Strategies for successful online learning

Dr Karla Hylton

Saturday, September 24, 2016

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Online learning is increasingly popular around the world and in Jamaica. The term, which is interchangeable with e-learning or electronic learning, refers to learning that takes place via the Internet, through videos, email and discussion threads. While online course content is usually identical to that of a traditional classroom, the usual face-to-face instruction of the traditional classroom is absent.

Lectures are sometimes delivered live and learners can participate in the sessions. More frequently, though, lessons are prerecorded to be accessed at one’s convenience. This, however, presents new challenges when compared to the traditional classroom, as students are separated from their teacher by a computer screen.

The online learner population is mixed and range from older, more mature students to younger students coming straight from high school. At any age, however, the learner must have certain traits to be successful. We discuss them below, along with the benefits of online learning and factors to consider when selecting an online programme.

Benefits of Online Learning

There are many reasons why online courses are desirable:

• One is able to engage in learning from home or place of work.

• It saves money and time because one does not have to commute to school.

• There is less distraction or interruption from classmates.

• One’s choice of school and instructors can be anywhere in the world.

• There are opportunities for networking among classmates in different countries.

• There is access to the course 24/7.

• Most online courses are cheaper than traditional classroom courses.

• Online courses often accommodate different learning styles, especially for visual and auditory learners.

A Successful Online Learner must be:

1. Self-directed

The online learner must possess the capability to direct his own learning. He must be an independent learner. Interactions between student and teacher are not as immediate as in a traditional classroom. Generally, online students must wait up to 24 hours for responses to queries.

2. Fluent in the use of technology

There must be ready access to the computer. This is a central part of the online classroom and basic computer skills are an absolute necessity. These skills include proficiency in word processing software, email and discussion threads. Students may also need to download and install special software. Competence is also necessary for multimedia forums such as video conferencing, message boards and podcasts, which are all types of communications for online courses.

3. Self-motivated and goal-oriented

Since teachers will not hound you, there must be self-discipline to complete assignments on time and review material in a timely manner. There may be competing factors such as work and/or family obligations, so strong motivation will be necessary to complete your course of study.

4. Organised

Students must be able to set schedules and meet deadlines. You must read the syllabus and note assignments and due dates. You will have to set and stick to your own study schedule. Good habits such as time management and self-efficiency will serve you well.

5. Responsible

Online learners understand that their instructors are facilitators of the learning process, and that they are responsible for their own learning. You may encounter different ideas and perspectives as you engage in discussion threads and blogs. Be prepared to take a professional approach to ideas different than your own. It will also be very easy to procrastinate since their is no face-to-face interaction, so you must be responsible enough to overcome this temptation.

6. Able to communicate well in writing

Since most correspondence will take place through email, there should be a good command of the English language. Writing skills should be well developed as this will be your primary method of communication.

Identifying Good Online Programmes

Advances in technology have led to a crowded market for online courses. When searching for a good-quality online programme, there are certain factors that must be taken into consideration.

• Accreditation

This is the stamp of approval that tells you that the programme meets certain academic standards, and that it is likely to be recognised and accepted by other institutions as well as employers. Look for a programme with a strong local and regional reputation.

• Support services

Ask about the response time of instructors as well as how readily available they are to address any needs you may have. Check the availability of technical support should you need it. Research the faculty and/or staff and make sure you feel comfortable with their qualifications.

• Statistics

Explore the numbers. Assess the success rate of the institution you are considering. You need to know the percentage pass rate. Examine reviews of the institution or speak to current students or alumni.

Dr Karla Hylton is a graduate of the biotechnology programme at the University of the West Indies. She operates Bio and Chem tutoring, a Kingston-based teaching programme which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347,, or

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