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Preview if Possible
Is there a demo you can look at? Samples of course materials? If you are considering a more elaborate, more expensive course or program, is there a “lite” version you can take first? Sometimes a 12-week course may have a 3-hour introductory version that you can take to see if you really want to commit to a 12-week version.
If you end up unsatisfied with a particular course, can you transfer, get a credit towards another course, or get your money back? Look for “satisfaction guaranteed” or “no risk” offers.
EVALUATE YOUR RESOURCES AND STUDY HABITS
Before making any final decisions about which course format to choose, think about your situation: How much time can you allocate to studying? Can you find more time? Will you have time to do any assigned homework and/or readings?
Think about your learning modes
How do you best learn? By reading? listening? By watching? By doing?
If you enjoy reading and can learn well by doing so, a simple course format with downloadable PDFs may be ideal for you. If you are a good listener and learn best by simply listening, a basic audio course may be very effective for you. If learn best by watching, a course featuring lots of still or animated graphics and even Flash or Quicktime movies may be best way to go. If you learn best by doing, a course featuring exercises, assignments, feedback and projects may be ideal.
Of course, in real world, most instructors present their content in a variety of ways. But if you have a choice between two courses covering same subject material in different ways, choose way that you will respond to best.
Analyze your study habits
Do you study best alone in middle of night when it’s quiet and peaceful? Or do you study best in a crowded, active environment like a café, library or hotel lobby? Do you prefer to study alone, or with fellow students? Do you love conceiving and developing projects, or do you simply want raw information?
Really think about your ideal study environment and choose your courses accordingly. For example, it may be impractical to take part in a live, interactive workshop from noisy environment of a popular coffee house, particularly if workshop included “live call in” features via your laptop microphone. If you learn best while studying with fellow students, a course featuring group projects may be way to go. If you study best alone, in middle of night, an asynchronous-type (time shifted, without specific class meeting time) course would be ideal. If writing things down helps you learn, courses with many exercises that require students to post their view in discussion boards would suit you well.
Set aside time
Managing and scheduling your time effectively is greatest ingredient for personal success with online learning. Regardless of how course is structured, your participation is mandatory—meaning you have to schedule your availability to ensure regular “attendance” and participation.
The best way to approach any online course is to “make an appointment” with yourself to make sure you’ve allocated adequate time for your course. Then defend those appointment times like any other. Don’t let your learning time get superceded by other issues – or even responsibilities – that may arise. Pretend like it’s a doctor’s appointment or a job interview. If you have an important meeting, everything else gets scheduled around it. Your education is important. Enter your “learning appointments” in your calendar, then schedule around it. Be sure to also schedule time to work on exercises and projects. Don’t answer phone while you are “in class” any more than you would in an actual classroom.
Jim Norrena is a writer for http://www.searchforclasses.com Check there for information, tips and articles about online education. Read our Education News blog at http://sfcednews.blogspot.com/