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Demystifying Online Learning

Even though obtaining an online degree is becoming more and more popular, misconceptions continue to exist about online degree programs, their instructors, their students, and more. However, there is no need to feel confused about choosing online education. Read this article to pick up 12 helpful tips to ensure your success in deciding on—and succeeding in—an online degree program.

1. Employers won’t accept my online degree

Employers will want to know that you received your degree from a reputable institution. Make sure that your program is accredited by a highly-regarded accrediting body. Depending on your program, you may also need to check whether your degree program is programmatically accredited For example, if you are getting your degree in Health Information Technology you may want to see if your program is accredited by CAHIIM, the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education.

2. Online classes are easy

Many students actually find that online courses require a huge commitment –equal to the traditional, classroom-based course. Time management skills are key in any learning modality, but there are specific steps to take for a successful online experience. One tip is to set aside time each day when your friends and family know you are “in class” and cannot be bothered. This will ensure you get all of your work done in a timely manner and you do not procrastinate. Online learners also need good reading and writing skills. Your ability to read and understand the information presented, and to communicate your thoughts through discussion postings and essays will be vital to your success in the online environment. Note-taking is a must—whether you are reading a textbook, an eBook, or other online resources—taking good notes is as necessary for learners online as it is for traditional classroom lectures.

3. Online degrees are cheap

While you may not be paying for a brick-and-mortar classroom, you will have to pay for skilled instructors and copious resources: the things that make education priceless. Plus, many online programs also offer an on-campus option, meaning you will likely be paying the same amount (though you will save money and time, by not traveling to campus). Also, be sure to ask about fees.

4. Online students don’t receive academic and technical support

With advancements in technology, library databases are now located online; one-on-one tutoring is available via the web 24/7; and career services advisors are online to help read your resume and provide interviewing tips. Many programs also offer 24/7 technical support at no additional cost. Be sure to inquire about the types of student services offered before you enroll.

5. Online programs are all the same

Online programs differ as much as the instructors who teach them. Make sure your program offers a student-centered approach to learning. Also, check whether your school is accredited. Proper accreditation will mean that your credits will have the best chance of transferring to another institution, and will be looked upon favorably by employers. Finally, see what sort of professors you will have; a good mix of instructors with both academic and professional experience will serve you well.

6. I’m all alone in cyber-space

E-mails, phone calls, instant messages, video chat and discussion boards make today’s online courses as interactive as sitting in a classroom. Make sure to take advantage of all of the resources available to you, and don’t be afraid to reach out to your classmates and instructors for help.

7. I can do my assignments anytime

While you can complete your assignments at any time during the day, you are still going to have due dates and deadlines. Often, discussion postings and assignments are due at varying times during the week, but you can complete and submit them any time you wish before the deadline.

8. I can do all of my assignments at once

Most instructors require regular participation via discussion postings. These postings are usually scored and go towards your class participation grade. You will have to log in at least once a week to complete these. Also, most students learn best by studying small chunks of information at a time. By trying to complete all of your assignments at once you may not get the most out of your education.

9. Online learning is basically just a textbook and multiple choice quizzes

As technology has evolved, so has online learning. Today’s online courses feature discussion pages, multimedia tutorials, and video chats. Many courses even involve field work, such as conducting interviews and completing case studies.

10. I won’t receive personal attention from my instructor

Most instructors log on daily, and therefore are able to respond more quickly to concerns compared to on-campus instructors who may only be available two days a week. You can also call your online instructor if they provide a number, and many instructors offer scheduled virtual office hours so you can log-in and get help through a web chat.

11. I’m going to be in a “class” with 300 “classmates”

One common fear among would-be students about online learning is becoming a number. Check with your college about their average class size. Many schools cap their online classes just as they would their on-campus classes, with between 15 and 30 students in each course. You will want to make sure your college has small class sizes should you need to receive one-on-one attention.

12. The technology is difficult to understand.

Even those with little-to-no technology experience have been successful in online learning. Many schools offer tutorials and practice assignments to teach students how to navigate the course. However, be mindful that this is not something that will automatically be taught in your online courses; it’s up to you to watch the tutorials or participate in practice assignments.

Ann Morgan

Ann Morgan is the Regional Academic Dean of Rasmussen College Online in Eden Prairie, MN; where she oversees students seeking degrees in Business, Technology and Design, Health and more. She has worked in post-secondary education for twelve years. She has a Master's Degree in Vocational Education with a specialization in Special Needs Adult Learners and a Bachelor's degree in English Education and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

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