Succeeding in an Online Course

Academic Guidance

Succeeding in an Online Course

Today, the role of online courses is changing, which means starting one has more benefits than just satiating curiosity. In fact, Coursera, one of the larger platforms for free online coursework, allows people to take classes for credit and even certification for a fraction of what you'd pay at a university or community college. Employers are also looking to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to prove creativity and a thirst for long-life, independent learning from their prospective employees. If you're reading this post, it's because you're considering taking an MOOC or have to take an online course. Regardless, you probably already know the benefits. Here are a few tips on how to succeed:

Before the class begins:

Be realistic. While some of you might be considering a course for fun, others might have to take a course for credit. If you're considering a free online course as an academic experiment,  the impetus might be to just sign up, start, and then leave it without consequence. Be realistic with your time: If you're taking a full course load of difficult classes, perhaps consider waiting to take a class until the summer. While it might be tempting to sign up just to have the materials to view later, be honest with yourself: Will you watch the videos and do the work? A great incentive to do the work during a course is the interaction with other students; hold out. If you have to take a class for a credit, think about your learning style: time, what motivates you, etc, all will be key. If you know that what motivates you is engagement or feedback, pay attention to ways you can get that feedback in a large class.

So you're all in. Great. Now set a goal. For those taking the class for a grade or certification, the goal will likely be to succeed or get an optimal grade. But if this is just for fun, your goal might be to finish. Regardless of your goal, vocalize it to yourself. Don't let yourself forget it.

Make a schedule. Congratulations! You're signed-up and ready to go! Because of their accessibility, it can be tempting to push of the coursework of an online class. Pencil it into your schedule from the beginning! This will save you from last minute video and tutorial binging that is more likely to overwhelm you and force you to give up.

During class:

Choose to participate. It can be so tempting to just watch the videos and finish the assignments like a habitual transaction -- turn in work and get a grade. After all, in cases where you're taking a class online for credit instead of in person, you might be doing it for convenience. Don't get comfortable. Most courses will have chat rooms, forums, and opportunities to discuss ideas - whether for a grade or not. People that participate are typically more successful and likely to stick through MOOCs and online courses. Don't let the online and remote component fool you into thinking you're alone.

Reciprocate. So, you're posting your assignments. If you're in an MOOC, it might be so easy to think that there are so many people, it's normal your writing's going unnoticed. Take initiative. If someone wrote a comment, go write a thoughtful one on their material. Is no one interacting with you? Go forth and interact! The magic of the online course is that there is a level of anonymity that can make you feel safe to share your ideas and brilliance. Take advantage of the opportunity.

Network. You can think of this as a piece of advice that's a little less business-like: make friends. Except it's not that easy. You should notice after a while of writing, discussing, and learning that there is a core group of people whose material you are agree with or read more often. And it seems they write on your stuff, too. Congratulations! This is your network. Take note. Take advantage. Use this new circle of friends to encourage you to finish the course AND be successful in it - especially in cases where the class deals with quantitative skills or material with which you're uncomfortable.

Is there an in-person meeting? Go! Sometimes professors or members of the class will throw out an interesting, if unexpected idea: we've been spending a lot of time online together; let's grab coffee to chat more. Sometimes you just need to chat face to face. If you can make the time and the location isn't too far, go. Especially if the professor will be there! And encourage your network to attend. Is no one offering to meet in your area? Are you a social learner? You can take the opportunity to show leadership and initiative. Offer a meet up (but always do it safely: public spaces with a lot of people; coffee shops are good). If you speak a language that isn't the same as the one of the class, you can even ask for others that speak the language and meet-up online to digest through the material in a familiar language.

After the class has ended:

Keep the network alive. You made some friends or at least academic colleagues. Now the class has ended and you're still itching to talk to someone about how you finally got that graphic on your website to move. Keep the network alive! Keep in touch by e-mail. Share materials with each other on a Facebook group. Learning is a lifelong practice that goes beyond the online course. Maybe you found a new passion or hobby? This new group can help you find even more online classes and might consider taking them with you!

Try again. So, maybe you gave up midway through the class. You didn't connect or build a network. The material required more time or more background than you had at the time. If the course was something you took for fun, try again. Maybe you didn't get the grade you wanted? Don't decide to give up online courses forever. It's okay to be disappointed if your goal wasn't met. Just try again: maybe this time with a non-credit course or an online class with less work or in a subject you're more comfortable with. Once you finish one class and succeed, you will learn the tricks to get you there again!