High schools and universities across the country are adding online education to their core curriculum to improve student access to advanced-placement classes, to stimulate more student-teacher interaction and to create new efficiencies in an era of severe budget constraints. The percentage of high school students taking online courses nearly doubled in 2010, to 30 percent, up from 18 percent the previous year, according to the annual Speak Up Survey. Young adults, although tech savvy and online for hours a day, can face a tough transition into online learning. They often don’t have the frame of reference and discipline necessary to succeed in what may falsely seem to be an unstructured learning environment.
The initial impression may be that an online class won’t be as rigorous as one in a traditional classroom. Actually, online learning can be more rigorous. There is no credit for attendance. Students only get credit for the quality of the work submitted – no hiding in the back of the classroom.
So how can students succeed in their first online learning experience?
In reviewing the work of thousands of online students, I’ve found certain consistencies to the most successful approaches, resulting in the following eight tips for online learning success in high school to set the stage for further growth in college:
- Read everything thoroughly. Become oriented into the online classroom. Essential materials can be a click or two away and not easily discovered. Understand the assignment calendar, find the due dates for all assignments and work backward to prepare to fulfill the requirement. Find the tech support number right away so it’s handy for the time that you can’t login, which inevitably happens on deadline!
- Visit the classroom often, even for just five to 10 minutes. Look for new information, advice and available resources, such as the library, writing center and links to other services that can help the student do better in class.
- Figure out how to submit your work. This is more than just finding the room number; know where the key elements are online and how to submit assignments
- Establish a relationship with the instructor. Ask questions well in advance of need. Online education can be an advantage here. When stuck, get fast responses via email. Take the time to read input from the instructors. Remember, the instructor can see everything you do in the classroom – when you login, when you do your work and the time spent online. There is no credit for simply sitting in the seat. Actively participate and complete every assignment.
- Be diligent in your editing and proofreading; your work should be perfect. Students who are active in social media can get lazy in their writing and may have sloppy grammar. When writing, compose offline, use spell check, and then cut and paste to submit the assignment. Avoid social media abbreviations and slang that are inappropriate in any learning environment.
- For parents, be involved online as you would with traditional classes. Help your budding scholars set aside time for studying online. Encourage them to establish their own calendars and plans of action. Communicate with the teachers just as you would in a traditional classroom.
- As one technical detail, make sure the AP credit is approved for universities and colleges. Check on how many students are in the online classroom. Class size matters, even when online. Ensure there are teachers and facilitators in the online classroom. Some schools offer what is often called “PDF learning.” Downloading PDF courses puts the entire onus on the student. There is no support or guidance.
With a good online learning experience, students will be better prepared for advancing in any further education, whether online or traditional. Online classes are the future of education.
Wardlow is provost for Ashford University in San Diego.