by Heather Junke
originally published Sept. 2011
Many people readily imagine the freedom and flexibility of online learning. Think of sitting at home in your pajamas, setting your own hours and working at your own pace — sounds perfect.
“Yet it’s that same freedom and flexibility that creates some of the biggest challenges for a lot of online learners,” says Candace Figg, an Associate Professor, Teaching and Learning with Technology, at Brock University.
Figg is currently the Acting Director for Brock’s Centre for Adult Education and Community Outreach. She cautions learners to fully understand the responsibility that comes with learning in an online environment.
“Unlike a classroom setting, learners must set their own goals and structure their own learning environment,” says Figg. “It can be very challenging the first time out for online learners to develop these structures and routines on their own.”
There is also the technological learning curve, adds Marj Rempel, a Brock University Facilitator of Adult Education online courses.
“Many struggle with the nature of organizing themselves with the technical resources available,” she says. “Another area of stress for learners is the discussion tool, or the forums. Some feel they must answer every question as if they were writing a paper. It takes them awhile to discover the nature of discussions and how they replace the discussion that happens in a face-to-face class.”
You can conquer the challenges, say Figg and Rempel. And, what you will gain is a thoroughly engaging learning experience—both academically and personally.
“Participate as much as possible in the discussions,” says Rempel. “This is where you have an opportunity to deepen your level of understanding as you explore concepts and ideas with your peers.”
Above all, says Figg, “Breathe. You are not alone. Stay in touch with your online instructors. Do not hesitate to contact them with questions or concerns. They are there to facilitate your success.”
Figg and Rempel offer the following online learning tips:
• Take time to orient yourself to your online tools — locate assignments, discussion boards, know how to contact the instructor and your classmates, where your grades will be posted, etc.
• Set a dedicated, scheduled time to complete course work each week. Leaving course work to "when you have time" means that other tasks in your life will take priority over your course work. Setting that appointment means that you, and your family, understand that this work is important and establishes a routine.
• Allow plenty of time to complete tasks. There is a great deal of reading in the online environment. As well, you may have questions for your instructor or classmates. Allow time for the instructor/classmates to receive and respond to your questions (via email/discussion boards).
• Keep your journal going at all times — it helps keep your perspective on all the pieces of information that have come your way and helps you to articulate your own thoughts and ideas.
• Take advantage of all the resources available: videos, podcasts, readings, discussions (asynchronous and synchronous, if available) and more.