Digital education is a fast-growing trend, and whether you are taking a full degree online or just topping up your knowledge in one of your life’s passions, you are in excellent company. Millions of people around the world are educating themselves online, and millions more plan on joining them in the foreseeable future.
So, if you are interested in investigating this learning medium, there has never been a better time than today. Whatever your interests, there are options, and the reality of online learning is that it’s not a question of ‘should you take a course,’ it’s more ‘where do I sign up.’
That said, there are a few things you should understand about educating yourself in the digital realm. And for this reason, I thought I would use today to explore some of the things you ought to be doing to ensure your success. The following ideas and strategies apply to virtually any course you can think of, so it makes no difference if you are doing a degree or taking part in a simple MOOC for fun. There is a reasonable amount to cover, so let’s get into it right away.
You don’t need much to start learning online, but there are a few essentials. A computer is one of them, and, of course, you will need a reliable and speedy Internet connection. There’s more information here on why speed is important for everything from watching TV to enjoying the benefits of a fully connected home, but it’s also essential for online learning. You will be downloading a lot of course materials, and possibly need to take part in live video conferencing or lectures, too. It’s imperative that buffering doesn’t ruin your experience, so make sure your broadband connection is as fast as possible.
Another critical thing to consider is how comfortable you find using technology. Ultimately, your success will be down to a couple of things: your knowledge of the subject, and your ability to use a broad range of computer software on a daily basis. The chances are that you know how to use email, set up accounts on forums, and use a webcam - as well as how to make the most out of your computer’s word processor. But not everyone finds it easy, and if you count yourself amongst those people, it might just be worth looking into a course in basic technology first. Even if you are well-acquainted with using computer programs and online technology, it might be worth increasing your expertise. At the end of the day, the more you can get out of your tech and the quicker you can use it, the more time you can spend learning.
Before you even begin your course, don’t assume that online learning is any easier than going to a regular university. It’s not. If you do a reputable institution, you will find that your tutors and course leaders have almost exactly the same expectations of you as they do their traditional students. So, you should also have those same expectations for yourself. Half-hearted attempts at learning anything will almost always result in failure, so be prepared to put a suitable amount of time aside for your studies.
Try before you buy
If you are having doubts about starting an e-learning course, consider trying one of the many free ones out there first. While none of them will give you the scope of, say, an online degree, they will provide you with a deeper insight into whether or not the medium is for you. Not everyone is suited to online learning - some don’t have the time to put aside, while others find they bounce ideas better in a real classroom. So, starting out small is advisable for a variety of reasons, and I would suggest anyone with interest in doing something like a degree checks out a free course first. Not only will it give you a few ideas on how easy or difficult it will be to learn at home, but it will also make sure you don’t blow a lot of money on a course that might not be to your tastes after all.
Do the research
As we discussed earlier, not every online course is equal. In fact, it’s fair to say that some are downright poor, but will still cost you a small fortune. The good news is that many of these borderline fraudulent online ‘schools’ are being smoked out, and people are cottoning on to the fact they might be ripped off and ending up with a non-certified qualification. It is vital that you do your research to ensure you don’t fall into a similar trap. For example, you could spend a lot of money and two years of your life doing a bunch of exams that aren’t recognized by any of the educational authorities. You should also understand that some of the free courses offered by the top universities won’t give you any qualifications, so if that is what you are looking for you will need to check the terms and conditions of every course you like the look of.
OK, so there are probably billions of people in the world who could look at a list of courses and think ‘I quite fancy that.’ But there is a chasm of difference between something piquing your interest and having the drive and determination to see it through to the end. And let’s be honest, learning in an online environment can be tougher than when you get to go to a classroom. It’s all down to you and your motivation, and you will need to propel yourself forwards to make sure your assignments are complete, and that you set aside enough time in the week to do some proper work. If you are umming and ahhing about taking the course, it’s probably best to wait a while until you have that steely determination in place.
Establish time management
When you are working on your education by yourself, you can be your own worst enemy. A lot of digital learning experts will tell you that the number one issue for e-learners is time management, and the reality is that it can be tricky to fit in dedicated time slots into a busy lifestyle. But the simple truth is that you have no choice. Unless you can establish a stable and regular working pattern - that you stick to for the duration of your course - you’ll find that you start slipping behind. And everything from the forum discussions you have with fellow students to understanding what your tutors are teaching will be a lot more difficult as a result.
I covered communication between online learners in a previous blog post, and I’m going to repeat some of the thinking here, too - it’s that important. First of all, let’s clear something up. Online learning has something of a reputation for being a lonely experience, but these days this is not really the case. The truth is that whether you are joining forums with fellow students for discussions, or holding Skype feedback sessions with tutors, the digital education has a lot to offer when it comes to communication, comradery, and problem-solving. However, you do need to put yourself forward and get involved as much as possible. Shrinking violets can often hold back until it’s too late, and by the time they ask questions, the whole class has already moved on. Help is there for you if you need it, but you do need to speak up.
Create a positive workspace
Most people who do online courses do so from the comfort of their homes. But it’s important to avoid getting too comfortable! The trouble with learning at home is that there are constant distractions, and it’s easy to develop bad habits, whether it’s working on the couch or deciding to play with the kids. So, just like it’s important to establish time frames to work, you also need to develop a good place to work. It needs to be quiet, free from distractions, and also have a good Internet connection. Hopefully, you will have a room that offers all of this in your home, but if not, there is another option. Public libraries are, perhaps, the best alternative, although if your course gives you access to a university or college library, it’s well worth finding a regular desk there. The quiet atmosphere and access to many different resources will prove to be incredibly valuable.
As you can see, there is a lot to think about when it comes to educating yourself online. The research begins long before you even choose a course, and the time you put aside for learning and communicating with classmates and tutors is incredibly important. It’s not necessarily a cheap option, either. A quick glance at course fees for studying at Bachelors level in real life and online reveals there isn’t much difference in cost. However, as long as you are motivated, inspired by your subject, and choose the right course from the right provider, learning online can be a fantastic adventure. Good luck!