by Beth Coyle, Ed.D.
The decision to commit to enrolling in an online degree program is a difficult one. There are many factors that could have an impact on a student’s success, and therefore a personal analysis should be conducted prior to making the commitment. While considering enrolling in online learning, ask yourself the following:
1. Why Do I Want to Enroll in Online Learning?
Surprisingly some students enroll in online programs because they mistakenly believe that online learning takes less time, or is easier than traditional courses that are delivered face-to-face. This is not true. Accredited colleges and universities that are approved to offer online courses must follow strict rules imposed by the U.S. Department of Education, and any other State and regional accrediting regulations. Students must demonstrate that they have achieved the same learning outcomes online, as they would in an onsite course. Courses must be designed to ensure they comply with the standards that are established by regulatory agencies. This means that you will spend a comparable amount of time in an online classroom, as you will in an onsite classroom.
2. Am I Self-Directed?
Do you work well independently? How are you with completing projects, or following through with plans that you start? Do you need constant reminders to stay on track? Online students must have the diligence to stay on track. This includes pacing oneself so that all readings, discussion board posts, assignments, and any other requirements are completed by specific due dates throughout a specified period. If you are the type of student who procrastinates, or waits until the last minute to get work done, online learning may not be the best option for you.
Oftentimes online classes require student interaction in written discussions that take place online in an asynchronous format. Depending on the school and the course, this could mean that students will post their thoughts or assignments, and then respond to other students in a written discussion. If a student waits until the last minute to make their submission, the discussion could very well be over, and the student would miss the opportunity to interact with classmates and faculty in this forum.
3. Am I Organized?
Successful online students at The College of Westchester share that it is important to be organized and have a good grasp of time management. These students map out their time carefully, and use the pacing guides that are included in CW courses. They understand their work and life commitments, and carefully work their course time into their schedules, leaving ample time for their assignments.
4. Where Will I Locate My Online Classroom?
Do you have a dedicated space to complete your assignments? The area that you select for learning should be quiet, and allow for few interruptions during your study time. There should be appropriate lighting in the area, comfortable seating, good circulation, and plenty of outlets for your laptop or computer. CW students share that they temporarily convert their kitchen tables, spare bedrooms, or dining areas into their online classrooms once they have time to dedicate to their studies. It isn’t unusual for CW students to list airplanes, hotel rooms, ball fields, and military bases as their online classrooms.
5. Do I Have The Time?
Successful CW students report that they spend 10-12 hours per week for each of their online classes. This includes time for ‘in-class’ assignments, research, and homework. Online students should identify ‘pockets’ of time they can dedicate to their classes. These blocks of time should be spaced throughout the week to allow time to respond to discussions, and complete assignments in manageable chunks. Many of CW’s online students work later in the evenings when their children have gone to bed, or early in the morning before going to work. Most report that they dedicate a period of time on their days off as well.
6. Do I Have The Right Computer Equipment?
Online students need to have consistent access to a personal computer, laptop, tablet or other device that has internet access. Students shouldn’t rely on public computers, such as those found in libraries, or borrowing those that they have access to only on a limited basis. Students should also ensure that they have reliable internet service that has the ability to support videos, images, and other downloads.
Depending upon the area of study that an online student is pursuing, access to certain software programs and hardware may also be necessary. Many computers come with standard software packages, but you should ask which types of software and equipment will be necessary based on your area of study.
There are a number of factors that students must carefully consider before committing to the right school and program. Each of these will contribute to making the right decision which will ultimately impact a student’s success within a program. It is important for those considering online learning to have in-depth conversations with college admissions counselors, academic advisors, faculty, success coaches and others who will support the student’s pursuit of learning and achieving educational goals.
Beth A. Coyle, Ed.D, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs at CW has been involved with online teaching and learning for over 16 years. Dr. Coyle’s deep interest in educating students online is a direct result of her demanding schedule and busy lifestyle. She is the mother of two active children aged 13 and 8, and a wife to a New York City firefighter - all who have unpredictable schedules that require creative solutions for achieving personal and family goals.