Online courses offer a lot of flexibility for busy students. They often attract professionals looking for career advancement, parents seeking to better provide for their families and returning students looking to pick up where they left off.
Taking online classes allows you to work toward your goals at your own pace. But not everyone has what it takes to succeed in the nontraditional setting of online classes. They will test your self-discipline, time management skills and ability to learn independently.
Learning from those who have been in your shoes is a great way to prepare yourself and avoid their mistakes. We polled a handful of Rasmussen College online students to learn the ins and outs of taking online classes.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Online classes are not the ‘easy’ route
Opting for online courses over traditional courses is not the easy route for your education. It’s true that online courses offer you the flexibility to learn in your own time and space, but that doesn’t change the amount of work you put in. You still have the same amount of work—just without the formal classroom setting.
The flexibility of online classes can be extremely helpful to busy students, but that same freedom also creates additional pressures on those enrolled. The ball is in your court—meaning it’s up to you to avoid distractions and keep on track.
“You have to find the time to read, watch tutorials and study,” Angela Ronk says. “I have had many late nights, some even in tears. It’s not just a simple path.”
2. Know your learning style
Students taking courses online tend to do the same or better than those in traditional classrooms, according to a U.S. Department of Education study. This is because the quality of education is the same; the difference is just in the delivery. It’s important to know how you learn best.
People have different learning styles, so an advantage to one student may be a disadvantage to another. For example, if you like to ask questions during lectures and interact with your professor after class, online courses will be an adjustment for you. Seeking out help will be trickier than simply approaching a professor during office hours.
On the other hand, online lectures are a great option if you tend to feel lost in the crowd of a classroom. This gives you the ability to pause and take thorough notes or even re-watch parts you didn’t quite understand the first time.
3. Become comfortable with the technology
“I wish that I had been advised to familiarize myself with the class platform,” Amanda Barry admits. She remembers being frustrated at having an assignment deadline quickly approaching and being unable to easily navigate the site.
Your online class will most likely be accessed through your personal computer or laptop. Our online course veterans recommend taking some time to become acquainted with the platform and utilize any orientation materials prior to class. Having a reliable internet connection and operating system is also crucial to staying on top of your work.
4. Schedule time for studying
It’s your responsibility to take the initiative to keep up with your work when enrolled in online classes. It can be easy to let assignments slide and miss due dates because of the wiggle room and flexibility that come with online courses.
Procrastination is a slippery slope and can affect your grade negatively. It’s important to stay organized and follow a schedule because it’s difficult to catch up once you fall behind.
Many students underestimate the amount of time they’ll spend studying for class. You should expect online courses to take about the same amount of time as traditional courses.
You should be prepared to do a lot of reading and researching to complete written assignments, according to Cindy Whiteside. “Don’t let it overwhelm you and try to pace yourself,” she says.
Breaking up readings into smaller portions is a great way to make the workload more manageable and avoid putting off large assignments until the last minute. Setting aside time for studying will make also make it harder to postpone doing the work.
5. Stay engaged with the coursework
Discussion forums play a large role in many online classes. These posts are a great way to participate in class discussion and show your professor you’re taking the course seriously. They’re also a great way to communicate with other students, Jenna Childs adds.
Don’t breeze through class forums and other small assignments. Putting a little extra effort into discussion posts can mean the difference between full and partial credit.
“Too many students are sloppy with discussion posts. They do not spell check, their grammar is awful and they do not put enough information in the post,” Anissa Schuman says.
Both you and your classmates will see a world of difference if you articulate, intelligent comments rather than just going through the motions.
6. Understand graduation
Celebrating the fruits of your labor during graduation is a rewarding experience for any student. But it can be a little tricky determining when to toss the cap after taking online classes.
"I wish I knew that your graduation date is your course completion date, not your ceremony date,” Kristin Jones says. She explains that as an online student, your ceremony date may actually be several months after finishing your program.
The location of your graduation ceremony can usually be just as flexible as your online classes too.
"Students can participate in any campus’ graduation,” Jamie Boughter says.
Now you know ...
Online classes are a great way to balance family life, work and education. This option will allow you to work at your own pace to make a better life for you and your family. Best of all, taking online classes lets you integrate your studies into your schedule at your convenience.
Now that you’ve learned the ins and outs of taking online classes, does it sound like something you'd be interested in? Check out this article to see if you have what it takes to succeed: 7 Signs You're Ready to be an Online Student.