Online learning is not new. Despite some administrators’ passion for triumphing online courses as the next frontier in education, it really is a format that has been around for a decade or more (I took my first online course in 1999), even if it hasn’t necessarily been common in every school for as long.
Online learning is exciting in its flexibility and ability to connect students globally, but it comes with its own unique challenges and frustrations. I’ve been involved with online learning as a student, teacher, course designer, and coordinator, and so I feel that I have a fairly sound understanding of what these challenges are. Fundamentally, I believe that online learners most often run into trouble with their online courses because:
- They fall behind or fail to plan their time effectively
- They lose interest in their course
- They don’t fully understand the content and ideas being communicated through their course
Essentially, they fail to communicate on some level, and because online learners are often isolated from others, they can easily become lost and forgotten about if they don’t themselves speak up.
Effective communication then is the primary key to success for online learners. Students need to proactively communicate with their teachers to ensure that they are able to meet deadlines. They need to engage in the conversations and discussions in their class. And they need to seek clarification and answers when they run into problems. This is of course a two-way street; students need teachers and peers that are receptive to an effective online conversation, but they must be equally willing to foster this sort of dialogue.