Online Learning Readiness

Student working n his laptop

Be a successful online learner

UTRGV offers a variety of online courses and programs. Online courses provide opportunities to enjoy more flexible schedules, individualized learning paces, and more frequent interactions with instructors and classmates. Although online courses require discipline and self-motivation, the benefits and rewards will exceed your expectations! The following are useful tips on successful learning skills while taking a course online.

Tips for online learning success:

1. Know your Blackboard.

The online education platform used at UTRGV is Blackboard. Make sure to attend a "Blackboard Orientation" to learn the software application's basic features including how to submit homework, take a test and communicate with your instructor and classmates. The Blackboard system serves as both a classroom and writing tools. Log in frequently to get familiar with all the system's functions and features. Visit Blackboard Help for online tutorials and technical support.

2. Speak Up!

For success in an online course, frequent and prompt communication between instructors and students is important. Instructors can be aware of non-verbal communication behaviors such as confusion, frustration, boredom, absence, etc., to see when students are having difficulty. Since this is not possible in an online environment, it is your responsibility to speak up and communicate your needs. Contribute your ideas, perspective and comments, and read those of your classmates. Remember, the instructor is not the only source of information in your course, you also learn from peers by sharing ideas.

3. Devote five to ten hours per week, per course.

Do not assume that online courses are easier than the traditional onsite classes. Online courses require just as much time and commitment. A reasonable investment of your time for one online course is 5-10 hours per week. If you do not have a planning calendar, get one. As soon as you receive the class syllabus, develop a study schedule for yourself. A good, well thought out schedule will allow you to plan your time wisely and prepare to handle those last-minute, unexpended assignments. It is up to you to develop a schedule that meets your needs, and most importantly, to follow it.

4. Log into your course every day.

Visit your online course daily or at least 3 to 5 times per week. Keep yourself updated on what is happening in the course all the time. When you log in it will be interesting to see who has commented on your discussion board posting and learn new ideas from the posting of your instructor and classmates. If you let too much time pass before logging into the course, your participation score will go down. Most instructors include in their grading policy students' participation.

5. Start with a general overview.

Do a quick overview of the entire course first to get a general idea of what you can expect to learn in this class. It is similar to taking a quick look at a road map before starting a trip into unfamiliar territory. To get a general overview, browse through the course syllabus, calendars and content units. You may also like to conduct a preparatory research on related topics for the first chapter before the class meeting.

6. Read all the text.

In an online environment, the primary method by which you acquire information is through text reading. Do not just browse the text on the screen. Read with the purpose of understanding. It will help to read the content more than once. Also, read everything required by your instructor, both online and in textbook. Outlining the content of the text will help you memorize and understand. As you read, try to come up with two or three meaningful questions on each chapter. Share your questions with your instructor and classmates on the discussion board.

7. Take notes.

Always have a pen and paper ready when you read or participate in group discussion. Taking notes not only helps you to concentrate on reading and discussion, but also makes your end-of-semester final review easier. Just like reading, note-taking is a skill that online learners must be comfortable with and able to continually refine.

8. Prepare for Audio/Visual components.

Some online courses communications use multimedia communications. It is advised to find out in advance what accessory hardware is needed. For example, if you are taking a second language class, you may need to purchase a webcam and headset with microphones. Some multimedia communication platforms require pre-hand equipment test-out. Arrange a time with your instructor and team members to check if your computer and network are set to the right configuration of your video and audio communication such as Blackboard Collaborate and/or Tegrity.

9. Review and apply.

Completely finish each lesson before moving on to the next one. As you wrap up the preview lesson, review the notes you took during class. Try to do a review two times per week. Each time you review, try to pick up something new. Online learning is like the traditional classroom learning, what you are taught is easier to memorize when the knowledge is applied to your real-world work. Keep yourself motivated by making associations between what you are learning and what you are doing.

10. Avoid distractions.

Each time you go online, give the class your undivided attention. Make sure you have a good Internet connection and a quite learning environment. Do your homework in a place where you can shut the door, leave papers scattered around and work without interruption. Do not distract yourself by browsing other Internet sites unless it is required.

Valuable Qualities

  • Be self-disciplined and self-motivated. Online learning takes full commitment and self-discipline to keep up with the course schedule.
  • Be comfortable with computer technology. Make sure you have easy access to a computer with good Internet connection.
  • Develop good writing skills. Writing is the primary method of communication in online courses.
  • Know how to read. Most of the information in an online course is textual information. Your ability to read and understand textual material is extremely important to your success.
  • Actively participate. Do not hesitate to ask questions! Participate in online discussions and group projects. Actively participating allows you to learn more as well as make new friends and colleagues.

Taking Online Examinations

Most online examinations are objective tests. To achieve higher scores online, use the following guidelines:

  • Always read all of the directions before beginning! Do not assume you know what the directions are.
  • Although testing time is more flexible with Blackboard, make sure you reserve a time when you can take the exam without interruption.
  • Essay examinations. Carefully planning your time is more important on essay exams that it is on objective tests. Read through the entire examination first to see how much time you will need for each question. This will allow you to organize and divide your time in order to answer all the questions in the time given.
  • Pay attention to the key words in the essay exam directions. Words such as "list", "describe", "compare and contrast", and "outline" have specific meanings. Make sure you do what you are asked to do. Answer the question directly without "writing around" it. Take time to organize your answer. Be clear and concise.