Is an online course right for you?

Whether an online class is a good idea depends largely on the student. Online courses are generally more demanding than traditional courses that meet in a classroom on campus, but there are benefits to an online course that can outweigh the extra demands.

Demands · Technology · Benefits · Not for Everyone · Is it right for you? · Resources for Success

The demands

First, the demands: successful students in online courses share some common characteristics:
  • self-motivation
  • self-discipline
  • initiative
  • good time management, and
  • an ability to communicate clearly in writing.
Because you don't go to a classroom a couple of days a week, it's easy to let the class slide. That's where the self-motivation and self-discipline come in. You have to make yourself check email, go to the course site, etc., without the teacher reminding you. Clearly, you have to manage your time well and stay on top of deadlines on your own. Initiative comes in because the burden is on you to ask for help. The teacher can't see the confused look on a student's face in an online setting, so students must be willing to initiate help. You need an ability to communicate clearly in writing because that's how the course is conducted, and that's true whether the course is English or another subject. If you can't compose an email that asks a clear question or explain your ideas clearly in a discussion forum, the course is going to be difficult. top

And then there's the technology

Additionally, if you're taking an online course, you need to be reasonably proficient with technology:
  • using email
  • sending and receiving attachments
  • navigating online to various sites
  • using discussion boards.
You also need to have consistent and reliable access to a computer with an Internet connection. If your only access to the Internet is in campus labs, you may find yourself too limited, unless you live on campus. You can assess your technology skills with this self-test. top

But there are benefits

Now for the benefits: as many online students like to say, they can go to class in their pajamas. If your best time to work is at 2 a.m., then that's when class is in session for you. For students who find it challenging to get a fulltime class schedule while working, an online class can be great solution. Another benefit is that course materials are always available online, and you can easily review them, unlike a classroom lecture or discussion. Many students find it easier to participate in an online discussion than they do in face-to-face discussions in a classroom, because they have time to think about and edit their responses. Shyness is less of an issue. top

It's not for everyone...

Online courses aren't for everyone, though. If you like a lot of face-to-face interaction or if you need to hear the teacher explain an assignment (as opposed to reading course materials), a traditional class might be better for you. Also, if you know that you need constant reminders from the teacher to keep up with your work, then online might not be your best method of taking a course. top

...but it may be for you.

Only you can be certain whether you are a good candidate for an online course. UCLA offers a self-assessment that should give you a pretty good idea whether you are cut out for an online course (link opens in a new window): http://www.onlinelearning.net/ole/holwselfassess.html

Resources for Success

These links will take you to useful resources about how to succeed in an online course: (each link will open in a new window) What Makes a Successful Online Student? a discussion of the characteristics of success from the Illinois Online Network Tips for Success 10 pointers from the Illinois Online Network How to Succeed in Distance Learning Courses a list from Terra Community College Succeeding in Internet Courses a short checklist from the College of DuPage Online top