As the number of us taking online courses and teaching online increases, seemingly by the hundreds each day, I thought I would check the Thinkfinity Community for some handy-dandy “How to Succeed Online” tips and tricks. And while I did find lots of great bookmarks and comments about teaching online here in the Community, I couldn’t find much about being on the other side of the virtual desk. So…if you have taken an online course, what did you find most challenging about it (aside from specific content) from a learner’s viewpoint? What strategies did you use to overcome this hurdle? Or, did you experience more of the agony of defeat than the thrill of victory? I have read some external resources on the topic, but found, more often than not, they outline what you should do, but offer little in terms of how you should do it. Please know that I have every intention of “borrowing” your ideas to create a helpful set of suggestions for my trainees (and myself), so thanks in advance for your input!
This is a great question. Pacing and timing are always the biggest hurdle for me. Here are some of my 'must do items' when I take an online course. Hope this will help you and your trainees:
1. Start the course on time. The course is always more enjoyable when you are not playing catch up.
2. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you need to complete a major project ask questions before and during the creation process. It's better to ask early than to go completely down the wrong path and have to redo the entire project.
3. Create a managable schedule of work (that fits into my life). If I am told that I must complete the first module within a week, I glance over the entire section and break it up into smaller pieces. Today I will review the readings, tomorrow I will post to the discussion area, the following day I will respond to other classmates' discussion posts.
4. Don't put off what I can do today for tomorrow.
5. Set up assignment reminders in my Outlook calendar. It's like a virtual teacher reminding me to not slack off :-)
I look forward to hearing what other ideas community members have for completing courses in a virtual world.
Thanks, Christen, for some very great, practical suggestions. What I am hearing is that a good overall approach to this is to blend online learning into your daily routine and spacing it in a way that makes sense to you. I believe that is one of the primary advantages of this environment. Starting a course on time also reinforces a committment to the class and agree that it puts you in a position to succeed more readily. Calendar entry is a great idea! My Google calendar sends me a 5am daily reminder of what's on the shedule for the day. Adding course :due dates would put them "in my face" right at the beginning of the day.
Something I discovered about myself while taking an online course is that I can get side-tracked very easily if there are websites listed for me to visit...so I have had to learn to manage my time in a very different way.
Rather than starting the reading and clicking on each link as I get to it, I actually begin by scanning the requirements for the week...or whatever period of time is established for completing specific tasks.
As I can, I take note of what I will need to accomplish...sort of like working backward...what is it I will need to do, and how can I get there. I actually create a To-Do list for myself...I get such a sense of accomplishment by checking off each "little" chunk!
Then, depending on the size of the class, I consider when to post my own ideas. I discovered early on that if I post early, other people may not read my posts because they think I am always first to respond. As a result I try to post early the first 1-2 weeks, then I wait until several others have posted in the middle weeks, and toward the end of the class I try to post more toward the end of week. This allows other people to share their great ideas first. It can be so disheartening to have one or two people always posting early and "taking" all of the best ideas. It also allows me an opportunity to respond to others , asking questions or extending their ideas wherever I can. Most people don't think about this approach, though.
When it comes to the actual projects or tasks that are due, I try to begin early and revise so that my final product is something I can be proud of...I can double-check it to any rubrics provided and make sure that it meets the requirements as long as I have plenty of time to do so before that 11th hour!
As I go through the course reading I try to watch all of the recommended videos as they are [presented, because I have found that these generally support the key points being made. However, many of the websites suggested are for additional information, and as I mentioned early in this post, I have a tendency to spend many hours looking at everything on these sites. Although the course content may indicate it should take me 5 to 10 hours to complete the work for the week, I find that I can easily spend 20-30 hours simply by spending lots of time browsing through those terrific websites and resources. I set a old fashioned kitchen timer on my desk for 1 hour, start my work and then take a break. If I need to do more, I come back and do more,...but this keeps make in a more realistic world.
Hope some of my ideas are beneficial to you and others.
Thanks, Pati. You gave us lots of food for thought!
Viewing videos and other course materials in the sequence presented is an important part of online learning, but one that can be tempting to overlook as we browse through and focus in on the topics we enjoy most.
To keep myself on track and cut back on the amount of time I spend on all those "extra" recommended resources that I so love to spend hours perusing, too, I create topic folders in my bookmarks, quickly look through the sites -- pausing to read areas directly related to the course -- and then bookmark ones I want to return to for further investigation in the appropriate folder. Over time, I've built quite a nice library of resource links, and while I may not return to the resource during that course, I do get back to it eventually as needed. And, now that I can bookmark here in the Community and have access to them from any computer, I am starting to move these resources here, using tags to organize them. Whichever way they are saved, it does cut back on the time I'm "waylaid" while doing online coursework.
Thanks again for your helpful insights!
Adding those resources to your favorites within the community and using tags to sort them is a terrific idea. One major advantage to the tagging is that once you establish tags, they are offered up as possible choices so your organization is made much more efficient.
Thanks for the tip. I'll have to start doing that myself.
As an online student, it is important to remember quite a few things.
1) Find time to complete your work/studies in the least intrusive way. Managing your time in an online environment is so different than going to classes or completing work in a study center or library.
2) Pace your time. In some online courses, I would complete all the work assigned in a very short time just so I could have "breathing" room for other things in my life. If that works for you, great... if not do the assignments once a week or so. Take time for revisions or pre-writes. That will be a lifesave.
3) Online also does not mean "easy". So many of my colleagues would imply that online work was "easy". It wasn't until they entered an online course, they changed that mindset. Online courses are challenging. Be prepared to work hard, keep firm deadlines and stay focused.
4) Online learning requires focus. It isn't a game a blog or your favorite discussion board. I find that I have to commit my time and energy to the class and can't have multiple windows open to "just check" things.
Thanks, Cindy, for these great tips. Pacing time is very different for each of us, and even different depending on what is going on in the rest of our lives, and I'm glad you pointed that out.
The idea of an online course being "easy" --- before you take one --- is very prevalent and something online instructors and institutions must deal with regularly. It is generally agreed that the dropout rate from online courses is significantly higher than face-to-face courses. A pre-course questionnaire, such as the Student Readiness Survey can assist students in determining if the online environment is right for them.
Thanks again for helping us to focus in on this discussion!
I have been on two on-line courses and have found both of them challenging for several reasons. Firstly, I am a visual and kinesthetic learner, so I like personal interaction to help deepen my personal learning. I also find it helpful in a FTF environment, so you can chat and bounce ideas of each other. When it is on-line I feel more isolated and remote. The discussions are not in real time, so the conversation flow is stinted.
To overcome this, I try to get engaged by e-mailing the lecturer and other students with personal questions and contributing to the discussions on-line as much as possible to help integrated the group. I think it is important to help the instructor develop the on-line relationships of the group, as they can not do it on their own. A community does not just happen, it has to have willing, active participants.
Would I love to have all my online classes composed of participants just like you, Sara! It is much more difficult to establish a rapport online, and you are right, it takes willing and active participants and, sometimes, I think, an instructor who doesn't have a life, , given the fact that students can live in different time zones and even countries, to try to keep the discussions flowing! Recently I facilitated an online course comprised of 25 participants from 14 different states! In another, there were folks from Canada, Greece, South Africa, England, Italy, Spain, Australia, and about a dozen U.S. states. Our friend from Greece took it upon himself to post a map of where he lived, along with lots of commentary on the culture and historic areas of his country. Everyone else took up his lead and before we knew it, we had a collection that National Geographic would have been proud to host. Interest and success in the course content area was phenomenal and I credit Miklos for that. Now, sixteen years later, a few of us still keep in touch occasionally and it all started because one participant took the time to be more than just another virtual face in the crowd! You would have enjoyed being a part of that group, Sara, and would have added much to it.
Over the years, advances in technology have helped ease some obstacles. The addition of videos, voice transmissions and more sophisticated image capabilities have given more "life" to online courses and instructors are expanding their utilization of hands-on experiential learning in new and better ways in this environment. Personally, the courses I enjoy facilitating and participating in the most are the hybrids, with opening and closing sessions face-to-face and the rest online. This seems to accommodate the learning styles of most people, allowing for a personal connection for participants like yourself who learn better as a result, as well for those who prefer to just do the work and leave the rest out of it. Of course hybrids do take away from the benefits of diversity of location and accompanying perspectives, unless the f-2-f sessions are videoconferenced.
I will add your wonderful suggestions to make more personal contact and be actively involved to our list of suggestions for online learners. Thank you for the tips!
I have been tinkering with Camtasia for a number of years to give a more personable touch so some lessons I have delivered in the past years. I notice too that Thinkfinity uses Camtasia for screen captures too. However, not to many have a human speaker, only a voice. Maybe the new, non-blackboard delivery system will have more in terms of a live person popping in at times.
Mike from Michigan
Nice to see you here in the community. The Thinkfinity PD team is working on the new courses for 2012, which will be 2 weeks in duration and continue to be asynchronous. The "prototype", if you will, is now being offered and you may wish to join one of its upcoming sessions. The course title is Thinkfinity & Social Networking for Educators and is a great way to explore the many aspects of the Community and how to best leverage them in your teaching and training environment. Webinars will continue to be both live and recorded. If you would care to give some input on course content, please visit the discussion about this right here in the Community.
On a related note: Some public and private K-12 schools are already incorporating online class work into their programs and totally online programs are also available. Click here to see Michigan schools currently involved in one such offering. It will be interesting to see how this impacts what our classrooms of the future will look like. It is already showing great results for students in remote locations and for those who are homebound.
As to synchronous learning, webinar and other internet-based videoconferencing platforms have made distance learning much more viable, both from the technology and cost effectiveness viewpoints. One of most rewarding and interesting projects I have had the opportunity to work with is bringing museum and other experts into the classroom via live videoconference connections. When the project was first conceived in 1998 not every school had the very costly equipment required to participate. Now, through web based technologies, the only real additional cost is the provider's delivery fee, which is usually a very reasonable one, and in some cases, is at no cost at all. From the earliest days, homebound students were always a priority, and some providers like the New York Hall of Science offer both a general distance learning program and very specific hands-on ones as well to help home/hospital bound students keep up with their studies.
I don't think that even George Orwell or Aldous Huxley could have conceived such a brave new world and all the wonders in it.
Now I'd better get back to TRN-O
I agree Karen, the instructor is expected to be on-line all the time to answer all questions instantly! Thats how it seems for my instructor now. I am on on-line course and he does really well at replying in a timely manner to everyone, keeping the discussions flowing and giving tips and hints when needed. He seems to work 7 days a week, all hours....
I found Sara's post interesting - she wrote that she is a "visual and kinesthetic learner. "
Her philosophical understanding of who she is illustrates how one can engage with online learning. Socrates lived around 400 BC, long before online learning, and he spoke about the importance of knowing oneself. Howard Gardner contributes to this understanding with his explanation of the multiple intelligences:
The intelligence types were:
Recognizing one's strengths can help one to think/plan how to go about online learning.
Ruth D. Chang
French Teacher/Thinkfinity Trainer
Middlesex County ETTC, NJ
I took my first complete online course this summer and really enjoyed it--so much, in fact, that I'm taking another one now. I think it's important for people to understand that while online classes are a great option, they are not necessarily great for every kind of subject matter, nor are they great for every learner.
That being said, here are some things that helped me to be successful in an online learning environment:
1. I printed out the syllabus immediately and reviewed each module in detail. I looked at how much reading there was, how many writing assignments there were and what type of writing was involved, and how many "other" type assignments there were (e.g., I had to create a blog in one module and I had to make a screencast in another).
2. Once I had an idea of the types and depth of assignments, I created a Google calendar for the class and plotted out one task to do each day--leaving myself at least one day a week as a catch-up day (i.e., nothing scheduled for that day, but free to be used if I fell behind). I scheduled myself to have everything done the week BEFORE the final deadline so that I would still have plenty of time to be done when pesky real life intruded on my classwork!
3. I printed out all of the assignments for the first module and carried them and my book for the class everywhere I went. I think we sometimes discount the odd ten and fifteen minutes of "dead time" we can have while we're waiting to pick someone up at the train or bus station, waiting for a prescription to be filled, etc. When I had these odd bits of time, I whipped out my book and/or an assignment and got something accomplished! I did the same thing for each module as I finished the previous one.
4. As part of my classes, there are discussion forums where we reply to topics and articles. Although I noticed that many of the other students' entries were very brief, I made it my policy to pay attention to my own goals. If I felt like I needed four paragraphs to respond to what I had read, that's what I submitted. I think it's important to stay on top of your own game.
What great suggestions, Joann. I'm glad you pointed out that online learning isn't for everyone and that some content lends itself better to that format than others. I also found that, while I was able to successfully complete many online courses, I fumbled badly when it came to a programming course online. I am "math challenged" to begin with and just couldn't get it, though others in the course were able to grasp it readily enough. So, personal inclinations, strengths and weaknesses come into play as well as Ruth detailed in her post. (Thanks, Ruth.)
Making use of "dead time" is a useful tip for not only online courses, but just about every other "portable" task we need to accomplish. I usually take a fiction book along to read, but will think about using the time more productively in the future.
Ultimately, we get out of an online course that which we are willing to put into it. You've offered some great ways to plan for and implement a successful experience. Thank you!!
I need to be engaged. If you are taking an online classes there are assignments and things you need to respond to, but webinars are different. I find that is I take note or ask questions (if that is possible or think about questions to ask if not) I get more from it than just listening.
In all honesty, I will tell you that I completed a master's degree online. My family and friends like to joke that I got a master's degree in my pajamas! But they will also tell you that I worked harder than I would have if I was in a classroom. An online course is not an easy "A". For me, it worked! But I agree with the others when they say, it is not for all learners!
It is extremely important that you manage your time well and use the course outline as a guide to track assignments. With my online courses, I was required to complete three and four assignments a week. I needed to be organized and on task. Otherwise, if you are working a full-time job, grading students' papers, and trying to have some sort of life outside of all that, it can be tough.That being said, I did enjoy the fact that I was able to complete the assignments on my own time and at my own pace, not having to go to class at a certain time each week.
Even though you can't see the course professors or other students, I found that I was able to build relationships with them, felt comfortable in the environment and found they were very much a resource for me. An online course doesn't have to be a solitary, one-sided event. An online course is what you make of it, and if one is invested and willing, it will payoff.