Be Prepared for Accelerated Learning in Online Classes

Be Prepared for Accelerated Learning in Online Classes

Learning at the speed of light? Online classes are often noted for offering features such as convenience, ease of access, and flexibility. Many degree programs can be completed at an accelerated rate, with classes requiring an investment of time from five to ten weeks – versus a traditional semester-length class that can last 16 weeks or longer. However, the trade-off for taking courses at an accelerated pace is involvement in a learning process that requires your immediate engagement and participation. As an online student you need a plan that will help you do more than just get through the class, you need an effective learning strategy.

Working Nine to Five

Online students quickly learn the importance of keeping up with their school work. Students who are working may find it difficult to devote time to their studies on weeknights, especially if they are working varying shifts or have family responsibilities. If an assignment isn’t due until the end of the class week, students may wait until the weekend to begin addressing their school work. This creates a barrier to learning because most activities require time to read, analyze, and process information from the assigned readings so that you can formulate a response. This is also true for discussion responses and participation posts in which you are expected to demonstrate your knowledge and contribute something of substance to the discussions.

An answer to this challenge is the development of a time management plan, one that allows you to create a schedule and maintain a work-life balance. The reality is that your weekly plan as an online student is going to require a daily investment of time for your school work, if you want to keep up with your studies. Use a schedule to break down tasks into components that can be addressed throughout the week. What I recommend, from an online instructor’s perspective, is to begin reading the course materials on the first day of the class week so you can start processing the information.  If your class studies are left to the last minute you are likely to experience stress, frustration, and a feeling of information overload, which negatively affects your reading comprehension.

Beyond Time Management

Your involvement in the process of an accelerated learning environment requires much more than an effective time management plan. You need a method that will allow you to obtain, process, and comprehend a large volume of information in a short period of time. You’ll find that this is often referred to as critical thinking, which you will be encouraged to utilize with learning activities completed in class. For example, instead of only reporting information, it is very likely that you’ll need to demonstrate an ability to analyze and synthesize what you’ve read so that you can apply it to real-world scenarios.

A technique you could learn to apply as academic strategy is knowledge management, which is a phrase used by organizations to describe the process of collecting, storing, and sharing employees’ knowledge. A chart from the website What is Knowledge Management? outlines the progression of collecting data and interacting with it – and through activities that resemble cognitive skills, the data becomes information and then is transformed into knowledge.

The concept of knowledge management is relevant to online learning, specifically as a tool for students to use, because you will read course materials, conduct research, accumulate knowledge, and demonstrate your ability to share it through discussion board posts and/or apply it to written assignments. You can use this method to develop a structured approach to your studies by starting the collection of raw data (reading course materials) early in the week, continuing to interact with it throughout the week as you participate in discussions (sharing information), and producing a final work product (a written activity that demonstrates knowledge of the subject). The end result or completion of an assignment occurs as an outcome of the knowledge management process that is effective if you complete it throughout the week.

Ready, Set, Accelerate

There are other strategies you can use to improve your readiness to learn in a fast-paced online environment:
“¢    Consider emergency planning – don’t let Internet interruptions slow you down. Be ready and have a back-up plan in place for Internet access.
“¢    Make technology work for you – with an increase in mobile devices and educational applications you have additional options for gaining access to your courses. Take advantage of mobile learning to maximize your study time while you are on the go.
“¢    Develop a productive place to work– when you are ready to get to started, minimize any distractions around you to maximize your ability to stay focused on the task at hand.
“¢    Become familiar with the classroom functions – learning where to go for information and materials in your class can be time consuming. Take time to learn about the software program (learning management system) used by your school. If you aren’t certain where to find the information you need, look for tutorials, videos, or other resources offered by your school.

When you take an online class you have to be actively engaged in the learning process and keep up with the demanding pace. You’ll find it necessary to identify and use tools that help you with planning and meeting deadlines, so that you will get your work done on time. However, that’s not the only strategy you’ll need to develop. If you want to increase the potential for learning to occur in an accelerated environment, you need a structured method such as knowledge management to manage the flow of information. Your participation in an accelerated class should not just be getting through the class but acquiring knowledge and skills that are related to your academic goals.

What strategies do you use to work effectively within an accelerated online class? Share your experience and feedback via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © Colin Anderson/Blend Images/Corbis

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