Quick Tips: Online Courses
- Taking an online course is a great, flexible option that allows you to learn at your own pace. However, before taking an online course, understand the expectations and think seriously about whether you have the time and motivation required.
- Before you begin the course, make sure you have all the required materials (textbooks, course packs, etc.), as well as the necessary technology (consult Queen’s IT Services if you are unsure).
- Engagement is the biggest predictor of success in an online course. Go online early and often. Become an active member of the class.
- Get organized: read and print the syllabus, write all important dates in an agenda or calendar, and designate specific times each week to work on the course.
- Keep up with the course. With no lecture to attend, online courses can sometimes end up on the back burner.
- If you are having trouble, reach out for help. Your instructor, teaching assistants, and classmates are all excellent resources.
- Stay motivated. Set personal goals, discuss interesting aspects of the course with others, and keep track of your accomplishments to maintain momentum.
- Stay focused. When working on the course, eliminate distractions (including your phone and the internet). Work for a focused 50 minute block, then take a break.
- Read actively: ask yourself questions, think about real world applications, and connect the material to what you know already.
- After the course, reflect on what worked and what didn’t. What would you do differently next time?
BEFORE the online course begins…
Understand the Expectations
Before students take an online course, they may believe that an online course will be easier, or require less time, than an on‐campus course. In fact, online courses require as much time, and often more time, than on‐campus courses.
Online courses may include a variety of material to be covered each week, including real‐time activities, recorded lectures, videos, notes, and readings. In order to cover the required material, online courses may include more readings than a typical on‐campus course. Furthermore, because the learning process is largely independent, you may need additional time to work on practice problems or to critically analyze the material.
Some instructors are explicit about the expected time commitment in the course syllabus. If this information is not included in the syllabus, it may be helpful to ask the instructor directly what the expectations are.
Before taking an online course, make a realistic assessment of how much time you can devote to the course. If you have a job, other courses, or family obligations, think carefully about how much time you have for academic work.
Also consider your level of motivation. For example, many students consider enrolling in an online course over the summer. Online courses are a great way to earn credits at a time when your academic load is not as heavy. However, think carefully about your summer plans, including work or volunteer commitments, time with family and friends, and relaxation. Summer can be a great time to take an extra course, or a course you could not complete during the academic year, but you may also find yourself with less time or motivation than you had anticipated.
In general, you should expect to spend at least 9‐12 hours per week working on the course. For some courses, the time commitment may be higher (e.g. 15+ hours per week).
Ask yourself: Am I ready for an online course?
Online courses offer many benefits. However, before taking an online course, it is important to carefully consider whether or not online learning is right for you. Online courses require you to work and learn independently, keep yourself motivated, manage your time, and stay on track. Before taking an online course, consider the following:
Do I have time to devote to the course each week? Is it enough time?
Do I have a space where I can work without distraction?
Am I motivated to take the course? Am I able to keep myself motivated?
Am I organized and able to meet deadlines?
Do I enjoy working independently?
Do I have access to the necessary technology?
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you are ready to succeed in an online course.
Plan the Logistics
Online courses require access to a computer with specific software and hardware, as well as access to high speed internet. Before beginning a course, look at the technology requirements. If you are unsure whether you have the required technology, consult with Queenʹs IT Services. If there are assigned texts or course packs, buy them before the class is scheduled to begin. Having all the materials will ensure you begin the class ready to go.
DURING the online course…
Keeping up is essential to your success in an online course. Without weekly lectures, online courses can easily be put on the back burner. It is critical to stay on top of weekly readings and assignments.
Go online every day to keep your mind on the course. Even if you only check in briefly, going online will help to keep the course at the forefront of your mind.
Connect with others
Students taking an online class may feel alone or isolated. You can avoid this feeling through active participation in class forums and discussion boards. Ask questions, add to discussions, and strive to make thoughtful contributions to the course.
For example, try to identify a theme, an idea, or a question that you find interesting or have some confidence talking about. Try to engage one of your classmates in a regular ʹconversationʹ about this topic. You may be able to connect with a classmate through Skype, e‐mail, or instant messaging.
AFTER the online course…
After completing an online course, reflect on your experience.
What worked? What didnʹt? Are there strategies you would use again or things that you could improve?
An online course is a learning experience not just in terms of course content, but also in terms of your own learning preferences. Through reflection, you can continually improve your academic skills.
Photo courtesy of Liam Dunn under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No-Derivations 2.0 license.