Guide to Online Learning

"You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives."

~Clay P. Bedford

There are many myths about online learning. Some may think that online learning isn’t as efficient as face-to-face learning. This just isn’t the truth! Several studies have been conducted dispelling this myth, because online learning really can be effective, you just have to do it right!

Our guide to online learning is intended to help students develop the right study skills, find the right workspace to do so, and better prepare you for online learning. Online degree education can provide:

  • Flexibility in learning
  • Increase your knowledge to prepare you for further education
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Take advantage of a great opportunity to fulfill a dream

Attending a college or university online can seem like a real windfall because of the flexibility it offers students who may be working and managing a family, but being a successful cyber-student means developing the right study skills. Here are some basic tips to make your online class a successful learning experience.

Special points of interest:

  • Benefits of Online Learning
  • Study Tips
  • Choosing the Right Workspace
  • Preparation for Online Learning

Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.

~Chinese Proverb

Study Habits For The Online Student

Never Forget: an online class is still a class. It requires you to invest a certain amount of time and effort in your studies. Depending on the complexity of the course, you’ll need to allocate between 4 to 15 hours a week for study, homework, reading, review, and any research. Think of it like this: for every credit hour one should devote 2-3 hours of study time to achieve high marks in that course.

Many find that it is very hard to maintain this workload in addition to everyday responsibilities. That’s where good study habits can help; to give you the most out of the time you spend studying.

Be an Active Learner! Studying should not be a passive exercise. Read your textbook aloud if it helps you to remember course content better. Use a highlighter to emphasize key passages and important concepts. Try taking notes by reading the textbook into an audio recorder of some kind. That way you can take it with you and listen to it when you’re driving in your car on the way to work or school.

Try placing a dot at the bottom of the page you intend to read. Some users find that if they look at the red dot more than ten times while reading the page it signals they are not comprehending the material. Step away from the material, and come back when you are refreshed and ready to learn. This will ensure you are not rereading the same information over and over again, wasting valuable time.

The more varied approach you use to study, read, or take notes directly influences the depth of information you are perceiving. Some people are auditory learners, that is, they learn by listening. Some people are visual learners, so they learn by seeing. Others people are kinesthetic learners, and they learn by doing.

Find out which learning mode suits you best and then craft your study methods according to which mode of learning suits you. There’s no one right way to study, but there is a right way to study for your learning type. Take About.com’s Learning Style Quiz and find out.

Highlight the key concepts in your textbook with a highlighter. Color-coding will help you to remember. If you’re buying a used textbook, try to find one that already has the important info underlined or highlighted in some way. This can be a tremendous time saver.

Analyze the way information is presented to you in your textbook so that you can understand it better. Ask yourself, is the information presented chronologically, serially, functionally, or in a hierarchical manner? Once you know this, it will help you focus your studying on the most important aspects of the course.

Form a study group with fellow classmates if it will help you learn course content more completely. Some people are more motivated by working with others, while some people prefer to work along. Figure out which working method works best for you and then do that.

Things To Keep In Mind

Even though you don’t have to actually be present in a classroom at a specific day and time, be sure that you follow the course schedule and do your reading and homework as close to the scheduled dates as possible. Self-discipline is crucial to completing online classes and doing your best on all assignments.

Treat all deadlines as firm ones. Be sure you have a listing of all the important dates for the coming semester, including dates like the drop and add dates for courses, dates for quarterly and final exams and so on.

Print out the course schedule and be sure that it’s posted in a prominent place in your work area. Highlight important dates or assignments in color to help you remember. Color-coding is a powerful aid to memory.

Consult the "Help" feature on your course web page to answer questions about how to use these features. If you still have questions, then consult your instructor, or the IT department for the institution offering the class. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Print out all contact information for your instructor and have that posted somewhere in your work and study area. If you can, get contact info for your fellow students so that you can contact them to consult about the assignments or get copies of assignments or handouts that you may have missed.

Make sure you have read all of the course requirements, the syllabus for the course, and any other materials that your instructor has given you. Then, if you have any questions, be sure that you contact your instructor immediately via e-mail or phone to get a clarification.
If you have regular reading assignments from a textbook, or articles or other handouts from your instructor, be sure you read them promptly.

  • Make up a "To Do" list with all deadlines clearly marked.
  • Be sure to get started early on all major projects. Don’t wait until the last minute to do your work!

Have a dedicated workspace set up in your home where you can do your reading and homework assignments. Be sure that this place has a computer with Internet access and all of the textbooks and reference materials that you need.

This space should be a quiet room with no distractions, like TVs or refrigerators. The ideal spot for studying is a room with a door that you can close that’s in a quiet area of your home or apartment. It helps if you know what time of day is best for this kind of concentrated study. Identify your peak study periods during the day and try to stick to them.

Make sure that your home computer meets the minimum requirements for connectivity, installed software programs, and the like so that you can access the course website, surf the Net for research, and access any other websites, libraries, or archives that you need in order to satisfy course requirements.

Double-check to be sure that you have all the computer and printer supplies you need for the course, including extra printer cartridges, printer paper, extra CD-ROMs for copying assignments that must be turned in, and some kind of small, portable storage device like a thumb drive for moving your data around or sharing with classmates.

Be sure that you have a comfortable chair in which to sit when you’re working at your computer or reading at your desk. However, your chair shouldn’t be so comfortable that you’re tempted to doze off when you should be working. Sit upright without slouching down in your chair and you’ll find it easier to concentrate.

You need adequate lighting at your desk for reading, writing, and typing on the computer. Poor lighting leads to eyestrain and fatigue, and cuts into your productivity.

Find the Best Workspace

Keep your work area neat and organized. Use file folders or desk organizers to keep track of all of your papers related to the course. This will cut down on wasted time spent looking for papers, textbooks, etc. that are buried in the clutter on your desk. Be sure you have all the pens, highlighters, Post-it notes, etc. that you need to study and take notes.
Have general reference books such as a dictionary and a thesaurus close at hand, as well as any reference books that are specific to the course material that you are studying.
It’s all right to listen to music while you work as long as it’s not too loud, or too distracting. Some people like to listen to classical music while they work as it is thought that playing classical music is an aid to concentration and memory.

Keep Up The Great Work!

Stay motivated! Know why you are taking this course and how it will benefit you. If it helps, right out your reasons for taking this course and what you hope to gain from it. Keep your eyes on the prize and remember that all of your hard work will pay off eventually in the form of a better job, a promotion, or a raise.

If you’re doing an online class in order to get a better job in order to take care of your kids, then perhaps you should post a picture of your kids near your computer to remind you of why you are working so hard. If you don’t have kids, then pick whatever it is that inspires you and keep a picture of that close at hand.

Make it clear to your friends and family that you need uninterrupted time to do your homework and assigned reading. Block out that time in your schedule every week and try not to allow any interruptions to intrude on that time. Use your allotted work time wisely. Don’t procrastinate. Once you’ve sat down to work, get right to it.

  • Pace yourself. Get right to work, but allow yourself a break every hour or ninety minutes to get up, stretch, go to the bathroom, or whatever you need to do for five minutes or so. Then, once your break is over, get right back to work.
  • Set goals, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or semester goals, and then stick to them.
  • Finally, reward yourself for all your good work! It will help you stick to your goal of finishing your online degree

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CTU does not guarantee employment, salary, or performance of graduates.


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