Online Class Considerations: Essential Tips

Online classes have become quite popular in the education sector. It has been my experience that there is an unspoken assumption that online courses are easier and less rigorous than traditional classroom settings. At first glance, the mechanics of going to class is easier. There are no parking lot spaces to hound, no blazing heat, bitter snow, drenching rain to navigate. The classes have the allure of schedule flexibility. This is the Achilles’ heel of online course work. I will propose essential habits that must be followed to have the best grades possible.

The first consideration is to determine one’s ‘royal hours’ for study. When do you learn the best? Are you a morning, night, afternoon person? Then if at all possible, that should be the time to listen to your class and attend to required course work. After this personal inventory is taken, the next essential habit for success is to have a firm time for class viewing. The flexibility of watching course work, unlike classes on campus, has the danger of slip sliding to hours that are poor.

Consider the excuse needed for diligent students to miss class. It tends to be of the severe and dire variety. Usually, the reasons for moving class time for online courses are trivial.  The same dogged ability to make it to campus for class at a fixed time needs to be employed with online classes. This almost non-negotiable attitude of fixed time, coupled with best hours for learning solves a large number of problems students have with online learning. Another serious consequence of not having a firm schedule is that the lectures can quite easily stack up on top of each other. The ability to learn is not possible with a number classes strung together. Learning is not done in a binge-watching manner. Rigorous learning takes time and maturation of thought.

The next habit to develop is one of note taking while watching class online. The preferred method of note taking, in my opinion, is by hand at class, then to recopy them afterwards, before the next class. This produces neat notes, points out murky thinking, and the resulting questions that need to be asked in a timely manner. These notes become a legible and organized study guide for the final. I bind my notes after each course. I return to them years later and they still serve me well.

My handwriting has deteriorated over the years to the point that I cannot handwrite them. Thus, I have resulted to word processing. There is an advantage to typing the notes as the lecture unfolds, as I am able to pause the lecture while the professor makes a reference, research the point, then resume the lecture with a better understanding of the point being made. This does add time to watching the lecture, which needs to be planned for, but it makes the understanding of the material pronounced.

To summarize the essential habits needed for online class success: a personal determination of ‘royal’ or ‘best’ hours for study; a firm attitude for watching class at a regular fixed time; and if possible hand written notes, recopied before the next class is scheduled. Without these habits in place the following suggestions will not work effectively.

Another potential drawback to online courses is the lack of personal contact with other students and the professor. Part of the learning process is hearing questions of other students. Oftentimes, questions are posed that I would not have considered asking. Other times, students’ questions trigger tangential considerations from the professor, which are invaluable. If there is a forum for posting questions, or live chat sessions, make liberal use of it.

An immediate consideration is how to post questions. Should they be written or videotaped? I think it depends on the subject. Written questions on theology and philosophy can get side tracked on which preposition to use. Videotaping the question often mitigates this confusion. It compares closely to classroom dialogue. The nuance, tone, and facial expression helps to convey what troubles the student. The insightful professor is able to tease out of the rambling query the question needing an answer. Video taping also allows the other students to get to know the questioner. Social contacts are an important part of the educational process.

However, not all questions should be video taped. I think of videotaping as hot peppers. In small doses, they taste great, but too many can overpower the dish. Similarly, a couple of video taped question each semester seems like a proper frequency. Being able to write a succinct, well reasoned question has tremendous merit and must be mastered as well.

Online courses can be an excellent way of learning, and sometimes, the only way to learn. The notion of easier learning needs to be tempered with the temptation of procrastination. On-campus classes help the student to have a regular schedule of learning, whereas online courses do not this external parameter. The essential tips outlined here can help the student get the best personal learning outcome possible.