Guild Voices: What to Expect Going to School Online
By Kelly Pfeifer, Student Success Advisor
The idea of school often brings to mind images of crowded halls, rows of desks, and lengthy lectures by professors wearing jackets with elbow patches. Online learning takes away many of the rigid aspects of school by providing flexible alternatives to attending scheduled courses on campus. At the same time, online courses also present students with some unique challenges. However, there are more similarities between the two than you might expect, and the landscape of higher education is moving in the direction of making online learning the norm for working adults.
Understand Your Technology Needs
It is likely no surprise that online coursework requires a computer and reliable internet access. In addition, courses are facilitated using an educational platform like Blackboard, Canvas, or something similar.
Familiarize yourself with the tech support features on the platform so you know how to access them when needed. Occasionally, these platforms will be down for maintenance or experience other connection issues, so be sure to plan for that when considering due dates.
There are a few options for you to consider if you don’t have your own computer. Your local library will have computers with internet access, but these usually come with a time limit, which can be tricky when trying to complete a lengthy assignment. Guild works with a partner who offers discounted computers and internet access; check them out here for more information.
Manage Your Time Wisely
Time management is essential whether meeting in-person or online, but in the absence of regular class meetings, it can be easy to forget to log in and check on requirements and due dates. Set time aside several times a week, when you know you have no other commitments, to review assignments and discussion board posts, or reach out to your instructor with questions. It is a common misconception that online classes are not as challenging or time-consuming. These courses will include pre-recorded lectures, virtual classroom discussions, and plenty of reading. It’s important to allow plenty of time to tackle those assignments in order to be sure you are actively participating. Just like classes on campus, you will be provided with a syllabus at the beginning of each course. You can use this as a tool to plan weeks in advance and anticipate reading assignments, deadlines, and test dates.
Whether meeting in a classroom or not, be prepared to take the initiative to reach out to your professors with any questions or concerns. Professors will not track you down if you are missing an assignment or to see if you have any questions about course content. However, they will work with you to navigate obstacles you might be facing when it comes to due dates, and to answer any questions about assignments, so long as you get in touch with them. Online learning is designed with flexibility in mind for working adults, so professors are usually willing to work with students (within reason) if conflicts arise and are addressed promptly and responsibly.
There is often so much to learn from classmates, and the absence of a classroom community that lends itself to in-depth debates and opportunities for clarification can completely alter your learning experience. In place, discussion boards are a valuable place to learn about the people who are going through this experience with you, in addition to deepening your understanding of course content. Depending on the course, there will be discussion board requirements that ask you to post a response to a reading assignment in addition to responding to the posts of your classmates. Be engaged in these discussions, and contribute more than the minimum requirements; they can often become the highlight of your online learning experience.
It is difficult to argue with the flexibility and accessibility that online learning provides. No matter where you are located, and so long as you can carve out time in your schedule every day to tackle assignments, your educational goals can fit into your life in a way you might never have imagined. It should also come as a comfort to know that your advisor at Guild will be there to help you navigate any challenges you experience along the way.
“I was really nervous to start school. I haven’t taken any classes since 2011 and I really enjoyed my work vs personal life balance. I was afraid that starting school would mean I never got to do my hobbies, or have a social life. I was happy to find that isn’t the case. Online classes make it easy to do the work when you have the time.”
– Amanda Smith, Walmart, AA Bentonville, Arkansas