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Strategies for Succeeding in an Online Program

(Continued from 1)

Work in Small Increments. Avoid at all costs the "I'll do it all on Saturday" trap. Students who tend to earn the highest grades and enjoy their classes the most, tend to work in small amounts, consistently across several days each week. It is a good idea, if at all possible to schedule time 5 out of 7 days of the week, where you will check into your online course(s) and read, post discussions or complete assignments. You will find that it is much easier to stay on track and that you will feel much more connected to your classroom experience.

Communicate with your Professor. In an online class, you won't "see" your professor face to face, but s/he is there—interacting with students on the discussion boards, grading assignments and checking course questions. Although it won't be possible to chat with your teacher right after class, most online professors hold office hours on a weekly basis either by phone or Skype, so take advantage of these opportunities to get to know your teacher and be sure that if you feel overwhelmed that you reach out so that you can get some advice to help you get back on track. Remember that professors, who teach adult college students, are well aware of the challenges and really do want their students to succeed.

Read Thoroughly. All classes have required reading, but in an online class, you often do not have the benefit of a full course lecture that feeds you the highlights of the reading assignment. Your professor might produce short podcasts or videos of the most important elements of the unit, but you won't have a two-hour discussion outlining the entire lesson. Most of your discussions, assignments and projects will be based on the readings. This is why it is so important to read the assigned readings in their entirety and to take notes as you read. A good strategy is to take a peek at the discussion assignments before starting the reading so that you know what aspects to focus on. Then you can complete your assignments on time (eliminating the pressure of the deadline) and then return to finish the assigned reading.

Academic Writing is Key. The use of text message abbreviations and emoticons has not been readily embraced in academia. Accordingly, when communicating in your course, or with your professor by email, be sure to avoid abbreviations. Use a professional tone in all communications. Remember that many professors require academic style writing on the discussion boards, so make it a point to know the requirements at the start of the term. If your professor requires citations and references for posted work, then be sure that you use the proper format. You can find many free helpful guides on academic writing and referencing online. Most universities have a writing center (online schools usually have virtual writing tutors), so take advantage of these resources.

Connect with Others. Many adult students dismiss the importance of building a social network during their college experience. It's even easier to do this in an online setting where you don't "see" your classmates physically. However failing to make social connections with others is a grave mistake. Studies have shown that students who forge friendships during their college years are happier with their learning experience.

Have an Emergency Technology Back-Up Plan. It's bound to happen. Here you are doing great with your time management and loving your class and…. your computer crashes or your Internet is down. It's easy to panic in these situations, but if you have a back-up plan, you will alleviate stress and get your work done. Before the term starts, consider what you will do if the aforementioned were to happen. Is there an Internet café nearby where you can work? Or can you borrow a computer from a neighbor in an emergency? Create an emergency plan for yourself and update this as circumstances change. Finally, when emergency strikes (whether technology related or otherwise), the first thing you should do is either call or email your professor and inform him/her of the situation. Chances are, if you are proactive, your professor will be more than happy to give you an extension or other consideration.

Online classes are a great way to earn your degree and still take care of all of your other obligations. Keep these strategies in mind during your online courses and you will succeed!


Elizabeth Matthews, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor at City College in New York City. She has developed online classes and several alternative pathway to credit options for adult students. She currently teaches online classes in psychology, education and sociology.

See AlsoSee also: Online Classes: The Basics.

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