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What Every Student Needs to Know Before Taking an Online Course

3 Mins read

Online education works, as demonstrated by the rates of students signing up for online courses. These days, online degree programs comprise more than one-third of the university system’s enrollment, and more than half of all university students take at least one course online. What’s more, professionals have access to online short courses from top universities, so they can gain specific knowledge and skill without leaving a gap in their career experience.

Online education is more convenient, more cost-effective and more conducive to learning in many circumstances. Still, online students need to properly prepare for the experience. Here is what online students need to understand about their digital education before their courses begin:

Online Courses Are Not Easier Than Traditional Courses

Many students mistakenly believe that online classes are easier than in-person classes — that online school is less demanding or requires less effort than traditional school. However, once online courses begin, students soon realize that this is not inherently the case. In fact, depending on the source of a student’s online education and the in-person alternatives available to them, online courses might be much more difficult than what they could expect from traditional school.

For example, professionals around the world have access to online short courses led by world-class experts at top universities. Almost undoubtedly these courses are going to be more challenging than the courses available from their local community college because the attention and effort demanded of students will be higher. Still, “not easy” is not synonymous with “not worthwhile”. Though high-quality online courses can be tough, they can also give students more opportunities to improve their knowledge and skill, which could result in better career outcomes.

Online Courses Require Fundamental Tech Skills

Though elearning design and development is a growing field, online education platforms can be frustratingly unintuitive, requiring some technical knowledge for students to navigate their courses with success. Even education platforms that are easy to use demand comfort and capability with digital technology, as students will need regular access to the internet and at least one internet-connected device as well as tools for note-taking, collaboration with peers, project completion and maybe more, depending on the unique requirements of individual courses.

Most young people today innately claim the basic tech skills required to thrive in online education, but the same cannot necessarily be said for older professionals working in traditional career environments. Students who feel uncertain about their tech abilities should find a reliable source of tech support, like a younger family member, and disclose their unfamiliarity with their professor when their online course begins.

Online Courses Provide More Autonomy (and Demand More Accountability)

Most online education is asynchronous, meaning that students are free to engage with course materials when they have the time, space and energy to do so. This is in direct contrast to in-person learning, which must be synchronous or occur at the same time for all participants in the course. On one hand, asynchronous education gives students more autonomy to learn in environments and spaces that best suit their subjective needs. Thus, online education has the opportunity to empower students to learn better than they might in traditional classrooms.

On the other hand, asynchronous education places almost all the responsibility of learning on the students. After professors publish course materials, students must take the initiative to log into the platform, watch lectures, engage with their classmates and complete other assigned tasks. If a student is unable to motivate themselves to participate in their online education, there are essentially no social drivers to compel their successful completion of the course. Thus, only students who understand the importance of accountability are likely to enjoy online school.

Online Students Thrive With Community Support

Online students can log into courses from around the world; in some cases, an online class might not have a single pair of students from the same place. However, vast geographic separation does not necessitate social isolation amongst students in a course. Studies have found that when students feel included in a community of learning, they are more likely to see success in their education efforts. Thus, students should find ways to connect with their peers throughout the duration of their course.

There is no better time to sign up for an online course than right now, when it can make the most impact on your career. Now that students have a more realistic expectation for their online education, they can work toward success in the classroom and in their careers.

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