Congratulations and welcome to the new reality of online classes for the masses.
The New Normal
For many faculty and students, this was the undesirable greeting awaiting them after spring break was hijacked by news of COVID-19. While thousands take online classes each year others would have us believe it is a second-rate educational experience. But just as banking, newspapers, and even dating have successfully migrated into the online space, so can your digital classroom experience prove to be productive and even enjoyable.
The traditional classroom provides a familiar structure where a course is scheduled with a set time and place, with a predetermined group of students who gather for lecture and discussion. Most online courses are asynchronous which means they can be engaged at any time and in any place, and that live interaction with another human will almost certainly never occur. While this offers an enormous amount of freedom and flexibility, it also has the potential of disconnecting students and professors from the relational interaction and engagement that makes a classroom such a dynamic social learning environment.
Humans are social creatures and we learn and grow in the context of relationships. Even if I am alone with a good book, my mind is stretched and expanded by the relationship I develop with the author. For those entering an online class for the first time it is important to be mindful of the power of relationships in this new digital modality. Can a student build genuine relationships with classmates in an online course? Is it possible to get to know one’s professor if one is unable able to linger after class or visit during office hours? I have taught in both traditional and online settings for over a dozen years and can answer most definitely YES.
Tips to Succeed
To be successful in an online course a student or faculty member must consider a few important factors.
- Be Deliberate
The familiar and assigned structure of the traditional class is absent, so decisions must be made and a self-imposed structure created. First, when is the best time to participate in your class? Be deliberate and choose a regular time to engage your class that is not only convenient for your schedule but also conducive for your learning style. Some learn best at the crack of dawn, others into the late hours of the night. Consider the ideal learning time for you when your mind is sharp and you can get the most out of your studies.
- Be Intentional
Second, be intentional about the space you choose where you will regularly engage your online course. Ask yourself whether you learn best in the solitude of your own home or in the midst of others at a local coffee shop. Everyone is wired uniquely, figure out what works best for you and get to that spot each week for your class. Having a consistent location for your online class will help create a physical framework for learning and lead to a more enjoyable experience.
- Avoid Distractions
Taking classes from home can be a blessing and a curse. It’s great that one doesn’t have to scrape ice off a windshield, start a cold car, fight traffic, and drive to class. But there are plenty of distractions at home you don’t face in the classroom. Staying focused can be challenging while stuck in the home. Everything from the TV to the neighbors, to others living in the house, can be distractions. The best way to succeed in avoiding distractions is to accept that distractions will be present. During class hours get dressed, this will mentally prepare you for your class. Next create a specific space to work from, a classroom at home, and remove your phone, social media and any other things that could alter your focus. When it comes down to it, you know what will most likely distract you, so remove those things before class even starts.
- Be Relational
Finally, pursue relationships in your online class. Be intentional to learn the names of your classmates, reach out to your professor and initiate dialogue, work to create connections with those in your course. This is the most significant factor that determines whether your online class will be rich and vibrant or stagnant and dry. If you are assigned weekly discussion boards, be consistent with who you interact with and work to get to know them. Ask questions, seek out help, and offer to support those who may be struggling. Remember, your online classmates are real people with real lives, and they have the power to make your online class a real learning experience.
At the end of the day, we each learn differently and have different things that distract us. But if you manage these to do these four things with online classes you will enjoy greater academic success.
Dr. Kevin Corsini is the President of San Diego Christian College. He has consulted with some of the largest online education programs in America. Has been an instructor online for over 10 years. And helped to build one of the largest online schools in America with 94K students.
Dr. Corsini holds a B.B.A. in Human Resource Management from the University of Georgia, a Th.M. in Pastoral Leadership from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Professional Counseling from Liberty University.