Learning to Learn Online
November 9th, 2011 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
Once you begin an online class, you have started the process of formal learning. What’s the difference between informal and formal learning? Informal learning is how you learn every day — through experiences and interactions, along with information received from what you’ve read and heard. It’s a passive form of learning because you are the recipient of knowledge. In contrast, formal learning is a structured process that includes learning in a classroom environment. That is an active form of learning because there is involvement in the process through written assignments and class discussions.
Learning to learn in an online classroom environment requires the development of necessary skills such as self-motivation, time management, and emotional intelligence. To effectively participate in the process of online learning, it is also necessary to be open-minded to the diversity of student opinions and to understand how knowledge is acquired. Let’s consider each of these skills and qualities.
One of the most important skills you’ll need as an online student is self-motivation. Most of the time, you will work by yourself and there is an expectation that you will keep up with the class. When you begin a class, you receive a textbook, materials, and a list of required tasks. It is up to you to get started, and to be successful as a student, you must want to learn, which means you need to be self-motivated.
When you first decided to take a class, it was probably due to a specific interest or need, which provides an initial source of motivation. To sustain your motivation so that you are an active participant in the process of learning, you also need to understand what motivates you. Some students are motivated by grades, recognition, accomplishments, or the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Determine what your source of motivation is and then use it to help you stay focused and engaged in the class.
As an online student, you will be expected to meet weekly deadlines. Many students believe that because the online classroom offers flexibility, they can work at their own pace. The reality is that most online classes have structured requirements and deadlines each week. Development of an effective time management plan becomes crucial to your success. It is important to create a plan each week so that you have enough time to study, complete your assignments, and stay focused on your most important goals. You can utilize time management tools, such as a calendar, planner, to-do list, or weekly checklist to keep your tasks organized.
Most of your communication with other students in an online class will occur within the discussion boards. But just because you communicate through written words doesn’t mean that you should not consider the tone of your messages. You can still convey strong emotions if you are not careful with the words you choose, so learn to communicate effectively through the development of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is an ability to recognize and control initial reactive emotions so that you can work productively with other students. The ability to think about your messages before you post them will allow you to determine if it has a positive or negative tone. How you respond to other students will determine how well you interact with them.
Another important aspect of an online classroom is that this environment brings together students with diverse views and backgrounds. Diversity adds value to class discussions and group activities because of the various experiences, perspectives, and knowledge that each student holds. At first, it may not be easy to work with other students because we often make judgments about others based upon our own beliefs and perceptions. However, if you can be open-minded to the diverse nature of other students, you will find it easier to collaborate and communicate with them. As you discuss your own experiences with them, you are likely to find that you learn more about yourself and develop new ideas along the way.
Within the online classroom environment, you will be provided with required materials to read. To gain knowledge from the assigned readings, you need an interactive method of working with that information, such as SQ3R. Knowledge acquisition occurs as you read, interpret, and process the information.
Starting an online class means that you are now responsible for being an active participant in the process of learning, making the transition from informal to formal learning. Informal learning occurs naturally; formal learning requires work. But learning to learn in an online classroom environment can be accomplished effectively if you have a planned approach and utilize the skills and success strategies provided above.
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