Determining what your higher education journey will look like can seem like a tall task – especially today, when there are so many different types of schools, programs, and learning formats to choose from. One thing that’s clear is that college courses are more widely accessible than ever before, and that’s largely due to the influx of online learning (also referred to as “distance education” and “eLearning”). Since the year 2000, eLearning has grown by 900 percent. In 2018, there were nearly seven million students enrolled in online classes, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
So if you’ve considered enrolling in some distance education courses, you’re certainly not alone. But if you’re most accustomed to the traditional classroom setting, you may be wondering if you’re cut out for taking courses online. Join us as we explore some of the most important qualities of successful online learners to see if you have what it takes.
4 Characteristics of successful online students
Online learning can be a flexible, cost-effective way to learn the same material you would in an on-campus class – and you don’t have to fear that you’ll receive a lower quality learning experience. In fact, it’s been found that outcomes for online learners are as good as or better than those of traditional learners. Studying online can actually increase students’ retention rates by as much as 60 percent, allowing participants to learn nearly five times more material. If you can master the following four practices, you could find that same success.
1. They are organized and self-disciplined
Distance education provides a desirable level of flexibility, but it also means your professor won’t be right there to remind you of every due date and deadline. To be successful in an online learning environment, you’ll need to learn to hold yourself accountable – and being organized and self-disciplined can help tremendously. This means you’ll need to become a master of time management.
Online learning is designed to be modular and flexible, but successful online students still make a point to set aside time specifically for learning by creating and maintaining a schedule. You may find it helpful to have a calendar where you can write down all your deadlines and other important dates. This can help you balance your other commitments with dedicated study time, class discussions, and anything else that may come up – which can be especially important when you’re juggling more than one class at a time.
Another important aspect of self-discipline is learning how to minimize distractions, both in your physical environment and in your digital environment. This might mean setting certain boundaries, such as leaving your phone in the other room or giving yourself a rule that you can only access social media during particular time windows. Practices like these can help ensure you remain focused, stay on task, and complete your work on time.
2. They know their way around a computer
You definitely don’t need to be a tech whiz to be a successful online learner, but you should know the basics of operating a computer and using the internet. If you’ve never navigated an online classroom environment before, having a working knowledge of computers and the web will make the process much smoother.
In addition to learning the ins and outs of learning management systems and web-based research, great online students go on to become masters of multimedia. Distance education today includes a range of interactive features, such as forums, video conferencing, message boards, eBooks, and podcasts.
But one of the biggest secrets to success when using technological tools as an online student is this: always be sure to save your work periodically (preferably to a cloud-based back-up system) and write down your sources. The last thing you want is for your computer to crash unexpectedly and you lose all your hard-earned progress.
3. They’re active participants
Even though you’re learning from a distance, you don’t have to go it alone. Students who thrive in the online classroom are those who make a point to virtually meet and interact with their peers. Some students create virtual study groups utilizing video conferencing tools. Others establish social media groups for certain classes or programs where peers can ask questions of – and offer support for – one another.
An even simpler way to actively participate in your online learning experience is to chime in during class discussions. When doing so, it’s important to remain respectful in your interactions with others. Giving and expecting respect can help cultivate a learning environment where all students will feel comfortable participating actively. It can also result in more robust and well-rounded class discussions.
4. They know when to ask for help
One of the biggest mistakes online learners can make is to stay quiet when they’re struggling. When you can’t simply approach your professor in person after class to ask clarifying questions or seek some extra help, it can be a bit intimidating to reach out and admit you need guidance.
But it’s important to keep your professor in the loop. In an online learning environment, they can’t observe your demeanor or peek over your shoulder at your progress – in many cases, instructors won’t know their students are struggling unless the students voice it.
With eLearning, you may be physically distanced, but all parties involved are working toward the same goal: high-quality, well-rounded education. If something’s not working for you or you are confused by a certain assignment, your professor wants to know so they can help set you on the right path.
Is online learning right for you?
There are numerous benefits to online learning, and now that you know what it takes to be successful in this type of higher education environment, you may feel a bit more confident about your ability to succeed as an online student. If you know you can remain self-disciplined, navigate the technological tools, actively participate, and ask for help when needed, the next step for you is finding a school that can adequately support you as an online learner.
Bellarmine University is known for its tight-knit community of learning that students remember long after they leave, and that’s not something you’ll have to forfeit as an online learner. All face-to-face interaction and discussion may take place through video and other web-based tools, but you’ll still have the opportunity to build influential relationships with highly-educated faculty and peers as part of the Bellarmine family.
To learn more about the range of online programs Bellarmine University designed with distance learners like you in mind, head over to the Distance Education information page.