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Avoid These Common Mistakes in Online Learning


If you’re taking a course online, you’re not alone. According to a Sloan-C survey report titled Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, in 2008 nearly 3.9 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2007 term.

How can you successfully finish your courses and continue to earn your degree?

“There are common mistakes many students make – whether they study online or attend traditional ‘brick and mortar’ universities,” says Dr. Frank McCluskey. “Unfortunately, these mistakes can stand in the way of career advancement.”

McCluskey is provost of American Public University System (APUS), which serves more than 30,000 online learners worldwide. American Military University (AMU) and American Public University (APU) are part of the University System.

Here are Dr. McCluskey’s tips for successful online learning:

1. Manage time effectively

It is critical that you effectively manage work, family and school responsibilities – week in and week out. If you are concerned about time pressures, don’t be too ambitious in the beginning with your course load.

One of our students began pursuing his degree in criminal justice, despite a demanding schedule. He had just returned from Iraq. He was working full-time for the National Guard Bureau and part-time for his local police department. And he was helping raise four children. But, he decided, he couldn’t put off his education any longer and “was never going to be any less busy.” So, he began with just two courses.

2.  Make time for family

A supportive family is key to earning a degree as an adult learner. It’s up to you, though, to encourage such an environment by remaining involved with your family.

One business administration student at APUS attends class while stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Portugal. He spends 30 minutes each Sunday evening planning his week’s work. He reserves the rest of the day for his wife and three children. During the week, he studies in the evening – after he’s helped his kids with their homework.

His family understands that he is trying to “better our life situation.” In turn, they respect his privacy when it’s time to buckle down and get schoolwork done.

3. Create a good study environment

Like any higher education offering, online schools require a tremendous amount of reading and “thinking” time. A single course may require up to 10 hours of reading each week, in addition to research and assignments.

Find or create a quiet space that minimizes distractions and lets you stay focused. Some service members continue studying while deployed in Iraq. If they can carve out a good learning space, so can you.

4. Make the most of your university community

Online learning doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t be – solitary.

  • Look for ways to be part of a community.
  • Take advantage of student services.
  • Readily participate in newsgroups or chatrooms.
  • Seek out professors that can be mentors, even after you leave school. For example, one student earned his master’s degree in security management and now works for a private security firm. He turns to a former professor for input regarding difficult workplace issues. Another student regularly uses AMU’s online research center – and calls on its librarian for tough research assignments. It has paid off. A paper he wrote as part of his master’s program was recently published in a history magazine.

5. Value the journey

Keep in mind that each course – each assignment – brings you closer to earning your degree. Certain courses may even benefit you immediately. For example, AMU students who complete the global terrorism course receive a United Nations certificate in peacekeeping.

It’s not only about earning your degree. It’s about lifelong learning. Ongoing education can help you make a difference in your family life, hometown, community, country — and even the world.

By Online Learning Tips Staff