Online courses are becoming attractive as a result of the global lockdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Tunde Niyi-Akinmade takes a look at some things a prospective student needs to take into consideration before taking the plunge.
With the global shutdown of the formal educational institutions occasioned by the rampaging Covid 19 pandemic, online courses are now best choices for many people; not only the students on compulsory holiday but also other people also affected by the lockdown; as a mean for personal development and keeping abreast of missed in-person classes in school.
The recent innovations in technology and the versatility and flexibility of the educational system have thrown up new dimensions and opportunities for people anywhere on the globe to study at the comfort of their homes or offices without attending the traditional classrooms or the physical person-to-person classes.
Online courses make it easier for you to personally develop yourself or even earn a degree without the hassles of attending classes on campus.
However, studying online can be a bit challenging. So a careful preparation must be done before the start of this journey so that the necessary strategies and skills needed for the course should be developed.
These tips are designed to help you get the best out of your online courses:
1. Be passionate and serious:
The course must be approached as the “real” thing with the seriousness and dedication attached to going to school to learn. A starting point is to put a definite time frame for completion.
You need to commit the necessary resources and time needed to achieve success within the determined time period.
The Northeastern University in the United States advice that you must be organized, proactive, and self-aware so as to get the most from your online class even when life outside of school becomes chaotic.
For success to be achieved in the online study, you need to be committed and passionate about your chosen course of study,
Also, discipline and persevere will help in keeping to your defined time frame for the course.
Focus on what you want to achieve by studying the course: the new knowledge and skills, career advancement, and the new you. It helps when you constantly remind yourself of this reason(s) why you are doing this course.
Hence, you must treat your study like a job or a must-do task. Consciously work towards achieving your study schedule, concentration in your studies and assignments.
Make your course a top priority every day.
2. Set realizable goals at the beginning:
You need to set the goals at the beginning of the course, and also at each frequency period of this course, preferably a semester, if it is the system’s frequency.
Your goals must be realistic expectations. Many people and companies are now rushing to set up online courses because of the present development. But note that many might not be in the first league. The lockdown caught us all unaware and unprepared.
So as you set about the course expect that some of the study note and classes might not be top notch. Don’t get discourage by this tardiness. Get on the train and enjoy yourself and assimilate the new knowledge and information.
3. Familiarise yourself with the virtual classroom:
No matter your previous experience. Start this initiative by familiarizing yourself with the virtual classroom software tool.
Your course provider website can be a veritable resource centre for your course. Search this to access its library, your upcoming classes, website info, technical support, and more. Also make sure you know how to contact your school, teachers, and other people when you have a question or concern. Take time to click on each tab on the school website to see what they all do and mean before you get started.
Professor Karl Kapp of Bloomsburg University, USA advices that before plugging on the student should get a hang of the particular virtual classroom available for each course before the real study session begins. This practical exercise includes logging in early and doing a test run.
“It really helps to have some idea of what the instructional space looks like before class starts. It’s like an orientation day where you can walk around the school or campus and see where your classrooms will be. Online is the same way, take a walk to the virtual classroom before the actual class,” Kapp told Kevin Kruse, the CEO of LEADx, an American company that offers training courses for online study.
4. Make a study plan:
Right from the on-start, make a study plan of how you intend to tackle the course: your classes, personal readings and assignments. Even though you might need to adjust this as you plough along, a plan helps to keep you focused and on track.
Your study plan must be realistic, based on your schedule. Remember with the lockdown, you might have taken up some other house chores in the house. Put all these into consideration when doing this plan so as not to create friction in the house with your other family members.
Your study plan must aim at getting you organised for the task ahead with allocation for certain amount of hours per day or week for your studying.
Check out the syllabus at the start of course, take note of major assignments and strategically make plans towards achieving these.
Also create a weekly study schedule for you to follow. In this regards, faculty at Northeastern University advice that you designate certain hours each week to reading, watching lectures, completing assignments, studying, and participating in forums. You should include your online coursework into part of your weekly routine, and set reminders for yourself to complete these tasks.
Keep track of important milestones and due dates, especially for assignments. Use a digital planner or organiser for this purpose.
Work out this whole plan and stick with it.
5. Fully utilize your time:
Do not get carried away by the freedom of your course flexibility. You must employ rigid time management in this initiative so as to get the best out of this initiative.
Avoid postponing class participation and assignments or reading the texts.
Fashion out a time schedule that effective take care of your class load, other activities and even your personality. Use a digital diary to help you out in this direction.
Periodically do a time audit to find out how you are spending your time: how much time you are dedicating to course reading and assignments; is this enough or not? Then adjust accordingly.
A good strategy is to have a scheduled time to study. This is your ‘school time’. So you know when to go to school: when to block off other activities and chores. This time-blocking strategy should also include allotting a certain amount of time for each task before moving on to the next one and setting a timer to keep you accountable; when working on your assignments.
It helps if you can create a timetable which breaks your study schedule up into 45-minute study blocks with 15 minute breaks in between. This helps your brain assimilate faster while you are able to consolidate and understand the new information you are coming in contact with.
6. Set up an organised study space:
Decide where you will study: is it in your study, bedroom, dining table or where else. Before finally deciding this area/space make sure it is most conducive to studying and best suit your needs and personality.
Make sure this space has the most essential tools and resources needed for your online courses. These include high-speed internet access, space for required books, materials, and software for the course as well as headphones for listening to lectures or discussions (especially when family members and friends are usually around or sharing this space). Most virtual classroom software vendors offer mobile apps.
For on line courses, Internet connection is very important. Your choices might include your smartphone, MiFi or a WiFi. Note that the speed will determine the quality of the video and audio and speed of your material downloads.
However, don’t panic when the connection gets awry as it is bound to do sometimes. Just try logging log back and continue with your lecture. But be wary of data usage issues and costs, especially at this Covid 19 period.
Dedicate your study space for your study and make sure you do most of your study in this environment by trying to stick to a routine. Let your family members know your needs for quiet time and to not be disturbed.
This helps you to stay organized. Your study calendar can also be placed at a conspicuous place in this area to help you track your important milestones.
Create a space of peace. You need to designate an area that is free of distraction. When diversions are present, it may reflect in poor quality of work; hindering your education. Discussing your “quiet zone” with your family or friends may be beneficial as well so they understand that your time is crucial to your academic success.
7. Minimize or eliminate distractions:
As you are studying from home particularly in this lockdown with family members around, there are bound to be many distractions. These distractions range from children playing around, television programmes and films to watch, household chores piling up and other similar things to distract you from your studies.
You must, at the beginning, quickly know how to lessen these distractions and set aside time to focus.
Also your smartphone, which might be a veritable work tool for your on line course might be a distraction itself!
If your phone is used as a hotspot for your laptop or desktop, consider putting it on silence to avoid losing focus every time a text message, WhatsApp post or other notification pops up. Also, the Internet a major tool might be another distraction.
Avoid the temptation to “quickly” check your email or other sites not related to the course while studying. Try downloading a website blocker to eliminate distractions by blocking the apps or websites that tend to compete for your attention. Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram can be distractive.
Close your chat windows, other Internet tabs, as well as turn off notifications and online games while working on your online class work.
Also learn how to best take care of the children and other family members distractions: attend to the children before you start your classes and keep them busy while studying, you can get your spouse to enrol for his/her own on line course and try studying at the same time. This might be a motivation for both of you. At least, use this Covid 19 lockdown to bond and put some intellectual sparks in the romantic relationship.
Turn off mobile phones and TV sets in your study space (if you can afford to do so at this time of lockdown). Even though some background music help some people to relax, but it is important that it is not too loud to become a distraction.
Limit Social Media during your study time. It helps if you can also completely logging off of all or some of your social media accounts during your course time, especially if it is of a short-time duration!
8. Use Online Resources
There are many resources associated with your study on the Internet. Use other student resources available, apart from those provided by your course provider. So learn how to navigate and search the Net for relevant materials.
The Internet offers a wide variety of information for you, just at your fingertips. Try and do further research on your own on most of the topics to broaden your horizon. Use your time and resources wisely.
9. Employ a study/assimilation strategy:
Try to know what best aid your assimilation, especially if it has been a long time since you last did a course. Note that not everyone learns the same way. Find out what help you to assimilate and understand faster, especially the new concepts and information that will be coming your way.
Employ relevant study strategies that best suit you. These might include printing out transcripts of the video lectures to review, jotting down highlights of audio- and video-based course materials, and other similar things.
Be mentally engaged as you study along. Occasionally quiz yourself on what you are reading to check your assimilation and knowledge.
Try to go through each material more than once. Going back and doing it again and again always makes it stick.
Another strategy is to keep notes on a regular Word document. You can use the “Ctrl” & “F” keys to quickly find information in your notes when needed, thereby eliminating having to thumb through hard notes.
Frequently take short breaks from your study. These breaks from your smartphones and computer screens help to rejuvenate your brain, avoid strain and revitalize you to continue studies. Plan for these 5 -15 minutes breaks between study time to a breather, grab a snack, use toilet or even get a perk from your love ones as everyone is in the house!
10. Participate fully and actively:
As soon as you become a student in the on line course start participating in the course’s online forum. This helps you to better understand course materials and engage with fellow classmates. Comment on a fellow classmate’s paper or post on the discussion board or post your own comment or question.
Be active in classroom participation and discussion. Read what other students and your teachers are saying, and if you have a question, ask for clarification. Don’t be afraid or intimidated to ask. Email your lecturers with comment or assistance or questions.
If you have difficulty with a topic, be proactive and seek out help. Ask questions as soon as you have them. Note that most online classes are built off the knowledge of the past week. If you do not understand week 1, you will have greater difficulty in week 2, and so on.
Check in as often as you can. Don’t lag behind.
Keep a strict guideline on assignments and do not wait to do it until last minute. This creates unnecessary stress and anxiety. If you have a bigger assignments like outlines and essays, it is beneficial to set a personal deadline to finish 2 days before the actual deadline. This gives ample time for you to go through for revision and editing before submission.
11. Connect and engage with others
Connect with other classmates on the forum and team up for group assessments. Help others with research, assignments even with proof-reading, tips and exchange of resources. This will help widen your horizon as well as motivate you to get along with the course.
Engage your classmates and interact with them. This is vital as it goes a long way in fully comprehending certain material. Hearing or seeing another person’s point of view on a subject matter sometimes help in understanding the issues involved.
Talk to other students by messaging or posting comments. Try and learn from others. Cooperative learning is the same online as it is in any traditional class setting. Note that your other classmates are from all parts of Nigeria, even from the Globe. Hear and discuss other cultures’ experiences. Learn and gain more knowledge and different perspectives from others. This is an advantage over the traditional classroom setting.
But note that email etiquette is essential and extremely important. A simple “Good Morning”, “I hope this email reaches you well”, “Thank you”, “Please” or “You are greatly appreciated” matters a lot. Warm gestures go a long way and I’m constantly reminded that it makes a huge difference. Join a study team and create a team of virtual friends with whom you have regular discussions. Pick each other’s brains, see how far each is with the assignments, and also any challenges anyone is facing. This can be through WhatsApp or Facebook.
So learn to leverage your network by building relationships with other students. You might end up making wonderful friends from all over the world, especially one based on mutual passion for a subject.
12. Approach with open mind
As you start with your new on line course, approach with an open mind. Remember you might not have had a similar experience before and even your course provider might even still be green in this line of business. The Covid 19 lockdown is bringing more players into the system. Some have what it takes some do not. Same goes for some of your classmates.
So learn to be patient with others. At this type it is not a bad idea to have a steep learning curve at the beginning as you get accustomed to e-learning.
What matters most is your decision to take the bold step to register for the course. Your embracing the online learning route is a decision you will not regret in life.
Finally, for you to be a successful online learner, you must widen your scope and search for knowledge on this type of learning experience.