First, congratulations on taking this huge step! You're a new online college student!
Secondly, take deep breaths. It helps with the panic attacks.
We all start the online learning journey with different backgrounds, expectations, goals, and confidence levels. Some of us are incredibly excited and can't wait to jump in feet first. Others are so overwhelmed that they don't know where to start.
No matter where you are in the world, you've been given an incredible opportunity to earn an online degree. But a university only gives you the opportunity to learn. The actual learning part is your responsibility.
Here's my favorite quote for new online students:
If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you.
If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.
As an online student for 10+ years and an online instructor for 3 years, I know the challenges you'll face in the online learning arena. It's not easy and the amount of work can seem mind-boggling. Yet, every single online college graduate started at the same exact place: a clueless new student with a little ambition and lots of questions.
To ease your worry and build your confidence, here's five simple and easy tips to help you navigate your first few classes:
1. Read ALL of the announcements
It always amazes me when my students glaze over the class announcements. They are generally in a special section labeled "ANNOUNCEMENTS" which would seem pretty important. I always make an announcement that Wikipedia isn't a credible source, yet there are students who use it anyway and then say: "Sorry, I didn't read the announcements".
Instructors don't waste time creating announcements for fun. Sometimes there are changes to the syllabus, tech issues, or changes to discussions. I once had a student miss the final exam deadline because he opted not to read the 5 or so announcements on the subject. Needless to say, he failed the class.
The bottom line is read all the announcements your instructor sends you. This includes in-class announcement forums and any university emails.
2. Create an organizational plan
Most adult online learners are juggling a job and family, which is hard enough. Now throw in a few online classes, and it can feel like you don't even have time to sleep.
It's an adjustment that takes time. You have to make your education part of your weekly routine and fit it into your already busy schedule. That means changing your priorities, cutting out some fun stuff (like watching Game of Thrones or Mr. Robot marathons) and finding a chunk of time for your studies.
Everyone's schedule and personal priorities are different, but there are some tricks that can help. Studies show that students who spend 20+ hours a week studying don't always get the grades they want and are not always prepared for their classes. That means that how your study is as important as how long you study.
- What I'm working on now
Our brains process visual data 60,000 times faster, so we work better with visual cues. You simply create a card for each task, then move it to the next column until you've completed your assignments. I like big white boards or bulletin boards for this plan, but you could also use an online app like Trello.
3. Learn how to format your work
The American Psychological Association...three of the scariest words for new online students.
Whether your school uses APA or MLA, you have no choice but to learn how to format your work. This means figuring out how to create a reference list, in-text citations and how to properly insert quotes. It's not terribly difficult, just different. It's a skill that needs to be learned and like any other skill has a learning curve.
Don't procrastinate and just start learning it now. There are fantastic resources, including Purdue's OWL (my favorite). There are also YouTube videos and your university's online writing center's resources.
Believe me, you'll feel better once you've taken the first steps into figuring out how to apply formatting to your academic work. Plus, your grades will thank you.
4. Engage in Discussions
One of the key components of online learning is the discussion board. This was always my favorite part. You can learn so much from your peers! Remember, we have students of all ages, races, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, work experience, etc. Take advantage of this opportunity!
You'll be asked to post about a certain topic. Then you and your fellow students discuss the topic. That means you can ask questions, offer helpful suggestions, expand on the topic, or offer your own personal experiences. A discussion is a two-way communication. Simply posting your response to the question isn't enough - you have to engage in the conversation!
You want to earn a good grade, but more importantly (at least in my opinion) you want to walk away with new knowledge. You want to see different perspectives and expand your ideas. The discussion board is the place to do that.
5. Don't be afraid to ask questions
The great thing is that your instructors are all here to help you on an online learning journey. If you have questions - ask. The entire staff and faculty's goal is to help you become the best student you can be. They don't succeed unless you succeed. So don't feel like you're bothering them by asking for a clarification or for an additional resource.
It's your instructor's job to help you. And they can't help you unless you ask.
Confidence Comes in Time
No one starts out completely confident, especially in online classes. It's a new environment and a completely new platform. It's learning how to navigate through the system and you'll probably make some mistakes. No one walks into the classroom as a perfectly formed academic wizkid.
Yes, you will be nervous and overwhelmed. And that's okay. Your confidence will come with a little experience. You'll settle into a routine after a few weeks as you start integrating your education into your life.
Just remember that you need to be dedicated to your success. You need to make your education a priority. In a nutshell, you need to want to succeed. It may be tough at times, but your future is really in your hands.
You've got this.