Successful Strategies in Online Education

What is Distance Learning?

Synchronous -vs- Asynchronous Learning

What Makes a Successful Online Student?

Helpful Online Articles

Are Distance Learning Classes For Me?

Links to Self-Assessments

What Every Student Should Know About Online Learning

Five Steps to Success in Online Learning

Study Tips for the Motivationally Challenged

7 Rules of Motivation

Persistence in Distance Education

What is Distance Education?

Distance learning refers to a learning environment in which the instructor and student are separated by physical distance. Although distance learning dates back to the early 1800's with correspondence classes, it has evolved with the development of new media, from print to radio, telephone, television, video, satellite, computers, and, most recently, the Internet. The different technologies are still being used depending on the content and learning objectives for the course, and the users and their capabilities.

The most recent distance technology, the Internet, adds an interactive component not possible with the other technologies - collaborative communication over a prolonged period of time. Traditionally, distance education has been primarily between the instructor and the student, and there has been little or no opportunity for interaction among students. However, the Internet changes this because it allows learners to communicate with each other either through synchronous or asynchronous communication. Students are able to read and respond to all correspondence, thereby learning from each other as much as from the instructor. This changes the roles of the instructor and the student, and the instructor becomes more of a facilitator of learning and the student becomes more of an active participant in, and more in control of, the learning process.

Synchronous versus Asynchronous Learning:

Some forms of distance technology, such as radio, telephone, television, satellite, and Internet-based chats are synchronous, meaning that the student(s) and the instructor are communicating together at the same moment in time - sometimes called "real time." These technologies are time-bound requiring participants to all "meet" at the same time, although not the same place. Advantages include:

  • Motivation
  • Instantaneous interaction
  • Quick Feedback
  • Pacing
  • Asynchronous communication and learning refers to communication between two or more people that does not take place during real time. For example, an instructor may post a question on a discussion board, and students may post their responses at various times. However, the postings are online for the instructor and other students to view and respond to at any time. Asynchronous learning has many advantages as well. These include the ability for students to correspond, regardless of time zone. For example, students who are living on military base in Germany may read and respond to questions and comments, regardless of the time zone difference between the US and Germany. Another clear advantage of asynchronous communication is that it allows students more time to think about questions posed, thus promotes higher quality responses.
What Makes a Successful Online Student?

Online learners possesses unique characteristics. Distance learners may be working full time, deployed in the military, full time parents, living in rural or isolated regions, or retirees wanting to further their education. Although the traditional school will always exist, the virtual classroom is a major contributor to the community. Corporations are beginning to use the online model to train technical professionals while private and public universities redefine the world as their markets. According to the Illinois Online Network, the online student should possess the following qualities:

  • Be open minded about sharing life, work, and educational experiences as part of the learning process
Introverts as well as extroverts find that the online process requires them to utilize their experiences. This forum for communication eliminates the visual barriers that hinder some individuals in expressing themselves. In addition, the student is given time to reflect on the information before responding. The online environment should be open and friendly.
  • Be able to communicate through writing.
In the Virtual Classroom, nearly all communication is written, so it is critical that students feel comfortable in expressing themselves in writing. Many students have limited writing abilities, which should be addressed before or as part of the online experience. This may require remedial efforts on the part of the student.
  • Be Self-motivated and self-disciplined.
With the freedom and flexibility of the online environment comes responsibility. The online process takes a real commitment and discipline to keep up with the flow of the process. Many of the non-verbal communication mechanisms that instructors use in determining whether students are having problems (confusion, frustration, boredom, absence, etc.) are not possible in the online paradigm. If a student is experiencing difficulty on any level (either with the technology or with the course content), he or she must communicate this immediately. Otherwise the instructor will never know what is wrong.
  • Be willing and able to commit to 4 to 15 hours per week per course.
Online is not easier than the traditional educational process. In fact, many students will say it requires much more time and commitment.
  • Be able to meet the minimum requirements for the program.
The requirements for online are no less than that of any other quality educational program. The successful student will view online as a convenient way to receive their education - not an easier way.
  • Accept critical thinking and decision making as part of the learning process.
The learning process requires the student to make decisions based on facts as well as experience. Assimilating information and executing the right decisions requires critical thought; case analysis does this very effectively.
  • Have access to a computer and a modem.
The communication medium is a computer, phone line, and modem; the student must have access to the necessary equipment.
  • Be able to think ideas through before responding
Meaningful and quality input into the virtual classroom is an essential part of the learning process. Time is given in the process to allow for the careful consideration of responses. The testing and challenging of ideas is encouraged; you will not always be right, just be prepared to accept a challenge.
  • Feel that high quality learning can take place without going to a traditional classroom.
If the student feels that a traditional classroom is a prerequisite to learning, they may be more comfortable in the traditional classroom. Online is not for everybody. A student that wants to be on a traditional campus attending a traditional classroom is probably not going to be happy online. While the level of social interaction can be very high in the virtual classroom given that many barriers come down in the online format, it is not the same as living in a dorm on a campus. This should be made known. An online student is expected to:
  • Be able to work with others in completing projects
  • Be able to use the technology properly
  • Be able to meet the minimum standards as set forth by the institution
  • Be able to complete assignments on time
  • Enjoy communicating in writing.
The online learning process is normally accelerated and requires commitment on the student's part. Staying up with the class and completing all work on time is vital. Once a student gets behind, it is almost impossible to catch up. Basically, the student needs to want to be there, and needs to want the experience. The instructor may have to contact students personally to offer assistance and remind the student of the need to keep up.

Just as many excellent instructors may not be effective online facilitators, not all students possess the necessary qualities to perform well online. In your online course, you may want to include reference links to resources and tips for your students to use to help them be more successful online learners. Clearly outline your expectations and the necessary characteristics of a successful online student so your students can understand if the online environment will be a productive learning environment for them. Provide a questionnaire for prospective students to fill out to assess whether they are good candidates for online learning.