Because college isn't already hard enough...
June 25, 2010 1:36 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to make my transition to online classes easier?

Because of things that have been recently going on in my life, I can no longer continue my education at my current university. I've been moving around frequently with my job until I can find a place of my own in an area I feel safe. Financially I can't afford to keep switching schools and emotionally I don't think I'm ready for a classroom setting again quite yet (day-to-day at the office is hard enough). All this lead me to enroll at Thomas Edison State University in their distance learning program, which leads to my two (related) questions:

What can I do to make my educational experience better? I'm looking for anything that will make the transition from lecture-style classroom learning to online self-paced learning easier.

What can I do to make myself more marketable to employers? Now that I can't get those extra curriculars, should I pick up volunteer experience? A huge personal project? But those are all things regular college students can do too...

I'm really nervous about this, and classes start soon (!), so any help or personal experience you can share would be great.
posted by semp to Education (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When I took online classes I found it was really easy to lose track of them, as without weekly "must be there" meetings they kind of fell into the "abstract" realm. Using things like lists and spreadsheets and reminders helped me keep the classes in the front of my head.

For my classes there were weekly lectures that I had to watch. So I made a spreadsheet to help me keep track and stay up to date. (This spreadsheet also calculated an average "days between broadcast and viewing" that kind of shamed me into staying current).

And I used to keep track of assignments - the good professors posted all of the assignments at the beginning so I could get a good all-in-one view of everything that had to be done and when.

If your program is more "go at your own pace" I would still recommend mapping out a plan now and doing whatever you have to do to stick to it and not let it fall by the wayside.
posted by amethysts at 1:42 PM on June 25, 2010

On-line learning is very self-motivated. I actually failed the first few I took until I began treating them like regular classes.

Pretend each class is a land-based class and schedule "class time" as if you were attending that class. So if an online class you are taking might usually meet for an hour three times a week, schedule your personal time the same way dedicated to that class. Treat this time as sacrosanct - it actually helps to go somewhere different, like a local library, just to keep the feel of it.

Do not fall behind, even if your professors allow for it. Catching up is very difficult. The convenience of on-line classes is the deadliest part.
posted by charred husk at 2:03 PM on June 25, 2010

Phatkitten's advice about printing out the syllabus is on-point. It's very helpful to have something physical to refer to, and you can check off assignments as you go. Online classes are great in the sense that you don't *have* to have a routine and can do your studying whenever, but it sounds like you might benefit from designating x o'clock as study hour and not deviating from that.
posted by tetralix at 2:24 PM on June 25, 2010

"things regular college students can do" -- Regular college students discuss the assignments. My wife liked the discussion board for this.
posted by notned at 2:27 PM on June 25, 2010

On-line college is not so bad. I am almost graduated and have done a lot of on-line classes. In my opinion there are a few things to remember. Be respectful and open minded. If someone is wrong and you want to discuss why they are wrong you should say something like:"I understand your point of view and I think....." Try to be humble and it will help to not cause conflict.

The biggest thing that helped me was getting a few assignments or some reading done while on breaks at work. This is nice because when you get home from work you don't have to read and type for hours so you can relax instead.

To stay motivated I look up jobs that I intend to apply for upon achieving the next degree. Find your dream job or something close and know that you can get there. Time goes by quick and you will have your next degree before you know it.

Hope this helps. Try not to be too nervous but be exited that you are going in the right direction. Good luck.
posted by durgan at 3:06 PM on June 25, 2010

Now that I can't get those extra curriculars, should I pick up volunteer experience? A huge personal project? But those are all things regular college students can do too...

College students can do these things, but most don't. A degree + experience will always trump just a degree. Try to get an internship somewhere, if possible. Maybe the school gives credit for such things?

What can I do to make my educational experience better?

If you can, find a study group. I did most of my Master's online, but had a group of 4-5 other people who were doing the same program, and we got together every Sunday to work on assignments, check each others' work, or just have a beer. I doubt that I would have succeeded without such a support network.

If no one in your area is studying the same thing, you could still try starting a local group of other distance learners.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:39 PM on June 25, 2010

If your professor has online "office hours", take advantage of them. Ask questions about the content, and ask for feedback on assignments (before and/or after you hand them in).
posted by monkeymonkey at 7:43 PM on June 25, 2010

I'm currently studying an online, external course from a university in another city.

At the start of semester, I get all my subject syllabi, download and print them, and prep a binder/displayfolder/notebook for each subject. I also note down all my assessment due dates and put them into Google Calendar, with reminders, so I don't forget about them (all to easy to do, when you're not getting reminded by other students, I find).

Every Monday, I set aside time to go download all the recorded lectures of the previous week, print out all the slides, and look up the week's readings. That takes me an hour or so, depending on how fast my internet connection is, and how cooperative my computer is being.

I try to watch/read/do one subject each day of the week. This works for me, because I have four subjects. The fifth day is for assignments and assessments. My personal study cycle is: read the textbook, watch/listen to the lecture/read the slides or notes, then do the study questions/tutorial/problems from the textbook/other exercises. Sometimes, I even take notes. If I get stuck, I use the online forums, and I also make use of randoms on the internet, by blogging, posting on relevant communities, and whatnot. Additionally, most of my textbooks have an online component/version which has extra exercises etc so I can use that too, if I'm feeling really keen. Time it takes for each subject is ... variable. For one subject, it's about 8hrs a week I need to really work at. For another, it's maybe half an hour, tops. And of course it varies throughout the semester, and from topic to topic, depending on how well they fit with my brain. The important thing is to do it, even if all you do is review your notes from the previous week.

To try and complement my learning, I volunteer at industry-related events. I'm currently on the lookout for an internship over the summer, given I don't get a Real Job(TM) in the meantime (my profession is highly seasonal, so I've got to wait). I'm developing my relationship with my lecturers, and any industry people I come into contact with. I'm also thinking about starting a blog, just to practice what I'm learning, as well as getting into the habit of writing about my profession (which, as many, has a specific writing style for articles/reviews/papers etc). Also, developing a portfolio of sorts is useful in most fields.
posted by ysabet at 12:09 AM on June 26, 2010

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