Online learning continues to evolve as a valuable way for people everywhere to increase their knowledge base and skills, both personally and professionally. Sometimes referred to as “distance learning” or “e-learning,” online learning is quickly becoming a favorite option for students interested in furthering their education. In fact, a recent study conducted by Sloan Consortium and Babson College confirms that 2.6 million students are currently enrolled in online learning courses, a 24.8% increase over last year. At same time, survey also reveals that more and more “traditional” colleges and universities plan on offering some sort of online component to their curriculum over coming months and year.
Online learning has proven itself to be a path to success – but how does one assure a successful online learning experience?
START WITH THE BASICS
The primary difference between online and traditional classroom courses is method of delivery. Online learning covers a wide range of potential formats – from live, real-time webcasts and interactive workshops, to traditional 12-week instructor-led courses to self-contained software in form of CDs or downloadable PDF, Quicktime or Flash files. Deciding best format for you will help you get most out of your education.
Choose Your Format
The first thing to consider is: are you looking for an environment where you interact with an instructor and your fellow students? Or, are you interested in getting information and studying privately - on your own? Or something in between? Do you want a fully-structured course or program, including exams and projects, or do you want to just get information and run with it?
The answer depends on what you are studying and why. If you are a salesperson, and you have a pitch to make on Monday to a major cellular company, it may make sense on Friday to download a three hour course on basics of cellular technology plus an overview course on global telecommunications industry, and plow through it all on a single afternoon. By Monday, you’ll sound like an expert. On other hand, if you are a designer who is revamping your portfolio, you may prefer a 12-week project-oriented course with a lot of teacher and peer interaction and feedback. A couple who is planning to buy their first home may want to “attend” a two-Saturday, live online seminar for first time home buyers, where they have option of asking an expert specific questions about their situation. An executive looking to earn an M.B.A. may want a combination of online and “on-ground” (in a real classroom) courses.
Keep in mind that every online delivery format is utilized differently on your end, and should be chosen to suit your particular needs.
Collect Information about Course and its Instructor Up Front
You will probably find several online courses and/or programs that appear to cover same subject area. How do you choose between them? Start by getting as much information as you can about courses, programs and instructors before you sign up.
Read each individual course description and syllabus carefully to see if a particular course fits your needs. Pay attention to what is required on your end: a broadband connection? specific software applications? Instant messaging?
Read instructor’s bio – long version, if there is one. Google instructor to see what else he or she has done, who they are associated with, awards or recognitions they may have received, and what else they may have published elsewhere. Is this someone who knows what they are teaching? Are they truly an expert? Are they someone you can learn from that you’d like to interact with as a student?
Look into specifics of how course or program is delivered and what’s expected from students. Are there a mid-terms and final exams? Are you expected to upload exercises into a discussion board for your fellow students to see? Will you need to complete a final project?