Achieve eLearning Success

elearning_featuresOnline programs provide a convenient way to learn and develop new skills without disrupting your current responsibilities. Over 46% of today’s college students have taken at least one online class; by 2019, half of all college classes will be available on the internet, with many degree programs offered entirely online. Moreover, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, enrollment in eLearning programs currently outpaces traditional student growth.

With eLearning’s unprecedented flexibility, now it great time to earn a higher education degree. But is online education the right option for you?

To answer this important question, consider your responses to some common eLearning considerations:


1. How often do I have access to a computer?

a. Everyday
b. 3-4 days a week
c. 1-2 days a week or less

2. Does that computer have a strong internet connection?

a. DSL or cable
b. 56K modem
c. Something else

3. Is that computer up-to-date?

a. It’s less than 5 years old and can support multimedia (videos, audio, etc.)
b. It is 5-10 years old but can support high-speed internet and multimedia
c. It is more than 10 years old

4. I learn best when material is presented in…

a. A variety of formats (text, video, audio, pictures, etc.)
b. Lectures
c. In such a way that I can ask questions immediately

5. How often do I need to see/hear my classmates?

a. Not necessary
b. Somewhat important
c. Very important

6. How do I work best?

a. Independently/at my own pace
b. By being reminded to complete tasks/assignments
c. By not completing tasks/assignments on time


If most of your answers were ‘a,’ then you are probably a strong candidate for online learning. If you answered mostly ‘b’ with a few ‘a,’ you may still succeed in an online environment. If you primarily responded with ‘c,’ online classes may not be the right fit for you. Think about trying a free online course before enrolling full-time online.

Nonprofit Universities

Nonprofit universities offer a variety of options to eLearners. In 2012, 65% of all distance learners were enrolled in a nonprofit college. Today, more than 80% of nonprofit universities offer one or more fully online degree programs. These programs are taught by the same professors that teach on-campus classes, ensuring that eLearners receive the same quality education as traditional students.

For-profit Universities

In 2012, 35% of students enrolled in fully-online programs were in for-profit schools. While for-profit universities are more expensive than nonprofit colleges, these schools often have significant budgets, allowing them to incorporate top-of-the-line technology in their distance programs.

Community Colleges and Vocational Schools

Community colleges are public, two-year institutions and are cost-effective alternatives to four-year universities. Many community colleges offer a range of online courses, but it is harder to find fully-online two-year degree programs. Students in a community college may need to take hybrid courses—online classes that require regular in-person attendance—to complete their degree.

Vocational schools provide students with hands-on experience in a trade. Because of their emphasis on developing practical skills, hybrid vocational programs are more common than fully online offerings.

Massive Open Online Courses

MOOCs are huge online courses, open to anyone, with unlimited enrollment. These courses are great for self-disciplined students who need minimal oversight from instructors. The biggest appeal of MOOCs is that they are either free or inexpensive. These courses are ideal for people looking to learn about a subject without committing to an entire program.

Professional Development Platforms

Whether your motivation is to change careers or simply broaden your skillset, online professional development platforms allow people to learn on their own terms. Platforms such as Treehouse, Codecademy, Lynda, Skillshare, and Khan Academy allow students to learn and practice subject-specific skills online. Like MOOCs, professional development platforms are best for disciplined, self-paced students who are looking to learn about a specific subject without earning a degree. Also like MOOCs, professional development platforms are inexpensive; some cost just $10 per month.

When choosing an eLearning program, it is important to consider your ideal learning environment. Do you retain more information from interactive discussions, or do you thrive when you’re allowed to learn by reading course materials at your own pace? Whatever your preference, eLearning offers two great formats for delivering information.

Synchronous classes take place in real time. eLearners who choose this option will need to log into their virtual classroom, instant message-based discussion forum, or exam software at the same scheduled time as other students. However, students need not be in the same physical location as other eLearners in order to participate.

Asynchronous courses are taught on a much looser schedule. Students can watch or listen to recorded lectures at their convenience. Asynchronous courses can consist of audio and visual components as well as discussion forums, email, and webcasts.

While these two formats are different, the underlying technologies are common to any eLearning program. To help acquaint you with the technical requirements you’ll encounter, we have prepared a list of the seven essentials to successful online learning:

  1. Internet access: Course materials are transmitted to students over email, chat-based discussion forums, virtual classrooms, and other multimedia tools. A strong, fast, and reliable internet connection is essential for eLearning success. This is particularly true for students in synchronous programs. Remember that public libraries and other community establishments offer free and generally reliable internet access.
  2. Multimedia: Many eLearning programs offer multimedia materials such as videos or audio as part of their curricula. Students should be able to access a computer, tablet or phone capable of playing video and audio files. Common video file formats include AVI, MPEG, and MKV. Common audio file formats are WMA, MP3, and WAV. Most devices produced in the past five to ten years are capable of playing these files. Alternatively, audio and video might be presented in a streaming format, such as YouTube.
  3. Communication: Professors in traditional and online learning programs increasingly communicate online. Checking your inbox regularly is especially important in an eLearning format, as most materials will be shared over email. Email may also be used to submit assignments, contribute to discussion groups, or to ask questions of fellow students or professors. Other information may be communicated through instant messages or texts.
  4. Learning Management Systems: These web portals host your online courses. While different schools use different LMS’s, they all share common features and functions. With your assigned username and password, you could login and access course materials, as well as tools for interaction and communication. Some well-known LMS platforms include Blackboard, eCollege, and Moodle. For a better idea of how an LMS works, take a look at this demonstration of an online nursing course at the University of Cincinnati.
  5. Testing: A number of software developers have created special applications for test taking. These programs typically download an exam file at the start of a scheduled examination period. Once the exam file is open, the software will time your progress and temporarily prevent you from accessing the rest of your computer. These safeguards deter cheating and ensure that students take their exams only during their allotted time.
  6. Mobile apps: If you have access to a mobile device, a number of free apps can enhance your learning experience. Dropbox will allow you to save course materials or assignments on Google’s cloud for access on-the-go. Evernote is an all-purpose note-taking app that lets students take photos or record voice memos and store them on the cloud. Penultimate is another note-taking app that lets you write handwritten notes with a stylus.
  7. Word processing software: Word processing software is a must for college students. Microsoft Word, part of the Microsoft Office suite, is the most common word processing app used today. There are plenty of free alternatives, however. Open Office or Google Docs both have free word processors comparable to Microsoft Word. Google Docs offers the additional benefit of saving your work to the cloud so you can access it from any computer with internet access.

elearning_hands

The most apparent discrepancy between the two delivery methods is the level of physical participation required in an online program. Additionally, and due in part to the largely asynchronous structure of the online format, distance learners may need more self-discipline and better time management skills than traditional students. However, the similarities between online and traditional programs far outnumber the differences. The delivery method does not affect the quality of the program, meaning that an online education is every bit as rigorous and rewarding as a traditional one. Students will find both types of programs intellectually stimulating, and will need to spend a similar amount of time on school activities to graduate.

Similarities

Learning Quality – The quality of the course is determined by the ability of the professor and strength of the curriculum, not whether it is taught live or online. Online courses are usually taught by the same professors who teach in-person courses.

Cost – It is often rumored that online colleges are much cheaper than traditional college. This is not always the case, however, particularly among schools that do not allow out-of-state online applicants to pay in-state tuition.

Reward – In both settings—online or traditional—students will learn the skills they need for success in the workplace. For students pursuing careers in fields that require certifications, online schools will help you register for all necessary certification exams. Like traditional schools, some online colleges will also help students with internship and job opportunities. Schools will not distinguish whether your degree was earned online or on campus.

Support – Online universities offer special services like financial aid and career support. Many schools also welcome students to use on-campus resources. Some online programs have dedicated study abroad programs for students who wish to experience life and learning through a global lens. Finally, professors are equally accessible for students’ questions.

Interaction – In today’s increasingly connected society, interactions are not limited to face-to-face meetings. Many online courses feature interactive group discussions through their LMS. Some courses will even require synchronous virtual interaction. Just as we build communities through social media, online learners become part of their university community.

Differences

Discipline – As discussed elsewhere in this guide, because of its asynchronous, self-paced nature, online learning generally requires strong discipline. Even though eLearning is flexible, creating a schedule will help you stay on track and assimilate course materials in a timely manner. Having a quiet, dedicated place to study will also help you focus. Finally, stay motivated by setting goals and benchmarks.

Social Value – The social value of attending school online isn’t worse, just different. Attending classes on campus certainly makes networking easier. However, online programs have resources available to connect students to internships and job postings. Online students should also use their electronic tools to connect with professors and other representatives who can help guide students to their professional goals. Many universities invite their online students to network on campus.

Examinations – Online tests are often taken on specially designed software. As with traditional tests, online exams will likely be timed. Online universities may also hold specially proctored examinations at a local community college or a similar location. Pursuing a doctoral program? There are technological systems in place for the construction, proposal and defense of a thesis or dissertation.

Its Own Challenges – The common myth that online education is easier than traditional, campus-based education is false. A good online program will demand the same academic integrity and intellectual challenge required by traditional curriculums. Being able to access course materials on their own time may also prompt students to put off too much work for too long. Strong time-management is key to success.

  1. Know if online education is right for you – Think about your learning style. Do you thrive with independent, self-paced study? Several online surveys may help you find out. You can find one here, and another here.
  2. Meet requirements – Use the technology guide provided above, along with information from your school, to ensure that you meet all the technological and general requirements for an eLearning program. Remember, a strong internet connection on a device capable of playing multimedia formats is key for successful eLearning.
  3. Contribute – Treat your online coursework the same way you would live lectures. Post on discussion boards, make comments about interesting materials, and reach out to fellow students or instructors with questions. No matter the forum, contributions from differing points of view inspire new ways of thinking, as well as critical forms of inquiry. Contributing to your coursework will help you excel and get the most out of your education.
  4. Create a schedule – With life’s many professional and personal demands on our time, it’s easy to push assignments aside. Allocating blocks of time specifically designated for viewing videos or reading course materials may help you keep pace. Fortunately, with the flexibility of eLearning, you can schedule your studies between your other obligations.
  5. Connect with your professors regularly – Just because you won’t see your instructors face-to-face does not mean they are not available to you. Reach out to them with interesting points, questions, or other thoughts. Professors are usually accessible and open to student interaction.
  6. Get ahead – Free time is often hard to find, but if you can, try to go beyond your study schedule and work ahead on the next assignment or set of reading. Doing additional work early on may help you figure out which materials you understand and which you might want to review again. Procrastination leads to cramming sessions, which may harm your memory retention.
  7. Designate a study space – Learning new information requires patience and concentration. Try to set aside a special place in which you can work on assignments. Avoid distraction by working somewhere quiet like a library or a comfortable room in your home.
  8. Speak up if you’re having trouble – While your instructors won’t be there in person, they will be there! Reach out to them with questions or requests for further guidance. Whether in a physical classroom or virtual environment, professors love it when students want to engage.
  9. Take advantage of available resources – Online students usually have access to the same resources as on-campus students: libraries, academic journals, labs, professors, databases, etc. Many universities also make these resources available in virtual formats.
  10. Stay motivated! – Spend some free time reading about and researching topics in your field. Supplemental material often increases interest in and understanding of a particular subject or area. You will also likely impress people in your discussion groups with your thorough outside knowledge.