Is Online Learning Right For You?
Rafael Ramirez Lee/Shutterstock.com

The Questions To Answer And Find Out: Is Online Learning Right For You?

This may be sacrilege to write in a website devoted to eLearning… but many people are just not cut out to be online learners (I think I’m one of them!). So before embarking on that 4-year online degree, it is probably worth asking yourself, or potential online learners in your upcoming online course, the following questions. Then you will be able to answer the question: Is online learning right for you?

Technology

In online and blended courses learning is mediated by technology, so it’s important to ask the following questions:

  1. Are you comfortable working with computers and using the internet?
  2. Are you as comfortable with keyboarding and a laptop as you are with your phone?
  3. Do you have high-speed, reliable internet access? Can it easily support streaming video?
  4. Do you know how to get around a Learning Management System - navigate, interact on a discussion forum or bulletin board, download and upload content, submit assignments, check grades, etc.?
  5. Are you comfortable troubleshooting basic technology problems?
  6. Do you know how to use the specialized applications that your eLearning course may offer?

If you answer no to most of the above questions, it’s not a deal breaker, but it signals that at the very least you have some technology barriers that you will need to address before starting your online journey.

Learning Goals

Research shows that online learning is excellent for some types of learning and weak for others, so it’s important to ask the following questions:

  1. Why do want to take an online course?
  2. What are you hoping to gain from this particular online course?
  3. Are there more effective ways of learning  the content you are studying? In other words, is online really the best medium?
  4. Will an online course help you get what you want in terms of understanding this topic?

Your Work Style

Online learning is great for many things - any time, any place, any pace learning, but these benefits are also its weaknesses, so it’s important to ask the following questions:

  1. Do you like to work alone?
  2. Do you like to work with others?
  3. Are you comfortable with online interactions?
  4. Are you comfortable with being honest and direct and critical in an online environment?
  5. Do you often find yourself frustrated with people with whom you work online or via distance?
  6. Do you have a quiet place where you can work on your online course?
  7. Are you disciplined (stay on task and avoid multitasking)?
  8. Can you get your work done without nearby, face-to-face monitoring?
  9. Are you a procrastinator?

Successful online learners have been shown to be highly self-regulated, disciplined, comfortable with ambiguity and autonomy, and comfortable working alone. If you prefer working with others, you may want to take a cohort-based course or class, a blended class, or look for online offerings with a strong social component. And if you answer no to most of the questions above (and yes to questions 5 and 9), you may want to consider other types of learning options.

Time Management

People are often (unpleasantly) surprised--in fact, sometimes shocked, at how much time they spend on an online or blended course, so it’s important to ask the following questions:

  1. Is this online course or program your priority?
  2. Have you created a schedule or cleared some daily dedicated time so you can work on your course?
  3. Are you good at managing your time?
  4. Are you disciplined? Can you stay on task even when no one is around to remind you?
  5. Are you an “out of sight, out of mind” person?
  6. Are you good at meeting deadlines?
  7. Is your schedule/life flexible enough so you can work with your online classmates at different times during the week?
  8. Do you check email frequently (not just text messages)?

From what I’ve seen the biggest killer of online learning aspirations is lack of time management. The fact that the course, and classmates, are not physically proximate, and the open nature of online learning means that online learning responsibilities fall to the end of the queue. As responsibilities and tasks pile up, online learners may get overwhelmed and drop out. Good time management skills are essential.

Your Personality

Some learners thrive in an online environment and online learning has been shown to help shy learners. But it’s still important to ask the following questions:

  1. Are you willing to take responsibility for your own learning as well as work collaboratively with your classmates and instructor?
  2. Are you flexible enough to do different types of learning tasks?
  3. Are you comfortable putting your thoughts “out there” for everyone to see - and possibly disagree with?
  4. Are you familiar with Netiquette? (Yes, it's still important)
  5. Do you carefully consider what you say and how it sounds before you put it in writing online?
  6. Are you a proactive, taking initiative?
  7. Are you passive, preferring to be told what to do?
  8. Are you more comfortable writing, than speaking, your thoughts?

Coordination and communication challenges can be significant in an online environment and undermine relationships and the work that needs to be done. If you recognize that you face many of the challenges listed above, but want to pursue an online course or program, think about ways you can begin to adapt to what is required of you online.

Reading And Writing

Online learning is still essentially a read-write medium and online learners are often surprised at how much reading and writing is still involved. That said, it’s important to ask the following questions:

  1. Do you like to read? Are you a strong reader?
  2. Do you really read online articles all the way through and carefully?
  3. Do you have a Kindle or the ability to print articles? (Research shows that we still read more carefully from paper than online…)
  4. Do you like to write? Do you express yourself well in writing?
  5. Do you write clearly and concisely, with few grammatical or spelling errors?
  6. Are you able to do multiple types of writing (expository, persuasive, etc.)?
  7. Are you good at following written directions?
  8. Will you really watch that 7-minute video... in its entirety?

In other words, if you are not a good writer, you don’t like to write, if you don't read well online or like to read, you may not be a good candidate for an online course.

Conclusion

The above questions are not academic. Attrition in online learning is real and represents significant losses in both financial terms to individuals and organizations (who pay for employees to study online) and in terms of wasted or forfeited time and effort. Thinking hard about which learning medium -online, blended or face-to-face- is best for you may help avoid such waste and instead impel you toward a learning medium that best suits your learning goals and needs.

Close