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How to Prepare for Your First Online Course

Those considering enrollment in an online course for the first time should know what to expect and how this kind of schooling differs from in-class options. With the right tools and preparation, you'll be well prepared for your first online course.

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Before an online course begins, it can be helpful to be familiar with the course formats. You also need to be ready for self-directed learning and have a computer that meets certain technological standards.

Online Course Delivery and Communication Details

Students taking online courses for the first time are often encouraged, if not required, by the college to complete an orientation to online learning. Students learn to navigate through the Web-based education platform that is used for online learning; this is often offered via software like Blackboard.

Distance learning students are required to log on to this online portal to access video and/or audio lectures, reading materials and communication forums. Online students should be prepared to do a lot of writing, as posting documents and messages online often replaces the verbal chat that would regularly occur in the classroom.

Participants may interact with peers and their professors through e-mail, discussion boards and sometimes instant messaging. Assignments and testing may take place asynchronously with only fixed due dates, depending on the school.

In addition, to make up for social engagement that happens in a traditional classroom, many online programs assign group projects that require frequent communication between individuals. In this sense, students may wind up relying on others' ability to contribute regularly to projects.

Self-Motivated Learning Style

Online classes require a much more self-motivated learning style than traditional classes. Students should expect to set aside a certain amount of time to log into their classes and do their work on a regular basis. They may have participation quotas in addition to assignment deadlines. Many full degree programs recommend factoring in about 20 hours per week to dedicate to online classes, though time management isn't supervised.

Students must be proactive about understanding class schedules and how to submit their work. Those who enroll in a completely online program may encounter a variety of pacing requirements dependent on each instructor, and they need to be able to manage several schedules at the same time.

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Program, Enrollment and Scheduling Information

Courses may be available as part of a hybrid program that's partially hosted on campus or as part of a wholly online degree program. In either case, individuals must be accepted to the school's normal admission process at the undergraduate or graduate level. Curricula may follow on-campus semester schedules or even run alongside a concurrent live class.

There are also individual noncredit courses that are often open enrollment; students typically complete these courses for professional development or personal enrichment purposes. Noncredit courses may have unfixed schedules that are totally up to students' discretion to complete.

Technological Requirements

Anyone considering an online class should have a basic understanding of computer applications. They also need to meet certain hardware and software requirements, which can include:

  • A personal computer with an updated operating system
  • A browser with access to high-speed Internet
  • A particular amount of RAM or memory to support learning materials (stipulated by the school)
  • A headset with a microphone
  • A video conferencing service application, such as Skype

In addition, students are often responsible for downloading materials and installing or updating basic software programs (which vary based on a student's field of study).

If you know what to expect from your first online course, have a well-equipped computer and are prepared to motivate yourself to fulfill course requirements, you will be ready for web-based learning success.

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