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Elizabeth Matthews

Strategies for Succeeding in an Online Program

by Elizabeth Matthews

Have you been considering completing your college degree online? Many colleges and universities offer courses, or even full programs completely online. This can be a very attractive option for adult students who often juggle family, work and personal commitments while attending school.

The advantages of pursuing your degree online are many. You won't have to go through the hassles of arranging or paying for babysitters, leaving work early, or missing an important family event or vacation. Gone are the worries of missing an exam or important class because you, or a family member is sick. You can also forget the struggles of commuting to class, parking fees, traffic jams and gas. Online learning offers enormous flexibility so you can earn your degree on your own time and still live your life and meet your family and work obligations.

So far, online classes sound great—however there are a few things to consider before jumping into your first class. First of all, since your classes are online, you won't have the same opportunities to see your classmates or professor in person. You also won't have the structure of having to go class on a weekly basis. It is also important to have some working knowledge of computers.

I'm been teaching adult students online for over 10 years. During this time, I've designed online courses, advised adult students and worked with them to develop plans for achieving success. Most adult students love taking courses online and find that it really helps them maintain progress towards their degrees and educational goals. Below, I've outlined a few strategies that will help you meet with success and enjoy your experience!

Avoid Overloading Yourself. An online class requires just as much work, if not more, than a face-to-face class. It can be tempting at first to try to take several courses so that you can accelerate your progress towards your degree. After all, there are no class schedule "conflicts" and you don't have to worry about making the time for commuting or attending class. This strategy sounds good, but it can backfire and causes unintended consequences. Remember, there are finite hours in the day and you are already likely, quite busy. Ease into online classes—start with one and then as you gain comfort with the format, you can add more in the next term.

Time Management. As mentioned in the point above, online classes do require a great deal of work. Most online classes require readings, discussion postings, projects and papers. Sometimes there is even group work. As you can imagine, it is incredibly important to be as disciplined as possible. This is even more the case than with a face-to-face class, because you won't have the requirement of showing up for a class—instead, you need to pace yourself. The most successful online students will use a calendar to track important due dates of assignments. An effective calendar can give you a bird's eye view of the semester and what possible conflicts might come up (e.g. an important work project coincides with a midterm paper).


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