As I began blogging and building a PLN on Twitter, I came across a lot of supportive advice on how to do stuff. It really helped in using my time efficiently and stopped me from making some rookie mistakes. I’ve been thinking about how I could pay-it-forward, about what kind of helpful advice I could pass on. And I came up with ‘how to be an effective online learner’.
Here are my top 5 tips for successful online learning:
Many online courses come with some kind of shared space for students online. These spaces are designed for students to discuss, collaborate and share their learning – if your learning was a solo endeavour only reliant on your contact with your tutor, they wouldn’t bother providing these. So, use them.
The best way to begin is by courteously responding to other students comments, either by agreeing with, elaborating on, or questioning what they have posted. Be mindful to treat these public spaces professionally and thoughtfully, as they are viewed by students and tutors – it is not the place to link your personal Facebook account and tell your entire course to ‘friend’ you, or to get involved in disagreements or criticism of the course, staff or other students. Once you have built up some contacts, you can have more casual conversations via email, Skype or FB 😉
Online learning can be the equivalent of a triathlon for your computer, some days you might be building a slideshow while downloading documents, talking on Skype and uploading photographs. I nearly lost my whole first year’s work when my laptop suddenly gave up on me. Other study-buddies have had computers break in transit, breakdown or get stolen. You need to find some kind of back-up for your electronic files, so that if the worst does happen you can claim insurance and carry on. I use an external hard-drive; other people choose to use Google docs or to save their files to disk. Whatever you choose, make sure you back-up regularly.
Throughout your study you will get opportunities to showcase your learning. This is the time to experiment with tech tools! Don’t wait until you have an assessment worth 30% due to begin fiddling with slideshows or tools you have never used before. Often, there will a choice of presentation method for non-assessed learning projects and these are the best times to experiment. If you are asked for an art piece, you can draw something, take a digital photo and upload it, or you could begin experimenting with photo shop editors. If you are asked for a report, think about making it an online slideshow. There are a lot of tech tools available, best to get a handle on them when stakes are low, rather than waiting until an assessment is due.
Online learning provides a lot of flexibility. You could begin your day at noon, in your pyjamas, if you so choose. Online learning can be so flexible that you might find yourself taking a week off mid-semester or you could end up working through the midnight hours so regularly that people begin to suspect that you are in fact a vampire. To ensure you don’t fall off the study wagon, or end up devoting all your time to study, set yourself a loose schedule and try to adhere to it. This might be as simple as setting a daily start and finish time, or setting a timer so you go to the gym each day. Keep your schedule realistic and make sure you think about everything that is important to you: study, family, friends, fitness, food, whatever, and set aside some regular time for those things.
Know where your nearest (or cosiest) Wi-Fi hot-spot is. You never know when some electrical or internet failure will occur, and knowing where you can get re-connected can stop a whole lot of anxiety while your connection is fixed. You can even make visiting a local hot-spot part of your weekly schedule just for a change of scene or to catch-up with other students, if there are any in your area. It could be a public library or a café. My hot-spot is currently a McDonalds, so I can happily sip a latte mid-morning while my weekly study documents download (for the cost of a coffee, I can download up to 50MB without using up my own precious data limit). A map of free NZ Wi-Fi hot-spots is available from here.
I hope that some or all of these points are helpful to you and happy studies!
If you also have a tip or hint to share, please add it in the comments.
"Morning coffee and Twitter" CC Image courtesy of Rubenerd on Flickr