The Traits and Benefits of Online Education
In This Chapter ▶ Comparing online education to its traditional counterpart ▶ Looking at who’s learning online ▶ Watching out for a few potential disadvantages ▶ Considering the traits you need to succeed Ask almost anyone in the civilized world to describe school, and they will probably tell you about a physical place — a shelter with a roof, desks, and chairs — along with people who assume specific roles like teacher or student. The teacher decides what is to be taught, passes on the information to students, and awards scores to indicate their progress. The students sit attentively, do the work prescribed by the teacher, and perform tasks or take tests that measure how much they’ve achieved. That’s the old-fashioned model of a school, one that is familiar to most people. Even a one-room Amish schoolhouse fits that description.
Online education is nothing like that! In this chapter, we sort through what makes the online experience different from traditional education. Looking at who is learning online and what they’re getting from the experience, along with doing some honest self-assessment, may help you determine whether this type of education is right for you.
What Makes Online Education Different from Traditional Education? You may find it hard to remember life without the Internet, but it hasn’t been that long since the only choices for learning were attending a traditional school or taking correspondence classes by mail. In response to an increasing demand for alternatives, some colleges began offering classes in the
evenings or on weekends to accommodate working adults, but their format remained similar to the one we’d known for a century. All that changed when the Internet became available to everyone! In this section, we compare the traditional school setting to the world of online education.
Connecting to coursework and people via the Internet Online education is about connecting the student to educational materials by way of the Internet. As we show you throughout this book, online education can happen in a variety of forms and fashions, but the underlying use of the Internet and its technologies are fundamental. Lessons, communication, and assessment (grading) all happen by way of the World Wide Web. In the following sections, we describe the two major models for this communication and assessment: instructor-led and self-paced.
You’re not alone: Instructor-led and -facilitated courses The most common model of online education is instructor-led or instructorfacilitated. That means there is an instructor who determines the content and pace of the instruction. In a sense, this is really no different from a traditional classroom experience. In a quality online course, you interact frequently with that instructor, either privately through e-mail or publicly in discussion areas, just as you would have open discussions in a traditional classroom or private conversations on the side. We talk more specifically about how online discussion works in Chapter 10.
Sometimes online teachers are known as facilitators. In contrast to what you may think of as traditional education with a professor lecturing and students soaking up the information, a facilitator provides resources for students to consider, and then facilitates their understanding through a series of discussions or activities. Although facilitation happens in traditional classrooms too, it takes on a special significance in online education. Typically, instructor-led courses require students to interact with one another and everyone follows the same schedule, so they’re always aware that others are taking the course with them. We explain more about who you’re likely to find in your online classroom in Chapter 9.
In most cases, instructors are present in the online environment just as they are in a traditional one. However, what they do with their time in the environment might be a little different than what you would expect an instructor to do in a traditional classroom. Instead of lecturing, the instructor might post a series of narrated slides she created. Or, she might draw out additional responses in discussion instead of telling the class the answers.
Okay, sometimes you’re alone: Self-paced courses Another prevalent model of online education is self-paced. That means computer-based instruction is delivered to you without an instructor attached. You access the lessons, follow the instructions, and return the required products, for example, a completed test on the material demonstrating your understanding. A computer scores the test. You work through this at your own pace with no intervention or guidance from a teacher, and you have no way of knowing whether other students are even in the class with you. You could be the only student or one of a thousand.
In the business world, self-paced learning is the most common form of online education. A lot of corporate training is delivered through Web-based programs that look similar to PowerPoint slides, sometimes with audio or video attached. At the end of the presentation, you typically find a self-test worked into the program. As the student, you make the decisions and control the pace of the instruction with a simple click of the mouse.
Here’s an example: At one time, state employees were required to complete ethics training that was delivered online. Some employees completed the training in 20 minutes whereas others needed two hours, depending on how fast they read and how comfortable they were with technology. The program summarized basic information about state laws regarding campaigning, accepting gifts, and so on. Then the employees were instructed to consider different scenarios and select the most ethical responses. The results were stored, and each employee received a compliance certificate.
Can you imagine the cost of calling together all employees to complete the same training in classrooms? Not only would time be lost on the job, but facilities would need to be considered, and travel time could possibly be involved. The self-paced model was much less costly.
The roots of distance education You may be curious as to the origins of distance education. Online education is just an extension of what began in 1728 when Caleb Phillips started selling shorthand lessons in the Boston Gazette. In the United States, as soon as the postal service was up and running, schools such as Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts of New York and the International Correspondence School proffered correspondence lessons, the old-fashioned version of self-paced learning. Meanwhile in Europe, the University of London was the first to offer distance learning degrees in 1858. Learning anytime and any place is not new!
In a self-paced course, you work at your own pace with little or no instructor input. In an instructor-led course, you follow an established schedule and interact with the other students and the instructor.
Working when it’s convenient In our opinion, this is one of the best features of online education: You get to work when it’s convenient for you. Say you’re a supervisor assigned to the third shift, and you work from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. You may be able to squeeze in a morning class, but chances are your biorhythms put you in a groggy state after work. You could sleep a little and then wake up and take a night class before your shift, but then when are you going to do your homework? And, what about tomorrow night when your son has a Little League game? Wouldn’t it be great to work your course around your schedule? In many cases, online education can accommodate your personal schedule. In the following sections, we define two types of timing for online courses: asynchronous learning and real-time (synchronous) learning.
Asynchronous learning One of the most common questions related to online education is “When do classes meet?” To answer that, you have to understand the meaning of asynchronous. When a class is asynchronous, it does not meet at an appointed time. There is no synchronization of schedules. You don’t have to be at class at any given time, such as 9 a.m. or 6:30 p.m.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any schedule at all. Your asynchronous class may have a very definite schedule of when assignments and activities are due. For instance, every week an assignment may be due on Monday at midnight. When you work on that assignment, however, is entirely up to you. If working at 5 a.m. when the baby wakes for a feeding is good for you, then that’s when you go to class! On the other hand, if you prefer to study after the 11 p.m. news, you can go to class then. By not having synchronized schedules, students can attend to coursework when it’s convenient.
You can see that asynchronous learning represents a big difference between online education and traditional education. While you may complete homework on your own schedule, very few traditional schools allow you to show up when it’s convenient! On the other hand, most online schools assume you will work when it’s convenient, while submitting assignments according to the prescribed schedule.
Synchronous (real-time) learning Some online education requires a coordinated or synchronized schedule, hence the term synchronous learning. In this situation, you’re provided a schedule of times to be available and explicit instructions concerning the software you need to connect with others.
Real-time learning most closely approximates traditional education; the meeting time is specific. Courses use synchronous time a few different ways:
✓ Some instructors require classes to meet so that they can lecture in real time. This also allows them to interact with students and determine whether students are following along in class. ✓ Other instructors host online office hours or informal times when they’re available to answer student questions. These instructors may not have a specific agenda for that time, but are open to whatever the student needs. ✓ As we discuss in Chapter 12, you may be involved in a group project. Synchronous meetings are an excellent method to get a lot of work done in short order.
Keep in mind these synchronous or scheduled meetings don’t require you to be in the same physical place. While you may have to get online at a certain time, you can do so from the comfort of your home, office, or hotel room. And, you can wear your pajamas if you want to, and no one will be the wiser!
The business world loves synchronous meetings. Companies have been saving time and money by offering part of their employee education through synchronous Webinars and online conference meetings. Although staff may be in different cities, everyone shows up at the same time online. Common Web conferencing software includes
✓ Adobe Connect at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobatconnectpro ✓ Elluminate at http://www.elluminate.com ✓ GoToMeeting at http://www.gotomeeting.com ✓ WebEx at http://www.webex.com
No loafing! One surprise that online students report has to do with not being able to loaf or fade into the background in an online course. Face it, in a traditional course, you could go to class, sit in the back of the room, and never utter a word. The teacher may or may not know you are present. In an online course, that’s not likely. Chances are good that an instructor is tracking your logins and the quality and quantity of your discussion postings. If you don’t log in for a period of time, many instructors will come looking for you. You’ll receive an e-mail or possibly a phone call asking about your inactivity.
Establish a regular schedule for logging in and working on the course. We recommend three to four times a week. That way your instructor won’t have to look for you.
Who Benefits from Online Education? Ask a few of the 3.9 million students who took online classes in 2007, and they will tell you about the substantial benefits of online education. Yes, you read that number correctly! In fact, the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), which published that fact and conducts other research about online education, states that more than two thirds of all institutions offer some type of online course. Business is booming, but who is enrolling? This section explains what kinds of students find online classes advantageous.
Adults beyond traditional college age If you’re working, raising a family, or trying to manage many different roles, chances are you feel a little stretched when it comes to time. Busy adults, such as the ones in the following sections, flock to online courses because they can determine when and where to study.
Professionals enhancing their careers Want to move ahead in your career? Earning an advanced degree or picking up courses that directly relate to your job can help you do so. Not only do you acquire the knowledge and skills you need, but you also appear to be much more motivated to employers. Consider these examples:
✓ Sandra’s boss wanted to move company sales online, but no one in the office understood how to manage Web pages and the Internet. Sandra enrolled in a series of online courses at the local community college and became a very valued asset in her office. ✓ Karl worked as a train engineer. His job took him all over the continent and made it difficult to enroll in a traditional class. Wanting to move into a managerial role, online classes fit his lifestyle perfectly. He was able to complete a degree and stay on track! ✓ Caryn earned a masters in nursing online while working as a surgical nurse at a local hospital. Her additional degree made it possible for her to teach nursing courses and supervise others. That meant more money! ✓ Michael was a successful mortgage seller but wanted to branch into human resources. Although he had taken college courses, he hadn’t yet earned his bachelor’s degree. Finishing his degree online allowed him to look for work in his field of interest as competitively as any other graduate.
If you’re looking for career advancement and think that taking an online course might benefit you from a time-management perspective, look for a program that caters to working adults. Take advantage of the opportunity to talk to a live representative either via the phone or online chat and ask how many
students complete the course. That will give you a good idea of how many students are satisfied as well as how attentive the school and faculty are to making sure their offerings work for students. See Chapter 5 for more information on researching different schools.
Busy parents Raising a family isn’t easy. Your children need and deserve your time and attention. They also need to be fed, bathed, have their homework checked, run to tennis class, and more! But what if you’re a parent and want (or need) to return to school? What are the benefits of online education over traditional schooling for you?
✓ Child-care savings are possible. On the one hand, we don’t recommend trying to be a serious student with small children running around; you can’t concentrate adequately when your attention is divided between keeping your child safe, loved, and engaged versus completing a discussion question. However, it’s reasonable to think that there will be quiet times when you can concentrate on your schoolwork and not have to pay for a babysitter. Save the babysitting money for those times when you have to take an online test and absolutely cannot be distracted. ✓ You don’t have to spend time commuting. You can study from home or from your workplace (with permission, of course), but you don’t need to add travel time to school. That means more time for the family, ultimately. Many parents study at the dining room table while school-age children work on their own homework. “School” starts right after the dinner plates are cleared. ✓ Speaking of school-age children, studying in their presence sends a very powerful message about lifelong education, your values, and the need to balance work, family, and school. Yes, maybe they can see that if you go to night class twice a week. However, we think it is qualitatively different when your children witness you logging in daily and really keeping abreast of what’s happening in class.
So, as a busy parent, when are you supposed to fit in your schoolwork? For parents of very young children, naptime means class time. Many parents who take online classes dedicate those quiet moments to getting on the computer and completing class assignments.
What if you’re not home with your child during the day, but at work from nineto-five? You have a few options:
✓ Get up earlier and work for an hour each morning before you wake up the kids. ✓ Make arrangements with your boss to work online at your desk during your lunch hour.
✓ If you’re a commuter (and not driving!), consider what coursework you can do during that time. Your “green” friends might not appreciate your printing off the whole course to read on the train, but what about your textbook? How about working through a discussion question the oldfashioned paper-and-pencil way, and then posting it online later? ✓ Pull out the laptop when your children do their homework. Not only will you stay current in class, but you will model excellent study skills for your kids! ✓ Stay up an hour past your children’s bedtime to catch up on your class.
Only by setting a schedule can you manage work, family, and school. That’s true for traditional education, too — to survive, you must establish a regular schedule for study and stick to it. (True story: Your humble coauthors went back to school online because we were working parents, and it was the only way we could manage.)
People with transportation issues No travel is involved with online education, so students with transportation concerns can take classes easily. For example:
✓ If you live in a very rural area and have to drive in wintry weather, commuting even 20 minutes to the local community college can become a dangerous ordeal in February. Contrast that to staying warm and toasty at home while you complete coursework. And you pay less in fuel, parking, and maintenance on a vehicle to boot. ✓ What if you have a medical condition that makes driving impossible, and you’re reliant on others for transportation? Again, if you study online, you are completely independent and not in need of travel assistance. ✓ Not everyone lives where buses and trains can easily transport them to the local college. Online education cancels the need to find and fund private transportation or to hitch a ride with strangers. ✓ If you carry this a little further, you can see that online education opens the possibility to take classes from anywhere in the world. This may seem kind of silly to consider, but you can live in Iowa and take a class from a university in California with no travel costs incurred. In one university class coauthor Susan taught recently, she had students log in from Great Britain, Korea, and Dubai as well as North America.
People with disabilities Typically, disabilities come in two major fashions: physical challenges and difficulties processing information (learning disabilities).
If you are physically challenged, whether by mobility concerns, deafness, or blindness, you may find the online environment to be more conducive to studying. Here are a few highlights:
✓ Mobility: Persons who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices, such as crutches, canes, or walkers, can stay at home and study. No need to worry about whether sidewalks and building entrances are accessible. ✓ Blindness: If you are a person who is blind and you use a screen reader such as JAWS to complete your coursework online, you may have to ask for assistance with some areas of your coursework, but your campus should have staff who can help you work around any difficulties. ✓ Deafness: Unless audio is a major portion of the course, such as in a language listening course, persons who are deaf can typically read their way through a class. When audio or video is part of the content for a course, alternative text versions are typically available.
Students who have documented learning disabilities can also succeed in the online environment. Most institutions have a department that students with accommodation needs can turn to. This department not only supports students, but also trains faculty and staff on how to make the necessary accommodations needed for all students to be successful in the online environment. For example, if you need additional time for testing, that can be easily addressed online.
Flip to Chapter 18 for more details on how people with physical and learning disabilities can handle online courses.
Traditional college students According to Sloan-C’s report “Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008,” more than 80 percent of the people enrolled in online courses in 2007 were undergraduate students. You can probably figure that means a sizable number are in the traditional 18- to 24-year-old age group. There are some real advantages to studying online for students of this age.
Supplementing coursework A slight variation in online education is called blended, hybrid, or Webenhanced coursework. That means that some of your resources and activities are shifted from the traditional classroom to the online environment. For example:
✓ You might be expected to review a PowerPoint presentation online prior to coming to the traditional class. ✓ You might take all your quizzes online rather than in the classroom. ✓ You might be asked to participate in an online discussion between class meetings.
In some cases, faculty who teach blended courses eliminate one of the class meeting times. For example, if your class meets on Mondays, Wednesdays,
and Fridays, your instructor may only have you meet on Mondays and Wednesdays in the face-to-face environment and transfer the Friday materials online. For a traditional age student, that means having a few additional hours available for other activities.
Taking extra credits How would you like to finish school early and put that shiny, new degree to work sooner? If you have time in your schedule and can accommodate a credit overload, you may find that taking an extra online course could help you speed through your academic program. Or you could use summer time to catch up online.
Consider the example of Allison. Each summer she came home to her parents’ house for the summer and worked as a lifeguard at a nearby camp. However, she also enrolled in six credit hours through her university. She was not a full-time student, but the extra work did require a little discipline. After three summers, she had shaved off nearly a complete year of college!
Before you try taking summer courses from a different school, be sure to verify whether the credits transfer.
Sleeping in If you’re a classic college student (unmarried and without children), not all of your time is spent studying. You may have a job, or you may be involved in campus activities that take up a considerable amount of time. We won’t address what you do with your social time, but it’s a significant factor in most 18- to 24-year-olds’ lives.
Not many traditional-age college students like waking up for an 8 a.m. class. If you study online, you can establish a schedule that works best for you. That means you can sleep in if you need to. As long as you manage your time effectively, it’s possible to be a student online and have a social life (and maybe a job!).
Seniors and retirees Senior citizens and retirees enjoy very active lifestyles these days. That includes using the Internet. Senior Net (www.seniornet.org/), a not-for-profit organization that provides technology training to seniors, estimates that more than 35 percent of seniors use the Internet. Some of them are taking online courses for personal enjoyment or to “retool” for careers after retirement.
Seniors benefit from online education for the same reasons everyone else does (see the previous sections for examples), but convenience and not having to deal with transportation issues rise to the top. In addition, seniors have an advantage over most others in that they seem to be better at managing their time.
For young retirees, online education could provide an avenue to retrain for a new career. In particular, military personnel who find themselves looking for work in their forties can begin to prepare for their future without having to leave base. For example, First Sergeant Earl earned a special endorsement for teaching while stationed in South Korea; the university was in the United States. Once he was discharged and returned to the states, he had the credentials he needed for a successful job search.
Teachers, especially college faculty, like to retrofit themselves for teaching through retirement, as well. By enrolling in online courses, retiring faculty can update skills and acquire new understandings of the teaching and learning processes so they’re more marketable as part-timers or adjuncts. A retiree can still travel and teach (with a great Internet connection, of course).
High school and homeschooled students Perhaps the hottest area of growth and development in online education impacts high school and homeschooled students. It’s so hot that Chapter 16 is dedicated to this topic, but we review the basics here, in particular, the benefits of online education for kids.
In 75 percent of school districts in the United States, one or more students were enrolled in an online or blended online course. (These estimates come from a Sloan-C 2008 follow-up of a survey of U.S. school district administrators.) Three out of four kids are learning online? Why not? In today’s digital age, learning online has distinct benefits for young students:
✓ It advances kids’ technology skills. Consider that most white-collar jobs now require technology skills. With the globalization of business and industry, collaborating with colleagues around the world is common for knowledge workers. Children who acquire computer-mediated communication skills already understand how to collaborate online. Online education teaches twenty-first-century skills. ✓ It helps homeschooling parents plan their curricula. In North America, homeschooling is inconsistently regulated. Having a quality source for instruction, such as the Florida Virtual School (see Chapter 20), allows parents to select and supervise the curricula. While state-supported schools still meet state mandates, parents can determine the most appropriate courses for their children. ✓ It allows kids to work at their own pace. Virtual schools for kindergarten through 12th grade are more likely to be self-paced with parental supervision. In other words, if your child is gifted and can finish algebra in eight weeks, she can move on to her next course without waiting. If your child needs more time, that can be accommodated as well. ✓ It facilitates the management of health issues. For kids with medical needs or disabilities, online education allows the family to manage
health concerns without disrupting learning. For example, a child with severe diabetes can monitor blood sugar levels by snacking while learning. In a traditional classroom, the child would probably have to go elsewhere to snack, resulting in lost instructional time. ✓ It offers greater scheduling flexibility. Reducing the time children spend in school increases time for other activities. In some cases, teens work significant internships, acquiring additional skills that complement their online education. For kids who excel in the arts or athletics and need additional time for practice, online education fits their lifestyles. Not only can they schedule learning before and after workouts and rehearsals, but schooling doesn’t stop because of travel to performances and events. ✓ It fills specialized needs that traditional high schools can’t. One high school can only offer so many classes, particularly in rural areas. The availability and expertise of teachers and school district financial constraints sometimes determine what courses students take. For students looking for more variety, online education can serve it up. Students aren’t limited to what’s available at their own school, but can tap into a wide network of available courses. They may find many of these courses at a state-supported virtual school, which directly ties into graduation requirements because those courses and programs follow the same state mandates. Advanced Placement (AP) courses allow high school students to study more challenging subject matter at a higher level than traditional high school courses. Additionally, these courses often count for college credit. Virtual high schools put AP courses within reach of those whose schools don’t offer them. Even students who don’t study entirely online can have access to the kinds of classes they want and need through these online programs. Of course, buyer beware: Check with your local district to be sure they’ll accept the online credits.
Want to look further at online education for K-12 students? Visit the International Association for K-12 Online Learning at http://www.inacol.org.
Getting a Grip on Potential Pitfalls Working online isn’t without its pitfalls. One of those pitfalls, especially for kids attending online schools, is cyberbullying; we cover how to deal with this pitfall in Chapter 16. The following sections describe a couple more realities you should consider before enrolling in an online course.
Online education isn’t easier Contrary to popular belief, online education isn’t easier than traditional education. As we explain earlier in this chapter, most online education is instructor-led and follows a specific schedule. While you may have the opportunity to choose when and where you study, you don’t get to choose the content. If you’re taking an online history course, you’re going to study the same material that you would if you sat in a traditional classroom. The subject matter isn’t “watered down.” However, there are significant differences in the way you get the information and what you do with it.
Because online education requires students to take more responsibility for their own learning, it can be more challenging! You may have to work a little harder to understand the concepts, and chances are you’ll be asked to do more then read a chapter and take a test. You’re required to use critical thinking, to share your ideas in writing (not just by talking), and to demonstrate that you understand the material in ways other than by taking tests. We talk more about this in Chapter 14, but you should be prepared to prove that you’re learning!
Also, online education is more challenging for those who struggle with time management and study skills. Some students find it easier to attend a faceto-face class because the teacher’s physical presence motivates them to complete assignments. If that describes you, you may struggle with an online course. (We show you how to assess your own discipline and determine your chances of online success later in this chapter.)
If you’re considering enrolling in an online course because you think it will be an easy, independent study, think twice! Read the course materials very carefully before enrolling. Chances are good that your course will require a substantial amount of dedicated time and that you will have to adhere to definite deadlines.
You can’t have spontaneous, face-to-face discussions Earlier in this chapter, we talk about asynchronous learning — accessing course materials and completing assignments on your own time. When this term is applied to discussion, a common feature of online courses, one student may post a comment at 1 a.m. and another may not respond until 5 p.m. That means discussion takes longer and isn’t spontaneous. As an online student,
you have to learn to be patient in these circumstances. (We discuss the importance of patience and tolerance for online success later in this chapter.)
Given the time delay, it can be more difficult to sustain a conversation in asynchronous settings. Absent of body language and immediacy, misunderstandings can also take on a life of their own. If you read something John posts and don’t get what he means, you may inadvertently take the discussion off course at 1 a.m.! By the time someone notices and you all get on the same page, valuable time is lost. The focus may be lost as well.
Determining Whether You’re Ready to Join the World of Online Education So, do you think you’re a good candidate for online education? In the following sections, we review some of the characteristics and qualities that will make you successful. See how you measure up!
Assessing your own discipline One of the first areas you need to assess is the quality of your self-discipline. Some of us have more discipline than others. Use the following questions to assess your level:
✓ Are you a self-starter? When it comes to completing a task, whether or not you think you’ll enjoy it, are you one who starts without a lot of prompting? If you are, you’re more likely to succeed online. When you get assignments from your instructor, you will have to establish a personal schedule for getting those assignments completed. The first step is starting! Procrastinators don’t do well in online education. ✓ Are you persistent? What if your computer crashes and you can’t complete an assignment as instructed? What if it’s supposed to be done on a word processor and you break four fingers? How likely are you to give up when tasks are challenging or things don’t go as planned? There are times when technology fails, group members disappear, and documents get lost. Persistence and addressing problems creatively and expediently can carry an online student through these challenges. Just be sure to communicate with the instructor early in the problem stage. Let her know what you’re prepared to do to remedy your calamity. (By the way, in the case of broken fingers, ask if you can record assignments in an audio file.)
✓ Do you manage your time well? What tools and strategies do you use to manage your time? Do you utilize a personal calendar? Do you schedule times or routine activities? Managing your time online will make you a successful student. You will need to dedicate study time and follow through with regular logins. You may also be juggling work and family. Online education requires effective time-management skills. ✓ Can you work alone? Even though a lot of online work is done in groups or collaboratively with other students, the majority of your time online will be independent. Can you follow through with tasks by yourself? Or do you need others to be present? To succeed in an online course, you need the ability to work alone and to think independently. For example: When a problem has you stumped, it’s important to try to find answers independently before asking the instructor. It shows that you have an independent spirit that solves problems without whining — no one likes a whiner! It also shows a great deal of initiative — a quality that’s always valued.
Knowing your learning style Think back to how you learned in traditional school. There are a variety of ways that individuals access and process information. In this section we talk about learning styles and how they present themselves online. Knowing how you learn best can help you select the kinds of classes and practice study skills that are most effective for you.
Learning styles can be described most simply by three preferences: visual, auditory, and tactile or kinesthetic. This means that you prefer to take in information using your eyes, ears, or through physical movement. Your brain then helps you process information using your preference.
Here are several online learning style inventories you can take to help you determine how you best learn (you can find others through a traditional Web search of learning style inventories):
✓ Abiator’s Learning Styles Inventory at http://www.berghuis.co.nz/ abiator/lsi/lsiframe.html ✓ Learning Style Inventory at http://www.personal.psu.edu/bxb11/LSI/ LSI.htm ✓ Vark at vark-learn.com/english/index.asp
Visual learners People who prefer to learn visually like to read and look at images. They like to work with words that are on a page. In the online environment, visual
learners prefer to read content or articles, look at charts and images, and take in information through their eyes. The page may be either a real textbook or a computer screen. For the record, most people are visual learners.
Those of you who like to access information visually will do very well with reading requirements. If you don’t find enough graphics or images to help you learn, ask your instructor whether she knows of alternatives. Sometimes textbooks come with corresponding Web sites that offer PowerPoint presentations and other supporting materials.
Auditory learners Auditory learners prefer to hear information, and their brains process the sounds. Have you ever met someone who listens attentively to you but never takes notes and still remembers what you have told them? Chances are that person is a very auditory learner. Their ears take in the information and the brain stores and processes it. Auditory learners love to hear stories, by the way. In an online course, auditory learners immediately gravitate toward programs with sound, such as slides with narration or videos.
Those who are auditory learners may struggle a little with the text-heavy nature of many courses. However, these days more faculty are including podcasts and audio files as well as video introductions into their courses. They also may narrate PowerPoint presentations to help auditory learners better understand the material.
A podcast is an audio file that you can subscribe to through a service like iTunes. However, you don’t have to have an iPod or MP3 player or use a subscription service. Most of the time, your instructor will give you a link from which you can download the file. Then you can listen to it right from your computer. Sure, you can make it portable and listen on the road, but it isn’t required. In fact, if your instructor creates vodcasts (podcasts with visuals like PowerPoint slides), you’ll need a fancy MP3 player to view them away from the computer, in which case watching them on the computer is cheaper.
Need a couple strategies for working with an auditory preference? Read out loud to yourself. When you read your classmates’ posts, give them each a separate “voice.”
Don’t be afraid to look for additional materials on your own. Can’t quite understand Newton’s Third Law? You’d be surprised what you can find on sites like TeacherTube (www.teachertube.com), such as materials that are prepared for middle school kids but still make sense and entertain at the same time.
Tactile or kinesthetic learners Perhaps you are best described as someone who likes to take action before reading the instructions or listening to directions. If so, you may be a tactile or kinesthetic learner! People who are kinesthetic like to put their bodies into motion in order to learn. It’s too simplistic to say that this means the
individual has to move in order to take in or process information, but when opportunities allow the individual to put new ideas into practice, learning becomes easier. For example, say you want to learn a concept related to chemistry. You may read about it or listen to a lecture, but once you begin to experiment, it makes more sense. It’s the action of doing that helps embed that new information.
Clicking a computer mouse doesn’t count as movement. However, regardless of when or where you’re working, you can get up and walk around, eat while you work, take frequent breaks, and otherwise keep your fidgeting and movement going while you work.
Being patient and tolerant Seldom are we told that patience and tolerance are necessary qualities for academic survival. However, the classroom has gone global, and technology is now a factor. In the following sections, we describe the facets of online education that require your patience and tolerance.
Online education differs from traditional schooling in many ways. It’s the twenty-first-century method of acquiring information, putting it into practice, and interacting with other learners. Having some doubts is natural, but only if you enter into the virtual classroom with a sense of wonder and possibility will you really learn.
Trying new learning methods and technologies Online education stretches most learners. Many of the procedures and processes feel awkward, and the instructor may throw in new technology tools. How well you adapt to these additional challenges can make a difference in your overall survival online. Following is a short list of some of the tools or methods you may face online (see Chapter 3 for more details on technology and the technological skills you need):
✓ Group work: Very common online. Instructors pair up students or assign them to small discussion groups to work out a problem. ✓ Wiki: A Web page that different people can edit. It’s a simple tool that is used in group work. If you can edit a Word document, you can handle a wiki. ✓ Blog: A Web page that you may use two ways. You may just be asked to go to a blog and read the entries. Or, you may be asked to keep a blog — kind of like a public journal — of what you experience in the class. ✓ Webinar: A live session where you can hear a presenter and see images. Instructors who have live office hours often use similar software.
✓ Chat or IM: Instant communication when you need to ask a question or work out a group decision. ✓ Podcasts: Audio files that you can download and play on your computer or on your portable MP3 device.
Recognizing different kinds of people in the classroom Think back to your traditional education. Chances are there was someone in the class who was a know-it-all. There may have been a teacher’s pet. And how about a class clown? Guess what? They’ve moved online.
If you were particularly annoyed with a certain personality type when in a traditional class, you should prepare to meet the same person online. This time, however, you’ll recognize their characteristics through writing behaviors. The know-it-all will answer everyone else’s posts with an American Psychological Association (APA)-formatted reference. The teacher’s pet will suck up with glowing acknowledgments of the teacher’s presence. The class clown will always have a pun.
There are probably many more ways to describe people. Suffice it to say, this is where tolerance comes back into play. It’s important to get along when online, refrain from engaging in hurtful communication, and focus on your own work, not everyone else’s. Check out Chapters 9, 10, and 12 for plenty of pointers on working well with others online.
Counting to ten when you’re upset When something doesn’t go your way in the online classroom, count to ten before reacting. If you read a comment that seems unkind or downright mean, don’t blast off a nasty response. We say much more about netiquette in Chapter 13, but the bottom line is that you need to write civilly in the online world. Emotions are often incorrectly “read” into written communication, and this causes definite problems.
This is where the asynchronous nature of online education is a real advantage, too. If John writes something that is borderline offensive on Thursday evening, Kelly can wait until Friday to see whether others have noticed and diplomatically said something. If not, she can then respond with a cooler head.