This is a question that every student should ask when considering taking an online course. While the name and description of the course may be similar between a face-to-face offering and the online version, there are many differences in online course delivery and instructor expectations that potential students need to take into serious consideration prior to registration. (Please review our Face-to-Face vs. Online Instruction page for more information.)
Perhaps even more important than understanding the unique structure and requirements of the online course itself is the understanding of what it takes to be a successful online learner. Below we will take a look at the student-side of the learning experience and examine the characteristics necessary for success.
Characteristics of a Successful Online Learner
#1: Self-direction and Motivation (Managing Your Own Learning)
An online course does not come to you. Success in the online learning environment requires a student to be self-directed and self-motivated. Unlike a face-to-face course that meets at a specific place and time, the online student must work hard to acquire course information, meet deadlines and participate actively. While the online instructor typically works diligently to keep students on track, doing so is ultimately the responsibility of the student.
#2: Time Management Skills and the Ability to Prioritize
Good time management skills are one of the most important qualities for the successful online learner to have. While tied closely with self-direction and self-motivation, proper time management and the ability to set priorities are keys to success.
#3: Reading Comprehension
In looking at the common components of a typical online course and at the differences between face-to-face and online instruction, it is easy to see how much of the material is presented in written form in an online course. Not only are textbook readings typically assigned, but text-based lectures and other extensive readings are also often required. It is imperative, therefore, that the online learner have impeccable reading skills and have the ability to read for comprehension.
#4: Effective Communication in Writing
The successful online learner not only needs to be able to read for comprehension, he or she also need to be able to communicate thoughts effectively and appropriately in a written form. Online students will be expected to communicate clearly and articulately in writing with their peers and their instructors.
#5: Basic Computer Skills and Preparation
Online students need to have basic computer skills in order to effectively interact and complete activities in their online courses. Students need to be able to focus on the content and assignments in their online course, without struggling and getting bogged down by the mechanics of how to navigate and use the system.
#6: Desire to Improve
Instructors provide feedback to students in online courses through a variety of methods. Feedback is given on assignments, through discussion, course messages and the Grade Center. The successful online student is able to take this feedback and use it to improve performance for remaining activities in the semester.