Thomas Edison State University By Thomas Edison State University • December 17, 2013

How to Ensure You’re Prepared for Your First Online Course

Did you choose your college?

That was a no-brainer.

Did you apply for admission?
Way ahead of you.

Did you enroll?
Easy peasy.

Did you register for your classes?
Ready to go, go, go!

Did you prepare for your first online course?
Wait – that’s a thing???

It is natural to be unsure about your first online course or unfamiliar with the expectations required of you. If you’ve only taken traditional classes in the past, the transformation to an online format can be challenging. While they are ideal interactive environments to learn if you are constrained by time and place, online courses do require time, effort and preparation to succeed.

Designed on a week-by-week timeline and guided by a detailed schedule, the number of assignments can vary depending on the class. Some may have a few long assignments while others have several short assignments. There may be textbooks and/or digital materials to read, videos to watch, as well as final projects, tests and class discussions – all of which impact your final grade. While flexible schedules allow you to complete schoolwork at your own pace, you can fall behind without strong time management and organizational skills. But, if you are realistic and self-disciplined, you can maximize the full learning potential of these vibrant and engaging classes, on your own terms. You can help ensure that your first online class will be a success by following these preparation tips.

Check your system requirements.

Familiarize yourself with all the technical components and software required in your class. Review your computer’s capabilities to guarantee that you will be able to access the required programs and documents without issue. This may include an updated Internet browser, proper document imaging programs, updated email information, an easily accessible Internet connection, and a webcam, microphone, or headset, if needed. Have a plan to address any technical difficulties should they arise so that you don’t fall behind in your courses.

Review the site and syllabus.

Much of the course content will be posted within a few days before the class begins, or, if you are a Thomas Edison State University student, preview the course on the University’s website via the “Preview the Online Syllabus” link at the bottom of the course description’s page. This preview includes a view of the syllabus (which may be updated or revised when the actual online class begins), including objectives and assignments, and shows you what books and other course materials are required.

As you review these materials, decide how you want to organize them. Create a binder or folder to hold class papers, the syllabus, notes, etc. for easy access when you need them.

Understand the course structure.

Acquaint yourself with the mentor’s expectations and review the submission schedule to get an idea of the reading and writing assignments and activities required of you to complete the course. Notate in a calendar all term due dates so you will know ahead of time if work or family commitments will impact the completion of your course work so you can adjust your schedule as necessary.

As most courses require textbooks or other course materials, purchase these items in advance so you do not miss any key readings or discussions.

Schedule your “class time.”

Designate a place in your home for your schoolwork and materials, and make sure the environment will let you concentrate and focus. Map out a specific block of time, perhaps an hour before the kids wake up or an hour after dinner, to stay on track of your assignments. A common mistake students make in online courses is the perception that work can be done “anytime,” so they tend to not reserve any time at all. You may want to engage in informal discussions with classmates, which can provide real opportunities to exchange ideas and enhance the formal aspect of learning, or consult with mentors by email or phone. All of which spend unforeseen time and effort. But in developing a structured schedule for yourself, and sticking to it, you will be able to handle the workload and discover additional learning benefits along the way.

Plan for midterm or final exams.

While the start date of your course term is very important, and midterm and final exams may seem like a long way off, they often have a way of sneaking up on you. Some courses have a final paper or project in lieu of a test, while others utilize paper examinations or online, proctored assessments that typically require registration for a testing appointment. Understand how your course exams work, and keep up with any readings, to plan and organize effectively. Be conscious of these far-off dates so you can avoid last minute cramming or late-night writing. Anything you can do in advance will only help you later as commitments pile up.

The key to excelling in an online course is commitment – to your assignments, examinations, projects, online discussions – and most importantly, to yourself. No one is going to tell you how and when to complete your assignments, or remind you of due dates and deadlines. Online classes are only what you make of them and by using the tools provided above, you can drive your classes towards success.

Thomas Edison State University

Written by Thomas Edison State University

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