Before you enroll in online classes, here are some things to ask yourself:
- What is your motivation for taking a course online as opposed to on campus?
- Have you heard, or have the impression, that online courses are easier or less work than the same course on campus?
- Do you have a computer and high-speed Internet access at home?
- Are you tech savvy and able to use a computer, the Internet, and troubleshoot when you have issues?
- Do you have good keyboarding/typing skills?
- Are you an independent learner who is self motivated and has a learning style that works for an online course?
- Are you self disciplined and manage your time well, or are you a procrastinator?
- Do you have a lot of stressors and distractions at home?
- Do you have good written communication and stay in contact with your instructor?
The second is equally important - have you heard, or do you have the impression that online classes are easy. In reality, you will spend more time on an online course than it's on-campus counterpart. You have to read or work through the material on your own; communicate with instructors and classmates through email and discussion boards, which means you do not get an immediate answer to your questions; and if you are working on the course in the evening, late at night, or early morning hours, you do not have the option to call one of the campus resources for help when you hit a bump in the road. You have technical support and tutoring available at SCC, but it is important to note their hours and allow time for an appointment (as with the ACE Center tutoring).
I teach online classes each semester, so there are a few things I've run into that I thought might be helpful to think about before enrolling in an online class. If you answer "no" to these questions, please consider taking the course(s) on campus rather than online.
Do you have access to a computer with the required software and high-speed access at home? These two things are a must. I have had students in my online classes who did not have access to a computer with the required software, or no Internet access, or both. If you fall into this category, you should take the course on campus where you have the access to the technology you need for an online course.
Are you tech savvy, have good computer skills, and can troubleshoot problems or know where to find help? Again, these are a must. Every semester, I get at least one email from a student who tells me they are enrolled in my online Microcomputer Applications course, but they don't really like computers, don't have experience with computers, or just aren't good with computers. Students in those situations (taking a computer software course, in particular, and online), in my opinion, are setting themselves up for failure. Not having good computer skills and knowledge of using the Internet are two huge hurdles before even addressing the material being covered in the course.
Do you have good keyboarding/typing skills? Online courses require even more typing than on-campus courses. You are participating in online discussions, communicating with faculty and classmates primarily through written communication. That is all on top of the required writing for coursework and exams. In the past, I have had students in online classes who type only 15 wpm or less (some under 10 wpm). Exams, in particular, are normally timed. If you are not able to type fast and accurately enough to complete exams (either online or on campus), then you should take a keyboarding course to improve your skills before enrolling in the class.
Are you an independent learner, self motivated, and have a learning style that is a match for online learning? There is an assessment available online through the SCC Web site to help you assess your skills, learning style, and an external elements that might make learning online a challenge. You can go to the SCC Distance Learning page or go to SmarterMeasure and complete the assessment. I use this as part of the orientation assignment during the first week of my online courses, and I know many other faculty members do as well. This will give you a good idea about how well suited you are to an online learning environment and what challenges you might encounter.
Do you have stressors at home that might impede your study? If you are taking online courses because of family commitments, because you work from home, or work odd hours, those might also contribute to issues at home that might be challenges. For instance, it sounds nice to work on coursework, then throw a load of laundry in, work some more, then load the dishwasher, and then continue working. You have to be careful about multitasking and aware that those things might also hamper your focus or momentum in your coursework. It also makes it easy to spend several extra hours on an assignment than you might if working on campus in a lab. Many times, I have students tell me that they spend hours completing assignments at home and then run out of time on exams. It is easy for this to happen when you don't have the confines of class time to help you keep track of how long you are working. I always suggest to students that, especially when they work exam review assignments, they set a time to sit down and complete the review to make sure they will have time to complete the real exam on campus or online in a timed situation.
Do you have good written communication skills? As mentioned previously, in an online course, you will be communicating primarily through discussion boards and email. Written communication skills are very important. It is frustrating when trying to decipher an email or discussion post that has no punctuation or capitalization, poor grammar, or uses texting language. Your communication in online courses should be composed in a professional manner. Use proper punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and complete sentences. It is also important to remember your tone when composing messages. Address your professor properly, do not use all caps or aggressive and combative language, and explain the details of your questions (more than just "I don't understand any of this"). Give as much information as possible, including which class and section you are in, when emailing your professor for assistance. It will allow them to answer your question more quickly and comprehensively.
When planning this post, I ran across a few really helpful articles and posts. Thise article from Bellevue College in Bellevue, WA is from students themselves. They are relaying things they wish they had known before taking an online course. Minnesota state colleges and universities Web site has a quiz to help you know if online learning is for you. If you Google "Is online learning right for me" you will find several links to similar quizzes. Here is a list of 10 Disadvantages of Online Classes from Montgomery College in Maryland. And here is a pro's and con's list of taking online courses from Iowa State University.