities about career fields, economic trends, and the best ways to use your online degree. Here are some strategies for getting to know people in your online classes and school offices a little better.

Discussion boards are the most common way to interact with peers in an online learning environment. However, these forums can look and feel dramatically different, depending on the school and program you’re enrolled in. Your class may use discussion boards informally for periodic questions, or your instructor may require students to post thorough public responses as homework assignments. Be clear in your written responses, and avoid using shorthand or netspeak in your postings. Since this is an academic environment, your responses should be thought-provoking and well-informed.

Some class systems use sophisticated social media apps or websites that are similar to Facebook or Twitter, but stored in a private system. This means that individual users can create a profile, with a photo and details about your interests. You may find it easier to connect with your classmates by clearly representing your identity with your profile. Avoid posting immature or inappropriate materials in these environments ­– keep your profile professional.

Your instructors may schedule chat sessions, so everyone can log on at once to discuss material. While having fixed meeting times may take away some flexibility, it allows you to engage with your classmates in real-time and cover more material in a shorter timespan. Actively participate in these sessions by responding to peer observations, bringing up key points, and asking questions.

Some classrooms support live chats via audio and video. If your school uses these forms of communication, they will have requirements for headsets, microphones, and webcams on their website. Invite a classmate to chat and test out your equipment. This will give you an opportunity to identify connection issues and resolve them. Testing your equipment can prevent setup errors or downtime when you’re later asked to join a serious video or audio discussion.

While you may be used to off-color jokes, tangents, and offensive remarks online, school discussion boards and chats are no place for misbehavior. Even though you cannot see your professors and classmates, they should be treated with respect and sensitivity. Enrolled students are working very hard to complete a degree program, which can become very hard if the participants do not observe college ‘netiquette.’

In college, you will be exposed to opinions and ideas with which you will disagree (strongly, in some cases). While discussion boards are open to your research and opinions, it is important to avoid making sarcastic, antagonistic, or rude remarks. You don’t have to change the opinions and beliefs of your peers or instructors. As you progress through your studies, you will learn how to build effective rhetorical arguments that are respectful and supported by authoritative sources.

Additional Investments and Resources

Hardware and Software

  • Laptop or Desktop Computer: Consider your individual work habits before investing in a computer. Does your schedule demand that you are mobile? Or do you thrive studying in an office? Purchase a computer that meets your school’s hardware requirements, as well as your personal study needs.
  • Smartphone or Tablet: These smaller, mobile devices allow you to read digital materials, such as PDFs and eBooks, during long commutes on public transportation, a wait in line, or delays at the doctor’s office.
  • PDF software: With Acrobat Reader for PC or Preview for Mac, you can make annotations on PDF documents. You can highlight important sections and add notes for later study.
  • Microsoft Office Suite: This software is essential for college students, allowing you to create Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents. Most college bookstores offer these programs to students at a discounted rate.

Websites and Social Media

  • HackCollege: You can browse this Twitter feed during a quick breather between study sessions. Followers have access to academic news, technology giveaways, and vacation tips.
  • Tumblr for Higher Ed: The Yale University Office of Public Affairs and Communications put together this informative blog on the value of social media interaction in higher ed. The account serves as a directory of the Tumblr accounts for more than 50 universities.
  • ConnectEDU: This tech company provides job search advice and industry news for current students and recent graduates entering the workforce. They often link to key studies that measure employment rates and job training statistics.
  • Online Students Group: Enrolled and prospective students can trade study tips and distance learning advice in this open Facebook group. Moderators post daily news articles covering study apps, student networks and free videoconferences.
  • InformED: This Twitter account will keep you up-to-date with the latest in distance learning and the virtual classroom world. InformED often posts news about the perception of online degrees in the workforce.

Useful Blogs

  • OnlineUniversities.com: This online education resource publishes a blog on student loan management, tech habits, and time management tactics. This is a great starting point if you’re just starting an online degree and you need to learn basic study strategies.
  • Disrupting Class: This blog is moderated by three professionals immersed in academic innovation and business: Clayton Christensen, a professor from Harvard Business School; Michael Horn, the co-founder of Education and Innosight Institute; and Dr. Curtis Johnson, author and former college president. These men offer valuable insight into how business and technology are revolutionizing higher education.
  • Back to College Blog: This website can be very useful for online students still trying to settle on a major. These articles will walk you through selecting a degree based on your interests and using school resources during a career search.
  • Getting Smart: This blog is focused on educational software that’s suitable for all levels of education, from kindergarten through college. The authors look at the learning potential behind different apps and social media networks.
  • The Rapid E-Learning Blog: Self-directed students rejoice: this blog will teach you how to create custom study guides using common media and software. Put your audio and graphics skills to the test by designing the ultimate PowerPoint presentation and help your class retain important information.
  • College Knowledge: This blog is operated by U.S. News & World Report, a prominent magazine that features one of the largest online college databases. Writer Kim Clark posts student tips from admissions experts, college loan advisors, and professors.
  • Study Hacks: This blog was launched by Cal Newport, a computer scientist dedicated to studying the professional and personal habits of successful individuals. Newport has written three books on how to excel in high school and college.
  • The Unofficial Stanford Blog: Need to wind down with some funny Internet memes and lighthearted student advice? A group of Stanford students created this blog to help inject a little fun into the lives of busy students.
  • OnlineCollege.org: This blog covers a broad range of educational tools, job search skills, and application advice. Dr. Melissa Venable is an education writer who brings readers the latest updates from academic conferences across the nation.
  • College Blog by The Huffington Post: This popular media source will help you keep an eye on national academic trends, student lifestyle hacks, and effective study techniques. They also post frequent updates on the legislative battle to reduce interest rates for student loans.

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