Five tips for online study success

ByMike V. Cooper

Mar 9, 2012

Here is a guest post from Ted Bongiovanni, Director of the Office of Distance Learning at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

According to a recent study conducted by Babson College, approximately 1 in 3 students in degree programs take online courses at a degree-granting institution. Here are five tips to help you get the most out of your online courses.


(A classroom at NYU, via Flickr. (Courtesy of techatnyu.))

1. Get to know your faculty member and your peers. Make your virtual presence known. There are several ways to do this, but one of the best is to create an online portfolio. Vouchers include a photo of you, so everyone can put a name with a face, and a brief biography that outlines both personal and professional interests.

Your institution’s tools may support creating such a profile, but if not, you can easily create one on LinkedIn, or Flavors.me. Include the link to your profile in posts you make in class and in individual messages to instructors. When a class starts, you should have the opportunity to introduce yourself to your peers. When you do, talk about any experience you may already have with the topic and what you hope to gain from it. Be sure to read up on your classmates and comment on a few of these posts. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you might want to accomplish this same task by recording a video of yourself answering the same questions.

2. Learn to learn online. Stereotypes abound about online learning – that it’s for geeks, or that it’s more suited to so-called ‘digital immigrants’, those who grew up with the internet. What is interesting is that younger students are still developing information literacy skills possessed by older students. These skills will serve digital immigrants well. Natives will have the opportunity to integrate them into an online program where digital sources are at the heart of teaching.

Either way, you’ll get the most out of our e-learning experience if you learn how to learn online. Your school should offer an orientation to becoming an online student. It’s more than learning which buttons to press. It is about being at the center of many learning activities. You will practice speaking up online in a range of activities, from offering an opinion and backing it up with evidence in a discussion thread to reflecting on your experience as a learner in a blog. Teams have more ways than ever to collaborate on projects across time and space. You can find yourself in a Google Hangout with your classmates so you can see and hear each other while you work on a presentation. Although many workplaces allow for a remote experience, when you’re learning online, you can’t count on solving something in a face-to-face meeting. Online learning helps build new collaboration muscles.

3. In the spirit of collaboration, it is important to be present. As the old Woody Allen quote says, 90% of life is manifesting. You must introduce yourself in your online course, which means answering discussions, blogging or participating in a working group. Along the same lines, your instructor’s presence should also come in the form of announcements, regular and constructive feedback on assignments, and a well-prepared lesson.

4. Avoid technical problems. If technology can fail in one of Steve Jobs’ famous presentations, it will fail at some point in your online learning experience. Still, you can avoid some problems by having a modern machine. Something made within the last two years should do the trick. Don’t skimp on these expenses. While it’s possible to get away with the bare minimum, you’ll have a better experience if you invest in your technology. If you’re buying something new, get that much RAM and the fastest machine available. New software takes advantage of computers with more memory and faster processors. You can protect yourself by charging for these features when you purchase. A larger screen makes it easier to track multiple windows. If you are using a laptop, it is possible to add a second screen. Also, make sure your institution provides 24/7 technical support.

5. Finally, get a degree from a reputable institution. Do your homework. Harvard University researchers writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that students at for-profit colleges ended up with higher unemployment rates and lower income than students at other schools, and they have more debt.

These are just a few tips for people considering learning online. What advice would you give to online learners?