Is Online Learning for You?

As the number and variety of online learning opportunities continue to grow, it may seem like the best way for you to fulfill your education and career goals. It’s a great option for many people, especially those who are managing busy work and family schedules. Having the ability to log in to your course work “anytime, anywhere” can make further education a possibility, but online learning may not be for everyone.

Online students must learn not only about the subject matter being presented in their courses, but also about the learning environment itself, which can be quite different from a traditional classroom setting. The American Library Association points out “while Web courses offer more flexibility and convenience, they can be more demanding of time and energy than regular courses or workshops.” Many online learners must log in to their courses daily, for example, to monitor updates and participate in discussions and other assignments.

If you are trying to decide between online and on-campus options, it’s important to assess your preferences, skills, and characteristics. How do you compare with some of the qualities of successful online students?

Successful online learners are:

  • Self-motivated. They have the initiative to log in to their courses frequently and participate without being prompted to do so. Keeping up with course assignments and reading, and staying on track with due dates will largely be up to you.
  • Goal-oriented. Whether online learning is part of a professional career plan or for personal satisfaction, successful students are often focused on specific goals that help them stay motivated throughout their courses and programs.
  • Self-disciplined. Adding school to an already hectic calendar requires the ability to manage multiple responsibilities and resources, including time. Setting priorities, creating to-do lists, and scheduling study time are all important parts of the online learning experience.
  • Good communicators. New tools make it easier to communicate verbally using audio and video to meet with an instructor, work with a small group of classmates, or give a class presentation. But much of the communication that takes place in an online course is in writing, through email messages, written assignments, and discussion forums. Being able to clearly and communicate professionally in a variety of ways is essential to online learning success.
  • Persistent. Being able and willing to keep trying, even when things are going well, is critical for online learners. Weathering temporary setbacks and using problem-solving techniques will be helpful to overcome unexpected challenges related to scheduling and technology problems, for example, or a lesson that was particularly difficult to complete.
  • Resourceful. Online learners must be able to access the Internet, as well as quiet study spaces, to complete course requirements. This may mean adjusting current habits, and even budgets, to make sure that these resources are in place.
  • Interested in using technology. The fact of the matter is that online learning relies on the tools that are used to access course materials and conversations. Students are required to learn how to use a range of software applications and hardware devices throughout their academic programs.
  • Willing to ask for help. Online programs provide a host of resources to support student achievement. Successful online students reach out to instructors, advisors, counselors, and librarians for assistance when they have questions or concerns.

Online learning can offer a great deal of flexibility and convenience, but there are also challenges to be met. Is online learning right for you? Take some time to further research your options and explore the expectations of the learning environment. Look for course demos, tours, and samples so that you can experience online learning first hand before you enroll.

Keep in mind that becoming a successful online learner also takes practice. Prepare yourself for the adventure ahead and seek out ways to improve your skills as you move from course to course.