Can Anyone Succeed as an Online Student?

Can Anyone Succeed as an Online Student?

It has been well documented that the opportunities for online education are growing and more specifically that the number of students taking an online class continues to increase. As potential students consider starting an online degree program one of the most frequently asked questions concerns the suitability of this learning environment for anyone who tries it. Is it really possible that one classroom can meet the needs of many adults with diverse backgrounds? Through my experience as an online instructor and new student workshop facilitator, I can share some of the skills and habits related to why some students succeed and why others fail.

Student Skills and Characteristics

Let’s consider why students choose to take online classes. A recent study by the University of Missouri – Columbia, Understanding Successful Characteristics of Adult Learners, found that students who are considered “quiet learners” in a traditional class find the online environment appealing because in many cases, they do not have to be seen and can remain virtually anonymous. If you consider yourself to be a “quiet” student you may find that this can work against you, especially if you do not like being involved in class discussions because this is a requirement of almost all online classes. The study also found that the most successful students are those who are considered to be active learners. This is true of any classroom environment. If you are actively present and dedicated to the process of learning you are also likely to perform well.

One of the most important personality traits needed for successfully learning in an online environment is self-discipline, a very broad category that can include many elements. The most important self-discipline skills for online students include structured work habits, self-motivation, and development of a time management plan. Time management is necessary for any student; however, if you are taking classes online it becomes even more important because you are not reporting to class once a week and it is up to you to make the time necessary to complete your assignments. Some schools estimate that you’ll need 15 to 20 hours per week for each of your classes.

A strong sense of self-discipline is only part of the reason why someone would succeed when taking an online class. Anyone can take an online class and succeed – if they are willing to adapt how they learn, manage their time, and they are willing to make a commitment to doing their best. It’s all about making the right choices. Let’s explore this further.

Making Your Own Choices

When you start an online class, your instructors expect that you are ready to be involved, willing to participate, and motivated to learn. How well you perform in class is influenced by the skill sets you possess, the resources you use, your level of interaction, and more importantly your mindset. You make decisions about the extent of your involvement in the class based upon what you experience in this environment. The choices made are often based on your perceptions of the classroom and the relationship developed with your instructor. To be an effective online instructor, I listen to students and learn about their needs and expectations. You will likely choose to be an active participant in the process of learning when your needs are met.

Choose to Be Engaged in Class

Another important choice you will make is about your level of engagement in the class. For discussion participation and written assignments you can choose to meet the minimum requirements, as presented by your instructor, or provide something more substantial. If you have a positive experience and your motivation is strong, you will probably decide to maintain that momentum. As your instructor, I have an impact on the online classroom conditions and though my postings I can model the kind of participation and a welcoming environment that is expected of all participants. You will likely to choose to be actively engaged when you experience, perceive, and feel a connection to the class and your instructor. Another way to describe this essential personal trait is to call it persistence. You will work hard and persist if the classroom environment encourages you to do so.

Choose to Use Resources

You will also make decisions about utilizing the resources that are available and your responsiveness to feedback provided. Many online schools offer resources that support the development of your critical academic skill sets. You will either choose to utilize those resources to meet your developmental needs or you will continue to perform at the same level, which means there will be little or no progress made throughout the class. The same holds true for feedback provided by your instructor. You can choose to be receptive to that feedback or disregard it. My approach is to provide feedback that is tailored to your needs and I’ll suggest specific resources, which creates meaningful and personalized feedback that you can use right away.

Make the Asynchronous Classroom Work for You

The asynchronous aspect of the online classroom makes it possible for all students to be successful in this environment. Asynchronous means that students and their instructor do not need to be in the same place, online or in person, at the same time. Asynchronous discussion boards for example allow you the time and flexibility necessary to compose your discussion questions before posting them. There are usually no pop quizzes or unplanned activities – all assignments are established at the beginning of the class. One reason why students fail in this type of environment is that they allow the additional time to turn into an issue of procrastination.

Online Learning Represents the Future

The skills you learn as part of becoming a successful online learner are also important in the current business environment and the future of business. We live in an information economy where information is readily accessible through the Internet, so the idea of going to a physical library as the primary source of information is no longer the only option. With the increase of social networking, people are becoming accustomed to communicating through digital-based means. In addition, some businesses utilize remote or telecommuting employees and hold meetings and/or training sessions through online delivery methods. Even reading electronic materials is become more widely accepted with the growth of e-books and e-readers.

If we go back to the original question the answer is yes, anyone can succeed as an online student if they are willing to adapt to use of current technology, maintain strong self-discipline, and make conscious decisions to be actively involved in and a participant of the learning process. With a flexible learning environment and plenty of resources available to support your progress, you can be successful in this environment if you are willing to make it work for you.

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By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © R. CREATION/amanaimages/Corbis

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