How to succeed as an online college student?

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Everyone always talks about the way that online education is changing the way that people learn, but you—the student—need to develop a unique set of skills in order to make the courses you do take online worthwhile. The technology, the setting and amount of effort you have to put in to succeed really are different when your course is taking place primarily in a virtual classroom. Some of these might seem obvious, but these tips might just save you this semester.

Choose the right program.

This can be hard to do ahead of time, but with a little research you can find out what type of career you really want and what educational path you need to take to get there. It’s discouraging and stressful to try and succeed in a bunch of classes that you aren’t well-suited for. Find a degree program that will give you the career options, earnings potential and life satisfaction that you know you want. Planning is the path to happiness.

Learn to manage your time.

A lot of students are working full-time, have families or just have a really heavy college schedule. Every minute can count when you’re pressed for time, but you have to arrange your schedule to make sure that you’re getting quality studying in, however you divide up your 24 hours.

Don’t be afraid to take apart your schedule and put it back together—question everything! Make note of important semester dates and events, both for your class and for school stuff in general. Make realistic estimates of the study time you’ll need to cover the course material, time you need to finish assignments and review time before exams.

Also, you can save a lot of time just by being organized. Get all of your course materials and files organized, by class, by assignment, by chapter—whatever works for you. But you have to have a system. It saves time.

Be aware of your technology.

Your tablet, smartphone, laptop and desktop are your links to your online classes, so it’s essential you make sure they’re working when it counts. Know where to find power outlets, Wi-Fi and computers you can use if yours is out of commission.

Our gadgets are buggy and imperfect, as good as they are, so learn to keep hard copy backups of the critical stuff. Print out your syllabi for classes; you never know when you won’t be able to access the digital copy to know what the reading is for that week or what the assignment description is.

Store your critical files in the cloud, on USB drives or external hard drives. (Google now gives you up to 15 GB free storage on their services.) You don’t want to be caught in a situation where you lose hours and hours of work just because your hard drive fails or your laptop gets stolen. You can replace the device, but not the data!

Make an effort to communicate.

Just because you’re taking classes from your laptop doesn’t mean you can just passively absorb the class material and get away with a good grade; your instructors are probably going to expect some interaction by email, forum discussions and even live chat during online lectures. Schedule time in to get that participation in to satisfy your participation requirements, and remember to use those discussions as a resource in your assignments. I promise your teacher will be impressed!

Teach yourself to study anywhere.

Ideally, you’ll have a regular study area that’s quiet and free of distractions. But if that’s not possible, you need to learn to study wherever you find yourself when the time becomes available—on your lunch break, on the train, at the doctor’s office or wherever. Fifteen minutes here or there really does add up over the course of a week, and it lets you schedule real time when you can actually relax, which is also a necessity if you want to avoid burning out.

Work on your study skills.

Just reading the class material without a plan is unlikely to get your brain to absorb it unless you’re a genius with an eidetic memory. Stick to your study schedule and develop a strategy for remaining alert while reading. If you’re not getting the knowledge to stick, turn to online videos, forums and even social media for a different way to look at the material. More than once, I’ve found a YouTube video that explained in 10 minutes what it took some Ph.D. 50 pages to get across.

Know where to find help, whether it’s from online resources, helpful classmates or from tutoring resources like writing and math labs at your institution. Your textbook publisher may even have online resources that can help you out.

About the Author:
Jennifer Cook writes about online education, technology and how student’s can really make college work for them. You can find a lot of her work on Strayer Buzz and other publications, or get in touch with her through her Google+ profile above.

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