There was a time when taking a college class meant three things: heavy textbooks, paper homework, and going to class.
Schools decided we didn’t need heavy textbooks anymore, and now any combination of any amount of textbooks only has to weigh as much as an iPad.
Instructors decided we no longer needed paper homework, and now students turn in work on sites like Moodle.
More recently, colleges decided they could toss aside the whole classroom concept. So now you’re reading an article about how to pass your first online course.
As of now, one in three college students takes at least one online course (Babson Survey Research).
Students are not backing away from this transition either.
According to a survey by Learninghouse and Aslanian Market Research, college students expect that in the future, only a third of students will learn in the classroom, while another third will learn online, and the final third will do both.
All of that means the following tips for passing online classes will become more relevant every day as the online college community grows.
It is a real class. Treat it as such.
Short economics lesson: If online courses were any less work than traditional courses and colleges were handing out “EZ-Degrees” online, then nobody would still go to 4 year college.
Of the five articles I read while preparing to write this article, all five specifically stated that online college courses are at least as hard as traditional courses.
As a graduate of 5 online college courses myself, I contend that they’re actually harder than most traditional courses.
Just like a classroom, online courses have professors, grades, due dates, homework, reading, and classmates. Only there is no designated time to go to class, or an office to meet your professor.
Instead, you the student are responsible for structuring your learning experience.
To do that effectively, you need time management skills.
First you should decide how much time you will spend teaching yourself on a weekly basis.
This time should be spent reading the course material, doing your own research, and taking notes about what you learn.
Figuring out the right amount of time to spend teaching yourself might take two or three weeks.
I’ve found that 9 hours per week (An hour and a half of teaching myself, 6 days per week) works well for the online accounting course I am in right now.
Time spent doing homework and taking tests should be separate from time spent teaching yourself.
Unfortunately, this category will take longest—students don’t control how much work they are assigned or how long it takes them to complete it.
For that reason, it never hurts to build a relationship with the instructor.
Unless your class is full of CollegeEntrepreneur101 readers like you, your classmates probably won’t take the initiative to reach out to the professor—but you know better.
If you ever become overloaded with work and need to ask for an extension, you’ll be more likely to get one if the professor knows you. Having your name on the list of people taking the class is not personal enough.
At the beginning of the course, send the instructor an email.
In that email, address your professor by their formal title, introduce yourself, and explain that you’re excited to learn [course name] from them this semester in addition to anything else they would like to teach you.
Whether you’re really excited for the class or not, just send that email and you will be glad you did before the course is over.
In my experience, online class tests are open notes. I have used my notes on many online exams for many online courses and I have never been penalized.
However, some online class platforms can use internet tools called proctors to access the webcam on your computer or track your clicks during an exam.
In this way, proctors can be just like an instructor watching over the class.
Even if your class platform does not use proctors, don’t rely solely on your notes to take tests. It is common for online courses to have a final exam at a brick-and-mortar location with the professor present.
It would be a mistake to show up to that final without any of the course material actually committed to memory.
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