Online higher education is a lot of things. First and foremost, it’s flexible and convenient. Students can study on their own time and on their own schedules, without compromising their work and professional lives. It’s effective. Study after study confirms the efficacy of the online learning methodology.
Online learning is accommodating of virtually any learning style, thanks to Skype, video, podcasts and a wealth of other multimedia applications to supplement more traditional, text-based learning. It’s also far more relational than you might expect. Students at CalSouthern have a great deal of one-on-one interaction with their mentors, and interact with fellow students (who are often adults with a wealth of professional and life experience to share) in forums and message boards.
What online learning is not, however, is an easy path to a degree. The curriculum at CalSouthern is quite robust; students often use the same textbooks found at prestigious brick-and mortar institutions. There’s a significant amount of reading and writing required. It requires a great deal of self-discipline and motivation. In addition, you need to have the self-awareness to recognize when you are struggling with a concept and be proactive about seeking help from your faculty mentor or an advisor (who should be eager to answer all your questions and provide all the support you need).
In short, online higher education is a great option for a wide variety of students, but it is challenging. To give current and prospective online students the best chance for success, we surveyed CalSouthern deans, faculty mentors and academic advisors for tips and advice.
Here are their top-10 success strategies:
- Introduce Yourself
Reach out to your faculty mentor. Tell him or her about your academic and career goals, your work experience and your interests. This will help your mentor personalize the feedback you’ll receive on your assignments so that it’s most helpful and relevant to objectives.
- A Time and Place
It’s true that online learning is wonderfully flexible, but most students do better when they set a study schedule—and stick to it. But if you find yourself so exhausted from a tough work week or family obligations that you simply can’t focus on the material, give yourself a break and re-schedule your study session; just don’t let that extra day off turn into a week or two! Try to schedule your study time when you learn best: some people are early birds; others are night owls. Pick a quiet location with good lighting and airflow—and minimal opportunity for distraction.
- Work Ahead
Do your best to work an assignment or two ahead. That way, if something comes up and you have to miss a couple of planned study sessions, you won’t fall behind. And if you stay ahead, you’ll have additional time for the more involved assignments toward the end of the course. If you can’t work ahead, at least do your best to begin that week’s assignment on Monday or Tuesday—don’t leave everything for the end of the weekend if an assignment is due on Sunday evening.
- Reach an Understanding—and Gather Support
The best study schedule will be meaningless if the people around you don’t respect it. Talk to your family, friends and other support groups and let them know when you plan to study and how important it is that you have this quiet, uninterrupted time. Maybe you’ll need to make some adjustments regarding household responsibilities, but if you have their buy in, it will pay great dividends and eliminate unnecessary stress. These same groups will often become some of your greatest sources of inspiration—and they may hold you accountable to that schedule!
- Find the Right Frequency
There aren’t many people who can study effectively for six to eight hours at a time. If you study in frequent, shorter sessions, you’ll be fresher, you’ll remain closer to the material (if you leave it alone for a number of days, you might find you need to spend precious time reviewing material to get back up to speed) and if you miss a study session, you won’t fall too far behind.
- Style Points
At CalSouthern, you will be asked to follow APA (American Psychological Association) style for most of your formal writing assignments. APA structure and citation is straightforward and easily learned, but it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics before (or at least very early in) your first course.
- The Flash
Get a flash drive with a sufficient amount of memory, store your current coursework on it and carry it with you. That way, you can work on your assignments at the office, home, while traveling—whenever and wherever inspiration and opportunity strike.
- Lean on the Librarian
CalSouthern boasts a state-of-the-art online library, filled with helpful tools and resources and staffed by Jennifer Hill, an American Library Association-certified librarian. If you are struggling with APA style, research or need supplemental material to help you better understand a difficult or complex topic, reach out to Ms. Hill—she’s a fantastic resource and extremely helpful and responsive. Your mentors and advisors can help, too.
- Be Learning-focused, Not Grade-focused
It’s easy to get caught up with grades. Remember, though, that the ultimate goal is to master the material. Take your time. Don’t move on to the next assignment until you are comfortable with the current material. Think about your faculty mentors’ feedback and incorporate it into your next assignment. Make learning your focus and the grades will follow.
- Bring your Coursework into your LifeIntegrate the concepts you’re learning into your daily life. Maybe you can apply what you learn to solve a challenge at work—or to better understand your employer’s operations. Or, think about how your coursework relates to a trend in your field or to an item in the news. Doing so helps you stay close to your coursework. It makes the material more relevant and more interesting—and helps it stick.
Do you have a favorite study strategy? A go-to tip that’s gotten you through the toughest exams and most challenging courses? Willing to share it in a gesture of academic good will? Email it to editor Tom Dellner at [email protected] for inclusion in an future issue of the CalSouthern Sun.