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Online Learning Success:
Am I Ready for an Online Class?
Written by Gayle L. Fornataro, Virtual Valley Student Success Coordinator

home > student resources > Online Learning Success: Am I Ready for an Online Class?

Table of Contents:  

1. Welcome
2. Lesson One: What to Expect
3. Lesson Two: Am I Ready for an Online Class
4. Lesson Three: Time Management
5. Lesson Four: Participating in Online Discussions
6. Lesson Five: What is Plagiarism
7. Lesson Six: Ergonomics
8. Glossary

The topics covered below are:

  1. The Computer Skills Needed
  2. The Computer Needed
  3. Personal Qualities or Motivation You Should Have
  4. Helpful Links
  5. Keys to Success

The Computer Skills Needed

Since an online class meets, well, online, you will need some basic computer skills and equipment to be successful. Not only that, much of our world today happens electronically. These computer skills will help you be more successful in business and even in your personal life!

Today, anyone who graduates from college needs to know how to use a computer and navigate the Internet.  One distinct advantage of taking an online class is that it will help your develop your computer skills while you learn another subject.  Essentially, you get two classes for the price of one!

If you do not currently possess any of these skills, don’t panic.  Help is available. You should seek this help before your online class begins, if possible.  You are doing exactly the right thing by reading this tutorial.  The last section in this lesson will provide links to help you develop your computer and Web site navigation skills.

First, in an online class, all your communication with your teacher and your classmates happens in writing.  So, the better your written communication skills are, the better off you will be.  If you do not believe you can effectively communicate in writing, you may want to take a traditional, face-to-face English class to develop your writing skills before you take an online class.  

Since writing in English is so important to an online class, you may be wondering whether or not you should take an online class if you are an ESL student. This depends on what forms of communication you are most comfortable with. The advantage of an online class is that you can spend as long as you like (within class assignment deadlines, of course) reading class materials and composing your responses. For that reason, it may be advantageous for you to take an online class. However, if you rely on facial expressions, gestures, and the ability to immediately question the speaker, then you may prefer a class that meets face-to-face.

Not only will your class communication take place in writing, it will take place electronically.  This means that you will need some basic word processing skills as well.

You will need to know how to:

  • Name documents with logical and useful titles.   
  • Format documents (including things like selecting an appropriate font style and size, correctly double-spacing a document, using the rulers, and adding headers and footers).
  • Manage files (This includes skills like creating folders for your work and organizing your saved files in logical places.)
  • Save files to a flash drive or some other external storage device, as well as saving them to your hard drive.
  • Save files in an alternate file format, such as “rich text.”
  • Cut/copy and paste text within and among documents
  • Work in and move among  multiple windows
  • Use spell check and grammar check  wisely
  • Edit your work, to fix grammar, punctuation, or other mistakes before you submit it for others to read
Click here for an excellent tutorial on how to use Microsoft Word.

You will also need to know how to use email effectively and navigate Web sites. Specifically, you will need to know how to:

  • Use a Web browser, such as Microsoft Internet Explore or Mozilla Firefox
  • Send an email
  • Send an email attachment
  • Navigate a Web page, follow links, keep track of where you are in cyberspace, and get back to where you began.
  • Opening web links in a new window
  • Using a search engine, such as Google or Yahoo!
  • Search an electronic database

Finally, you will need to know how to do a few other things on the computer to be able to use the Etudes class Web site.  You may need to  

  • Down load files and programs
  • Set your browser cache
  • Configure cookies, JavaScript, and plugins
  • Turn off your pop-up blocker

All this may sound overwhelming and confusing to you, but don’t be scared away from taking an online class because of some of the jargon.  Help is available, and all these skills are useful far beyond just taking an online class or two.  They will help you be successful in today’s technological world. 

Many of these operations are actually fairly intuitive.  With patience and practice, they will become second nature.  In fact, you are using many of these skills as you read through this tutorial. Computers today are really pretty easy to use.  The programs you will use often guide you through the steps to complete a task in a logical way.  If something you want to do seems confusing, you simply need to know where and how to get help. 

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The Computer Needed

Here is the description of the computer and Internet requirements given on the Etudes Login homepage:

“The Etudes Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE) is an Internet-based application capable of running on a minimal computer setup so long as it is running a recent version of a properly configured browser and a more recent computer.

General System Requirements
  • Screen resolution set to 1024 X 768

  • PC's should be running Win 2000 or XP

  • Macs should have OS X

  • System should have at least 512 Ram

  • 56K minimum is required. DSL or Cable strongly advised.

You must have regular, reliable Internet access (minimum 56K modem) for satisfactory performance. Many courses require high-speed connections for interactive multimedia such as PowerPoint, Digital Video, etc. These requirements should also be stated in the course syllabus. If your connectivity is slower than a 56K modem, you might experience frustration with slow response.”

Additionally, you will need the following:

  • An Etudes supported Web browser, such as Microsoft Internet Explore for PC's and Mozilla Firefox 1.5 for Mac's.  (See Etudes log-in page "System Requirements" for supported browsers and how to down load them).
  • An email account.  If you do not have one, one is provided to you by LAVC.  See Student UIA Accounts for details about how to access it.
  • A word processing program.  I recommend you use Microsoft Word.  Other programs, like the ones that come with your computer, such as Microsoft Works or Notepad, are simply not sophisticated enough for advanced formatting.  Plus, you will have trouble sending attachments and opening files on other computers.  For good or ill, Word is the standard. If you do not want to get Word, select another quality word processing program.
  • Your reliable and regular Internet access should preferably be at home on a non-shared computer.  You will need to spend a lot of time online.
  • As the Etudes page explains, DSL or cable connections are not required but will speed up the time it takes pages to load.  DSL connections are now available as cheaply as dial-up in most areas.  Consider switching, but if you switch during a class, be sure to keep your dial-up service until you know your new account is up and running!
  • Wireless Internet connections are also not necessary but recommended.  With wireless (and a laptop) you can work almost anywhere.

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Personal Qualities and Motivation You Should Have

An online class takes just as much time as a traditional one, even if that time is somewhat less structured.  This is both good news and bad news. 

The good news is that an online class allows you the flexibility to work when you need to.  For many busy people, taking classes online provides their only possibility to pursue a college education.  The fact that you are not required to be in class for specific hours during the week means that you can go to school around your work schedule, parenting responsibilities, and other demands on your time.

Sounds great, right?  Well, it is great, but it is also challenging.  While the hours are not fixed, an online class requires just as much time per week as a regular class.  Not only that, since the time is not structured for you by your instructor, you need to structure your time for yourself. 

This means that one quality you need to be a successful online student is discipline. While you will be a part of an online community and will be working with others online, it is your responsibility to log in and participate.  It can be all too easy to put off logging in when no is telling you to do it at a specific time every day.  It is up to you to create a schedule for yourself to make sure you participate in your class and that you give yourself enough time to complete assignments.

So, in addition to determination, you also need effective time management skills.  Are you the kind of person who makes “to do” lists, who has the strength to so say “no” to invitations from friends to devote the evening to your studies, and who always gets your work done on time?  If you are like many people, this does not describe you precisely.  However, you will need to become this kind of person to succeed in getting an online education. 

You may be feeling a bit discouraged at this point, so this is where the third quality you need to be a good online student comes in: determination. It doesn’t matter if you have not been a disciplined person who manages his or her time well is the past.  What matters is how you approach your online classes now.

It may take some determination, but you can train yourself to manage your time, to be a disciplined student.  What’s more, there is plenty of help available to help you develop better study skills.  Again, just by reading this tutorial, you are headed in the right direction.  Later pages will focus on time management and provide you with other resources to help you be successful now, no matter how disorganized you have been in the past.

If you can do this, not only will you help yourself do well in school, but you will learn valuable strategies to be successful in your career as well.  A career takes just as much focus, dedication, and time management as an online education does.  Just as with computer skills, online classes are like getting two classes for the price of one.  If you succeed here, you will have developed skills and attitudes that will help you succeed at whatever you want to do.

Even if you have been a successful, motivated student in the past, however, online classes present some additional challenges to a traditional class.    While you will probably be asked to engage in some group activities and discussions in your online classes, you will be working on your own to a large extent.  You will not have the opportunity to meet your classmates in person and engage in the same kind of give-and-take conversation and collaboration as in group work in the classroom. 

So, to do well you need to be (or become) an independent learner. There are, of, course, advantages to this as well. The fact that online education offers the opportunity to be an independent learner is exactly what some people like about it.  Many students enjoy online discussions more than face-to-face ones.  Some students are intimidated by speaking in front of a group, or are reluctant to answer a question unless they know they are right.  Online discussions give them time to reflect and compose discussion comments, as well as to read and reread the comments of others before they jump in the conversation themselves. Students for whom English is a second language, for example, often feel more comfortable with the extra time to understand and reflect since it can be easy to get a little lost in a fast-paced class discussion.

However, if you need more immediate feedback to your discussion comments, if you need to ask a lot of questions before you can understand a concept or an assignment, if you need the benefit of gestures or facial expressions to get your point across or to understand the comments of others, then online education might not be the best choice for you right now.  You may need to take some basic skills classes in a traditional classroom environment to prepare yourself first.

Bright Idea
! Visit your instructor in person if possible. Some
instructors hold office hours on campus. If so, drop in and introduce
yourself, or go to see your instructor for help on difficult assignments.

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Helpful Links

At this point, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by all this information. Never fear, ample help is available to you. This section will provide you with links to several resources to help you develop whatever skills you need to improve upon before you enroll in an online class, as well as resources to help you meet the technical requirements of the ETUDES course management system.

Computer Skills:

Here is a Microsoft Word 2000 Tutorial From Florida Gulf Coast University:
Microsoft Word 2000 Tutorial

Here is a tutorial demonstrating how to send email attachments:
Sending Email Attachments

The following are excellent Internet Tutorials from Learn the Net:
Internet Basics
How to Download files and programs
Using Search Engines and Data Bases to Find Information

Surf the Web

Technical ETUDES Help:

Set your browser cache (Mac)
Set your browser cache (PC)

Configure your browser cookies, configure JavaScript, and turn off pop-up blockers

Academic Links:

LAVC Writing Center

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Keys to Success

  • Learn to manage your time effectively – Use time, don’t waste it!
  • Be an active learner -- take the initiative to ask questions and
    solve problems, rather than waiting passively to be told what to
  • Get involved in online discussions -- Read all the posts of your
    classmates and reply with questions or comments of your own
    when it is appropriate.
  •  Follow through on you commitments instead of giving up.
  • Take responsibility for your decisions instead of blaming others
    or events “beyond your control.”

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