Helping Students Prepare for Online Courses

a busy calendar
Online Learning
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In some ways, having someone set a schedule for us makes our lives somewhat easier, doesn’t it? When we’re young, our parents and teachers schedule our time for us, but as we get older, we gradually become more responsible for making our own good decisions for how to manage our time. Online learning can present challenges to some students in that it doesn’t come with the same type of structure an on-ground course would. You aren’t typically expected to be in a physical location for a predetermined period of time to take part in learning online.

In Plugged In: Succeeding as an Online Learner, author Joel English writes that success in online courses is tied to a student’s ability to effectively manage their time. He points out that “convenient doesn’t mean easy” (p. 85), and explains that while online courses may have an element of convenience because you can “attend” anytime from anywhere, that doesn’t equate to easier courses–a student must still carve out time to devote to coursework.

While you have the opportunity to review your expectations and your syllabus at the start of an on-ground course to get students thinking about the course work ahead, you may need to consider tackling another way to do the same for online students. In the Online Instructor’s Resource Manual that accompanies Plugged In, English provides discussion questions that you can post to start a dialogue around time management in online courses. You can ask students to respond to the questions via discussion boards (and provide tips for those), or just to think about them. We share three of those potential discussion starters here:

      1. Are you enrolled in a fully online program or hybrid program? Why did you choose this format for your college education? Discuss how online learning will support your lifestyle.
      2. If you suddenly lost access to your current computer and workspace, what is your backup plan? Where would you go to access your coursework so that your program is not interrupted? How welcome would you be when you arrived to use that facility?
      3. When thinking about setting priorities, most students are surprised that some of the activities they most enjoy are only want-to’s, and that the have-to’s and shoulds in life gain a higher position. What did you learn about have-to’s, shoulds, and want-to’s when you inventoried an ordinary week of activities in your life? What kinds of activities have you considered sacrificing to make more time for academic have-to’s, now that you’re a college student? (p. 29, Online Instructor’s Resource Manual)


Content adapted from the following sources: