Is Online Learning For You?

Taking an online course is a flexible and convenient way to learn. You choose the time - day or night - to get online. And you use your computer and modem, instead of visits to a classroom, to participate in your class. But sometimes all that freedom - and using the computer - can be just a bit intimidating. How well will online learning fit into your circumstances and your lifestyle?

Here's a list of some of the skills and abilities that will help to make you a more successful online learner. Ask yourself the following questions, but remember that this is just a guideline to get you thinking about how to be successful online. If you're a bit weak in a few areas, don't think you can't do this. Instead, use this guideline to help you brush up on the things you need to improve on to get ready to participate.

Do I have regular access to a computer and the Internet?

This might seem obvious, but it's an important starting point. You'll need to log onto your course homepage regularly - to check for updates, participate in discussions, and to check for messages requiring immediate attention. Many students find that checking in at least twice a day is a good idea - you'll find the pattern that suits you best.

Do I look forward to learning some new technology skills - even if I'm a bit apprehensive?

In order to participate in your online course, you'll need to feel comfortable using a browser, email, computer conferencing, and Internet search engines for research. We don't expect you to know how to do everything perfectly before you start your course - you'll have the chance to learn and practise these skills as you participate in your course from week to week. But you will need to be willing to learn.

Can I make room for at least 10 hours of study time per week for each course I'm taking?

When you study online - as opposed to coming on campus for a lecture - it's easier for lots of other activities to crop up and keep you from getting to your work. Think more convenient - not easier - when you think of an online course. Online courses often require more time than a lecture on campus - but then think of all the commuting time you save.

Am I comfortable expressing my ideas in writing?

In an online course, you may be asked to defend your viewpoint or to challenge another's ideas as you discuss issues in the computer conference. You'll need to be ready to share - that means type(!) - your thoughts and opinions with your classmates in an open and friendly manner. The good thing about asynchronous computer conferences, though, is that you have time to reflect on your answer - and someone else's points - before you post your response. You'll have time to sound pretty good!

Do I like to get things done ahead of time - if possible?

Time-management skills are very important in an online course. Messages can build up quickly in an active computer conference, and it's hard to catch up once you've fallen behind. You'll also have group members depending upon your regular participation, and assignment deadlines to keep in mind. But if you follow our suggested weekly schedule, you can stay on track. (Repeat after me: "More convenient - not easier...")

Do I like to take the initiative for my own learning?

In an online course, you'll need to be comfortable with an instructor in the role of guide rather than lecturer. You'll be gleaning information from readings, from discussions, and from asking questions. You can't be shy about asking questions, or asking for help - from your instructor or TA, from classmates, or from the technical help people. If you don't speak up, no one will know that something is wrong. And if you don't understand something, you're probably not the only one!

Remember, these are guidelines to help you think about the skills you'll need. Think of these as our suggestions to help you prepare to become a successful online learner.