Online learning is growing rapidly around the world. In fact, by 2020 there will be over 4 million students in the United States alone completing online degrees. Students across the world are embracing the online learning trend so that they can complete courses provided by internationally competitive overseas universities while still living in their local communities.
Learning online can be a lonely experience. Online learners have a high dropout rate, have a harder time making social contacts through their university and can find it harder to keep up with their studies.
As an online university teacher, I notice many of my students fading away from the course mid-way through the semester. So, in this post, I will outline for you 7 online learning strategies that my most successful students use to get ahead while learning online.
To make the most of the benefits of online learning without becoming one of the many students who drop out of online courses, I recommend following the seven following steps:
1. Comment on online forums at least twice a week
Learning is often found to best occur through social interaction. By talking through complex issues, students start to see one another’s perspectives and broaden their horizons. Unfortunately, social interaction is very hard to achieve while learning online.
This is why commenting on online forums is so important. By communicating with other learners you will see what their thoughts on the course content are. You might get some great tips from them on how to go about completing your assessment task as well as some new perspectives on the overall information being presented.
2. Your second comment should be a reply to a classmate
Because learning online can be such a lonely and isolating experience, you should use the online forum discussion to make contacts (and potentially new friends!). The best way to do this is to reply to another person’s comment on your online learning forum.
When you comment to reply to a classmate, don’t forget to compliment or thank them for their comment. Then, think of a constructive statement that will build on your classmate’s ideas. Your goal when commenting on a classmate’s post should be to develop a positive working relationship with other students. Hopefully, your classmate will then reply to you and you can have a friendly conversation.
3. Add other frequent contributors to discussion forums on your social media sites
I have seen some great friendships started on my online forum discussions. These friendships never just stay on the forums. If you’ve found one or two other students who seem to be frequent contributors to discussions, you should team up with them to become study buddies. Here’s how:
Once you’ve gotten another classmate into a few conversations, look them up on your favourite social media site (facebook’s usually best!) and add them as a friend.
The best part about adding classmates on social media is that you can have side discussions with them about topics you might not want to discuss on the official forum. There are obviously many things you can’t discuss on the online forum as it’s a formal space. In the informal space of Facebook, you can compare notes, ask one another questions, and build closer working relationships.
4. Seek out or start a Facebook group for your class
Another great way to make online learning less lonely is to create a group Facebook page for your class. Fortunately, you will find that a lot of classes will already have a Facebook page set up. All you will need to do is search for your class and university name on Facebook.
If you can’t find a class Facebook group, simply set one up yourself. Then, ask your teacher permission to post a link to the Facebook group in the official class forum to let other students know about it.
You will find that most of your classmates will be excited about the opportunity to link up in a more informal way with other learners. In my classes, the Facebook groups are very social spaces where students talk with one another about less formal things like how they’re feeling about the class, the way it’s taught, and their strategies for tackling the set essays and exams.
5. Don’t be afraid to email your teacher
Even if your course has a Facebook group, it should never be a replacement for asking for help from a teacher. Right now I have 209 students in my course. 209! Of those 209, about 5 have emailed me. That’s about 2 or 3% of the students who get in touch!
Students tend not to email their online teacher because they’re intimidated by it. A teacher is a person online who they’ve never met. In my experience, online students are less likely to send emails to their teacher than my on-campus students. That seems counterintuitive, but it seems to be true!
Teachers are there to help – so use them! If you and your Facebook friends don’t know the answer to something (or don’t agree on the answer!) then you really must contact the teacher for clarification.
6. Send your teacher one paragraph of your essay draft for feedback
One way you can make use of your teacher is to send them a paragraph of your essay draft for them to look over.
Most teachers don’t edit or look overdrafts before submission. That’s why you shouldn’t send your draft as a word document. Instead, do this to increase your chances of getting feedback:
- Choose one paragraph that is the one you are most unsure about;
- Paste it into the body of the email, not as an attachment;
- Ask a direct question about the paragraph. An example might be: “I’m not sure if I have explained the concept right in this paragraph. Could you please give me some advice on whether this is on the right track?”
You will find that your teacher is more willing to answer your request if it’s just one paragraph and you have asked a clear question about the paragraph.
7. Do this if you have a Group Work Task
Group work tasks for online learning are not the easiest! Students are usually very worried they’ll get stuck with someone who won’t reply to their email discussions and make your group work task a nightmare!
To make the most of your group work task, I recommend sending an email to the top 3 most frequent posters on the online course forum to ask them to team up with you for the group work assignment. The earlier you do this the better.
The reason you should contact these most frequent posters is that they are more likely to be highly engaged team members.
Once you have found an active team member to pair up with for the group work assessment, send your teacher an email and let them know you’d like to form a group. Do this before the teacher randomly assigns groups or else you might not have the chance to choose your team members.
I have been an online university teacher for 4 years. I have taught thousands of students at that time, and the most successful students have been very active in the online forums. These students have gone out of their way to make friends and contacts who can help them get through the course. You will be very glad you worked hard to build friendships early in the course, as it will pay-off big time when you need additional help and input closer to exam time.
Dr Chris Drew is an online university teacher. He holds a PhD in Education and has taught at universities in the UK and Australia.