Is Taking An Online Course Right For Me?

Macbook on Desk

Are you a student thinking about enrolling in an online course?

Take a moment to reflect on the sections below to gauge if you will be comfortable participating in a fully online course and how to be successful if you choose to pursue studies online.

1: Technical Requirements Check

What technical requirements must I meet to get started?

Before deciding if online learning is a good fit for you, you should first meet these minimum technical requirements to take part in an online course.

  • Personal Computer: You will need regular access to a computer – preferably a personal computer – with administrator privileges and you should be comfortable managing software and hardware. While much can be done with tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices they are not guaranteed to work in all areas of the course. For an optimal experience you must have a laptop or desktop computer (Windows 7 or higher or Mac OS X 10.5 or higher is recommended).
  • Internet connection: High speed broadband access (LAN, Cable or DSL) is highly recommended for an optimal learning experience. Note, that relying on a library or a café for internet access is not recommended.
  • A Web Browser is required (Blackboard recommends using Mozilla Firefox). In some instances, it may be necessary for some users to upgrade their web browser programs. You can use this browser checker.
  • Speaker and Headphones: Many courses will have synchronous (live) online meetings using webinar software. It is preferable to use headphones with an attached microphone for these sessions.
  • Software:  Many courses require word processing software (e.g. Microsoft Office 2010 or later).

If you meet these minimum requirements, you have the tools in place to access the course and work with course material. The next step is deciding if online learning is the right fit for you! Consider the self-check below.

2: Is online learning right for me?

Does this describe you?

I am a self-motivated and self-disciplined individual.

I am able to work independently with little direction.

I have good time-management skills that allow me to schedule specific times throughout a week by myself to work on my online course.

I am self-motivated enough to succeed without the face-to-face interaction with my instructor and classmates.

□ I am ready to spend five plus hours each week on a course to review course lectures/videos, complete course assignments, participate in chats and
threaded discussions, etc.

I agree that online courses can be more challenging than face-to-face classes.

I have basic computer skills and can use word processing software, download software, install software, use a web browser, etc.

I have access to a computer that is connected to the Internet and have a backup plan if something happens to my computer.

I am comfortable in a “virtual environment” – email, sending attachments, threaded discussions, chat rooms, etc.

If you answered “yes” to most of these statements you are likely to be comfortable participating in an online course (and continue reading items below). If you answered “no” to most of these statement then perhaps online learning is not the best fit for your learning style. Visit the University of Toronto website and explore other offerings. There are also learner supports to help you be successful in any of your studies.

3: Online learning feels like it will be a good fit. What can I do to make a strong start?

  • Remember that online learning is flexible but it does not mean it is less work! A popular myth is that an online course is easier than a face-to-face course. It is true you can work from almost anywhere, anytime you want, but an online course will take as much time and is as academically rigorous (or more rigorous) as a face-to-face course. If your course offers a webinar you will also be expected to keep regularly scheduled time each week to meet and participate with the class
  • Set up a quiet space, free from distraction to work from with good internet connection. Try to find a personal space (not a shared space like a common living area) and keep distractions (e.g. television, noise) to a minimum. It will help you focus on the course material.
  • Check in often (daily) and get involved with the orientation material. Take time to explore the online learning environment – click around and get a feel for the interface and layout of the platform. Continue to check in frequently.

4: Over the semester how do I stay motivated and track my progress?

  • Set up a study calendar with a regular schedule. Having a schedule will keep you on task and on time. Set mini deadlines for the week. For example, break down when you will: Watch lecture videos, complete readings, complete assignments and quizzes.
  • Develop relationships with your peers. Take part in online discussions and blogs. Developing a community will help you feel connected to the course and the material.
  • Seek help if and when you need it. Many help resources will be available for you in the course, including library services, academic support and technical support. If help resources are not enough reach out to your peers in the course as well as your TAs and your instructor.

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NOTE:

Generally, if you are taking an online course with a final exam you are required to write that exam in person on campus. If you live in the Toronto area (within a 125 km distance from your campus) you will be required to write the final exam in person during the scheduled exam period. If you are taking the course from a greater distance then you may be eligible to take the exam at an approved exam centre (details will be available on your course syllabus). Students are responsible for any fees payable to the external exam centre.

REFERENCES

Educause How Students Develop Online Learning Skills.
http://er.educause.edu/articles/2007/1/how-students-develop-online-learning-skills

Dimensions and Strategies for Online Success. DIMENSIONS AND STRATEGIES FOR ONLINE SUCCESS: VOICES FROM EXPERIENCED EDUCATORS
http://onlinelearningconsortium.org/sites/default/files/v6n1_schrum_1.pdf

Minimum requirements for Blackboard
http://support.blackboardcollaborate.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=8336&task=knowledge&questionID=2890

Self Check adapted from Fairmont State University, Characteristics of a Successful Online Student
https://www.fairmontstate.edu/academics/distancelearning/successful_student.asp
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Is Online Learning Right For Me? by University of Toronto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.