Learning Online: Making a Personal Assessment
Online courses are available for students who attend some classes in person and students who opt to complete their programs entirely through distance education. Online classes can offer several advantages for students, but some students may need to make some adjustments in their study habits to do their best work online.
Students in online classes may be able to take greater control of their learning experiences.
Many online classes are “asynchronous,” which means, unlike the traditional classroom, that students do not have to be in the same place at the same time to receive instruction. Students can decide to complete assignments in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, if they want.
Online classes, dependent on the subject, offer a variety of tools to assist students with their study. These can include access to readings, videos, computerized slide presentations, use of whiteboards and computer simulations.
Through a variety of media, including e-mail, messaging, discussion boards, and more advanced video and audio systems, students may be able to communicate with their instructors and fellow students. Students can engage in small-group discussions or collaborate on team projects.
Students also are able to communicate directly with the instructor without concern about peer pressure if they need to ask questions or state that they do not understand an assignment or some aspect of course content. Students online may worry less about personal differences with their classmates.
While greater control of the learning experience may be an advantage for students in online classes, these classes also often require that students take greater responsibility for their learning.
The online experience is not in sync with one view of the traditional classroom in which the instructor lectures, students take notes of various quantities, and periodically students take tests to measure their note-taking ability and their understanding of course content. Participation in an online class usually means that the student has to take a more active role in the learning process.
If students decide not to develop a specific routine for each online class, then requirements of the asynchronous online class may get lost in the time needs of in-person classes, social activities or even work schedules. Waiting until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to do the online assignment because of other time commitments usually is not the best approach.
The in-class environment often provides a greater opportunity for camaraderie, seemingly spontaneous insights and even occasional serendipity, unexpected surprises. The instructor may build rapport to facilitate the learning process. Students may be seeking in the classroom social outlets as well as learning opportunities.
Taking online classes may provide greater temptation in regard to cheating in general and plagiarism in particular. Instructors are able to use various tools to try to counter student dishonesty in the online-class setting, but the procedures for tests, written assignments and other class projects generally require a greater level of scrutiny than those in the in-class situation. Academic rigor does not diminish in the online setting.
Any number of factors may influence a student to take either a full curriculum of online courses or a mixture of courses online and in class. These factors can include costs, work and home schedules, and interest in a specific area of study. Students need to evaluate before they enroll in online courses their willingness to take more responsibility for the learning process and the skills needed to take that responsibility. A good approach for either full or partial online study is, if possible, to preview online courses to evaluate personal suitability for such study.
Sameer Bhatia is the founder of ProProfs.com, a provider of comprehensive online tools, which enables companies and educators to create training courses for their employees or students.