Being A Successful Online Learner – Student Accountability

Student Accountability

The further you progress in higher and continuing education, the more responsibility you will need to take for your own learning. You will begin to define and prioritize what you need to know, how you will learn it, and how you will assess your progress. Outside direction and measures of your learning will continue to be a part of your education, but these will serve more to guide and direct you in your exploration of knowledge. Understand Expectations

In order to meet and exceed course requirements and instructor expectations, you’ll need a clear understanding of exactly what those requirements and expectations are. Instructors will provide a syllabus which acts as a contract between you as the learner and the instructor, outlining what will be taught, what you will need to do to show your understanding of the content, and how you will be assessed. Read through this syllabus early and carefully. Also look for a grade book which will also show the major assessments you’ll have to complete to show your proficiency. Individual assignments may have their own instructions which give more clarification. Do your best to develop a sense of the “big picture” of the course - what will be due, and when. Then concentrate on the individual pieces, continuing to pay the same attention to individual assignments throughout the class.

Proactively Seek Clarification

If something about the course or the material is not clear, don’t wait for your instructor to make it clear. Especially in an online environment, instructors have fewer cues to alert them to your confusion. They cannot see your puzzled expression or hear you ask, “What?” When you are not absolutely sure about an aspect of the course, ask your instructor. Use very specific questions, seeking exactly what something means, what you will be expected to produce, etc. If an instructor does not hear from students, he/she may well conclude that students are grasping the material and do not need further assistance. If something is unclear to you, it may very well be unclear to the rest of the students in the class. Your questions may help others in the learning process as well. So ask, early and as often as necessary.

Become an Active Learner

In a traditional classroom, you may have sat through lectures or presentations, taking some notes and waiting to understand what the instructor thinks about the subject. This passive receiving of information does not work well in an online environment. The subject matter will likely be presented to you in many different media, include text, still images and visuals, audio, video, and live or off-line conversations that use text or audio. You will need to become more actively involved with these materials, pulling them together in a way that makes sense to you.

To be successful in this environment, actively seek ways you can best understand the course material. Read, listen to, and watch the course materials more than once. Take notes as you do so. Participate with your instructor and your class. Become involved in discussing and defining course topics. By creating your own definitions and models to represent the topic, or working with others to create shared definitions and models, you take ownership in the final product which can help you in understanding and internalizing the subject. Do not simply accept and memorize. Question everything, particularly if it doesn’t make sense or seem to fit with what you already know. Critically evaluate the information you receive. Everyone stands to benefit from your active learning, including the instructor and your peers as well as you.

Develop Self-Discipline

This need may seem fairly obvious, but without self-discipline, you cannot be a successful online learner. In residential classes, you have an instructor and peers with whom you interact on a regular basis. You also typically meet at a certain time and place each week. This interaction and schedule help to keep you on task in your coursework. In an online learning environment, especially if you do not meet at specific times, it’s much easier to put off assignments, discussion, and responsibilities. In this context, self-discipline means motivating yourself to pay regular and consistent attention to the work that needs to be done, and doing it without delay or procrastination. Even more than in a residential course, falling behind in an online class can jeopardize your likelihood of completing the course and earning the credit.

Set Goals

Goals keep you on target. If you don’t set goals for learning, then you may not know if you’ve achieved something worthwhile. Make sure you have personal goals in mind, both longer-term goals for your program of study and desired degrees or skills, as well as short-term goals for individual courses and assignments. If you have these goals in mind, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what you need to do to meet these goals, and thus have deeper motivation to improve your work.

Ask for What You Need

Beyond asking questions of the instructor to clarify course material and expectations, become an advocate for yourself with the institution offering the program. Many additional services may be available to you as an online learner, for example academic support services or technological assistance.

Try to find out what these entail. If you think of a service that would be helpful to you as a student, and your school does not offer that service, ask whether that service can be created or if special assistance can be provided. If your instructor cannot provide this service or assistance directly, ask him/her to recommend another contact or resource.