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Monday, January 05, 2009

Thinking About E-Learning? Information for New E-Learners

You may have been considering online courses for a long time, but have not been ready to take the plunge. Everyone likes to feel very confident about a new endeavor, and you realize that believing yourself able to succeed is crucial in education. Of course, it's fairly easy to feel confident about face-to-face instruction. After all, we've all had many years of experience in that area. However, sometimes the courses you need, the location of instruction, and your travel / work schedules make it impossible to take traditional face-to-face courses. And, if you're needing professional development or a certificate, the travel expenses, the time away from work, and the location and timing of the courses can totally derail your professional and academic plans.

You're left with the most logical option: online courses. But -- even in a time of widespread adoption of e-learning, many people still have a number of very basic questions. So, we'll take a moment and address those questions, and, in the process perhaps give you a better understanding of the kind of experience you're likely to have, and the way you'll learn. Finally, you'll have a chance to gain some insight into how special the e-learning experience can be.

What's really so great about online courses?
The benefits are so numerous, it's hard to know where to start. If you've got an up-to-date computer, a fast internet connection, and the right software and plug-ins, you're set. You can take the courses anywhere. If you don't have online access all day, that's often perfectly okay. Most online courses do not require you to be online all the time -- and, they encourage flexibility. You can download audio and video to experience later. You can read your books and materials offline. The things you'll do online involve communication with your professor, downloading information, taking online quizzes, practicing online quizzes, and engaging in dynamic, interactive elements (virtual labs, activities, communication). If you have to travel for your job, don't worry. Have wifi will travel. You'll be able to take your course anywhere you have a computer and an internet connection. You'd be amazed how many people log on and do their online courses from their hotel rooms while they're traveling, or going to an internet cafe or coffee shop with connections. So, you can be overseas, in an airport, or any other place with a connection.

Do online courses cost more than regular ones?
Online courses will often be the same tuition as traditional face-to-face courses. However, there may be a fee for connections and support. On the other hand, if you're taking a course with a lab, your online course may be less expensive because you will not have to pay lab fees or purchase lab equipment. You'll just have to have the book and passcode for the virtual lab. If you compare the cost of an online college with a private institution, you may be surprised that how affordable the online courses can be. In addition, many colleges that specialize in distance education for adults also have payment plans, and low-cost financing.

How much money am I going to save by taking online courses?
You may think that if you are taking an online course, you'll need to buy a better computer than you'd need for a regular face-to-face course. The truth is, you will need the same kind of computer for your regular courses. The reason for that is that most online courses require you to go online for research in their virtual library, to e-mail, and to access files and instructional materials for your course. Don't forget the realities of getting to face-to-face classes. You're going to save a great deal of money in terms of commuting time, parking, transportation costs, and incidentals.

How convenient will it be?
Taking an online course is extremely convenient. Because most courses are asynchronous, which means you can be online any time, you can follow a schedule that makes sense to you. You can work according to your own schedule. That said, it's important to keep in mind that you really need to have a reliable Internet connection that you can access often. Ideally, you should log on twice a day, even if it's just to check announcements and to see what is happening in the discussion board.

What kind of Internet connections will I need?
Dial-up used to work. It doesn't now. You will need a high-speed connection. Wifi is good, although there may be times when it can be problematic, particularly if there are a lot of users and band-width is crunched.

Do I have to be connected to the Internet all the time?
You don't need to be connected all the time. However, some courses need more connectivity than others. If you have to do activities that are accessible online, but not downloadable, you will need to be online. If this is the case, be sure to plan your day and your proximity to a computer with a high-speed connection.

Will I need textbooks?
Yes. In fact, please do not forget to get your books early and to print out your assignments, review what you'll be doing. Be sure to map out your work, and to be sure to have a good sense of how to budget your time and to schedule your study time.

What kind of computer? What kind of computer software?
Be sure to get a computer that has a fast processor (1.0 Ghz), plenty of RAM (1.0 GB minimum), storage (80 Gb), and excellent drivers.

What kinds of courses can I take online?
You can take almost all kinds of classes online today, even those with labs (natural sciences, etc.). However, some are going to be more relaxing than others, and some with resonate with your learning styles more than others.

What kinds of degrees?
You can get arts and sciences degrees, associates degrees, obtain certificates and more.

Does it take me any longer to get a degree online?
In some cases, getting a degree online can take less time rather than more.

Are online degrees respected?
Yes. What is more important is the reputation of the college rather than the delivery system.

What kinds of things will I do in an online course?
You can expect to read texts, watch videos, listen to audio, take quizzes (practice and for-credit), interact on the discussion board, post information in a home page, interact with other people, email your instructor and students, participate in innovative activities (wikis, mapping, mashups, more).

Who teaches online courses? What happens?
Instructors who have special training in online courses teach them. They often do not develop the courses, but they guide students in discussions, grade papers, post announcements, and provide personal feedback.

What's the best way to succeed in an online course?
Follow the guidelines below.

Top Ten Ways to Succeed:

1. Sign up early, take course in the correct sequence
2. Check out entire course, click all links
3. Find timeline, familiarize yourself with tasks
4. Connect with professor
5. Have appropriate computer, software, connection
6. Keep up with reading and tasks
7. Establish connection with fellow students, keep up with discussion / cooperative tasks
8. Practice writing activities: paragraphs, short essays, research papers
9. Practice quizzes, review materials
10. Perfect online research, writing

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