Studying online is a way to tailor your study to fit you. It affords you more flexibility, but you are more reliant on technology and need to be more self-directed than if you were studying on-campus. At Federation University we like to refer to this as BOLD (Blended OnLine Digital) learning where you can study wholly online, or with a blend of face-to-face learning with online flexibility too.
There are two main forms of online learning:
- Asynchronous – no set times for your study means you can complete tasks anytime; and
- Synchronous – you need to attend regular, scheduled online activity in real time.
BOLD learners can and do study anytime and anywhere.
Some students love online learning. Others don’t. Some students are naturally “people persons” and need to be amongst other students to perform their best. They like the informal opportunities for discussion and negotiation, for comparing study notes, checking exam scores, for socialising, and so on. They also like to work with others, especially in groupwork assessments.
However, this can all still be done online, just done differently. It’s a matter of being responsible and educating yourself about online learning. Online learning means that many informal exchanges have to occur via the internet by means of platforms like Zoom, Skype, Camtasia, Moodle, Blackboard, Adobe Connect (NB: Federation University uses Moodle, Adobe Connect and Camtasia).
Using these tools is not, of course, the same as face-to-face encounters and does create challenges, especially in terms of keeping motivated during your studies. But it is possible to maintain social connectedness and to do well in your online studies.
All it takes is a bit of planning.
Below are a few tips for ensuring that you maximise success during periods of online learning.
Commit yourself to online learning whether you like it or not. Treat it as an essential part of your course, and not something that is tangential, or less important. You are still being assessed during online learning, so it is very important you take it seriously. Tell yourself: “Online learning is a crucial part of my degree studies”.
It is vital to know thyself in terms of your study habits, sleeping patterns, and knowing where and when you work best. Nothing is easier than sleeping in, neglecting deadlines, and not logging in to key lectures and tutorials during periods of online learning. Without classes to attend, it can be easy to let things slide. Resist this and keep the pressure on yourself to perform well during the semester.
An online course (especially an asynchronous online course) requires that you manage your time carefully. It is vital in online learning to keep a weekly and yearly calendar and maintain a productivity routine. Schedule study time where and when it suits you, but make it a regular time. During periods of online learning make sure that you stick to your schedule that you have devised (see Time Management). Ensure you have regular allocated study blocks (with breaks) just as you would do if studying on campus. Nothing really changes. If anything, you have more time for study as you are not travelling to university to attend classes. Your lectures and tutorials will go on as before, only via a computer screen.
Ensure that you maintain engagement with the university, the Faculty where you are studying, with the coordinators of the subjects(s) you are studying, and with your peers:
- Read the course description for each subject and ensure you understand the expectations placed on you for each class, and the assessment tasks you have to complete and submit during the semester. Draw up a list of these tasks and ensure they are marked in your calendar. Contact a lecturer to discuss anything if you are unclear. Do this prior to commencing your studies.
- Contact the course coordinator or lecturer for each subject as soon as possible and introduce yourself. There is nothing lost in doing this, and much to gain. If nothing else, they will remember you as a seriously committed student who has taken the trouble to plan ahead.
- Do the same with the other students in the course. There will typically be a chat area or a Discussion Forum for each subject on Moodle. Post a few lines about yourself and mention why you are studying the subjects(s), as well as some of your hobbies and interests. Don’t be too personal. Just be friendly and approachable. Suggest the formation of a study group and start to allocate roles within the study groups.
- When classes begin ensure that lectures are scheduled in your calendar and that you attend regularly (check your equipment well before the set time).
- Note that verbal contributions in class are often assessed. If your contributions are by means of Forum or Chat room participation, ensure that you contribute regularly as required. Don’t be influenced by friends who might be conspicuously absent from these online exchanges. You can set the “gold standard” in terms of regularity of commitment and quality of contributions.
- Keep up a regular time for meetings with your study groups outside class times (via Skype, Zoom or other preferred technology). Keep regular minutes of the meetings for distribution to group members (check them for accuracy before meetings start), and record apologies for people who are absent. The professionalism of maintaining a formal meeting schedule is important in terms of keeping yourself focused and motivated. It has a secondary benefit of helping you become familiar with the kind of practices that go on in big companies, universities, the public service, and other places of employment.
Despite the electronic nature of online learning, you, your peers and your lecturers or tutors still have lives. You are not expected to be online and available all the time. Set limits to your online accessibility by good time management and planning.
One of the most important responsibilities for online learners is ensuring that you communicate in an appropriate manner. In other words, the sorts of manners that are expected of you if you were speaking in person are still expected of you in an online course. Talking to a screen can make it easy to forget that you are engaging with other people. When involved in a discussion, make sure that you behave as you would in person. Apart from the personal impact that impoliteness can have, your mark may contain a component that reflects your participation in group discussions.
Familiarise yourself with the technology being used during online learning. This could be the popular Learning Management Systems (LMS) used by Federation University (Moodle) or it could be a video-enabled platform such as Camtasia, Adobe Connect, or Skype. Ensure that you know how to use and navigate these platforms well before classes start.
You’re not expected to understand them perfectly from the start, but you need to be prepared to get to grips with new technologies. Ask for help if you need it! Other things to consider:
- What operating system are you using? (Windows, Mac or Linux)
- What internet browser are you using? (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, etc.)
- Is your computer reliable? (Does it frequently crash or stop working?)
- Is your internet connection reliable? (Do you often lose connection to the internet?)
- Is there an alternative study space available to you? (And does it have all the necessary equipment?)
- Will you require plugins and do you have the necessary plugins? (Flash, Quicktime, etc.)
- Do you know who to contact for help if you encounter problems?
Know your own technological capabilities and limitations and the reliability of your internet connection.
Sometimes problems you can’t predict, such as software incompatibility or losing your internet for a week. It’s important to be consider your alternatives if the worst happens. Get help before classes start.
Critical to a successful online learning experience is having a good study location. For the online learner the home study space is likely to be where everything happens, so it’s important that you make the space practical and comfortable. Choose a quiet room, ensure good lighting, let the family know about your study timetable, shut the door and get started. Read more about setting up a study space.