Online learning habits

The learning process in online classes is different from that which you find in a typical traditional classroom.

Sage-on-the-stage versus Guide-on-the-side

     In the traditional classroom, most students expect to be taught by a content expert who typically lectures for a good portion of the class. This content expert has come to be called the "sage on the stage" by those writing in the field of online education. The "sage on the stage" is the focus of the classroom attention with students striving to learn as much as possible from the instructor. If dialog takes place in the classroom, it is usually between the instructor and the student. Rarely is there dialog between one student and another.
     In the online environment the learning process comes from within the learning community as students reflect upon the course material and share their thoughts with other students. The online instructor is often referred to as a facilitator or as a "guide on the side." The facilitator guides the flow of the class and enables the students to learn from each other in a collaborative manner.

What does it mean to the online learner?

     People new to online learning will soon realize that there are differences in how learning takes place and differences in what the student's role is in the learning process. In a traditional classroom setting, a student may walk into class, sit in the back of the classroom, and offer very little in the way of contributions to the class. While that student may have listened and taken notes, the rest of the class and the professor have little awareness of how much that particular student has learned or how much he or she knows about the topic. Whatever that student has done to prepare for that day's class session may not be clearly evident to anyone else in the class. One reason is that the evaluation of the student will take place during the final examination, or through papers and assignments turned in to the professor.
     In the online class, every student sits on the front row and actively participates in all aspects of the class. Online students must adequately prepare for the class in order to participate. Evaluation of the students' understanding of the material is based upon their daily involvement rather than on a single event such as a final examination or major research paper.
     To be a successful online learner, the student must be actively and creatively engaged in the entire learning process. A great benefit of the online class is the amount of time available for student reflection and response. In a typical classroom setting, the instructor may pose a question to which an answer is expected immediately. In the online environment, a student may think about the question, research it, and reflect upon the best way to answer before sending his or her answer to the classroom. Students who tend to be more introverted find a new freedom in class participation in the online environment.
     Successful online students are those who are self-disciplined and highly motivated to learn. Productive online students need the ability to work alone while also being able to demonstrate to others good thinking and reflection skills.

Tips for success in the online class

Develop good habits and stick with them. Here are some habits you should develop.

Schedule your learning time.
     Online classes offer a great deal of flexibility, but they require at least as much time as regular classes. A normal three semester credit-hour class will require 2100 minutes of classroom time. That is 35 hours of actual in-class time. For each hour of in-class time, students should spend two hours in preparation (reading, studying) and completion of assignments. That is a total of 105 hours of work (35 plus 70) for one class. In an on-campus class this is spread out over 11 or more weeks, so it amounts to approximately 8-10 hours a week for each class taken. Full-time students will take three or four classes at a time making their school load 30 to 40 hours a week. (This is why it is called full-time.) Online classes only last six weeks. This means that a student is going to spend 15-20 hours a week involved in one class. If students take two classes at a time, this is going to amount to 30-40 hours of study time per week.
     Even though there is flexibility in online learning, time must be allocated each week to complete the assignments. Students should set aside 4-5 hours on a couple of days each week to do the required preparation (reading, research) and completion of assignments. In addition, each student should set aside an hour or two each day to connect and respond to notes. Online learning works best when it is scheduled and the schedule is kept. Remember: Develop good habits.
Do college-level work.
     This online program is college-level work. While a great deal of email and newsgroup activity is casual with spelling and good grammar not being big issues, take care in your college classes to spell words correctly. Use the spell checker! Then, before sending notes, re-read them. This will help you catch missed words or unclear thoughts. Typically, the formal assignments will require good spelling and grammar. If formatting is required, follow the MLA Handbook.
Meet the attendance requirement.
     The NBC online policy for attendance requires a student to connect and submit a meaningful note on at least five days of each week. This attendance requirement is because of the importance that participation and involvement have in the online classes. Sometimes schedules get crazy and it may become impossible to spend a lot of time in class work on a specific day. Still, you must take at least a few minutes to connect and send a response note. This can be done in 10 minutes or less. The fastest way to see your grade deteriorate is to miss this attendance requirement. [ more on attendance ]
Keep up.
     Since the classes are only six weeks long they are considered to be intensive. In an intensive class it is critical that a student not fall behind. Turn your assignments in on-time. Read ahead. The most important advice I can give you is: Don't get behind.
     If for some reason you get behind on an assignment, it is better to get the next assignment in on time, rather than playing catch-up on assignment after assignment. When you have a little extra time and are all caught up, go back and pick-up the assignment you missed.
Solve problems right away.
     Our faculty want you be a successful learner. If you are having any problems, let them know immediately. They will work with you and give you guidance. The worst thing you can do is to stop participating, and not let anyone know why.

by Dr. David M. Phillips

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