Getting the Most out of Courses Online

Today, the internet touches just about any subject — some more popular than others. If you’re itching to learn something new but can’t commit to an on-campus curriculum, online classes may carry some appeal.

Taking courses online allows you to learn at your own pace and fit sessions into your busy schedule. But it’s a different type of learning relative to classroom-based education, and you may need to adjust how you approach the subject to get the most from the experience. Here are some tips:

Find a Course to Match Your Learning Style

The expanse of online classes available grows every day, as many colleges add new options to existing catalogs each semester. Find opportunities in language fluency, prep for a new career or even indulge in a passion you’d like to monetize later on. But, don’t set yourself up for failure before you enroll. Seek out classes that best fit your learning style.

Are you a visual learner? Video- or lecture-based courses might work best for you. If you prefer team projects and bouncing ideas off others, look for classes wherein you connect with other students on the regular — think Skype, Google Hangouts and similar group chats. If you or your child needs extra practice in a traditional or core requirement, classes like those offered by Khan Academy provide an alternative way of preparing for standardized tests like the SAT.

Kick It Self-Paced

Online classes require motivation to complete, so set a schedule and stick to it. The benefit of many online curricula is that you don’t need to follow a traditional schedule. These are called self-paced courses. Squeeze in the time before or after work, on the weekends or during a midnight snack. If you want to learn, but preset deadlines stress you out, consider this system.

Duolingo, for example, combines speaking, writing and listening to get you on your way to sounding like a local. Ever wanted to learn Hungarian? Now’s your chance. The website/app keeps track of how many days in a row you’ve completed a lesson. If you miss a day, there’s no pressure, but the tracking can motivate you to soldier on.

Just keep in mind that this type of deal can exploit the procrastinator in you. No instructors means you set your own pace, and exceeding the maximum time to finish assignments can literally cost you.

Designate a Study Area

Interactive and visual courses may spring media on you as projects unfold, and it would stink to be in a loud or crowded place with no headphones. So, set up a work area in your home dedicated to your studies. Find a spot to store your material, and ensure that your computer is updated with a reliable internet connection to ensure you don’t lose your work midway through an assignment. Decide how much distraction will interfere with your work and pick your location accordingly. Can you work on the main floor of your home while your kids play nearby? Or do you need to lock yourself in a room with your computer?

Be Social

Even though you’re taking the class from the comfort of your own home, don’t be afraid to interact with instructors and other students, when the opportunity arises. According to eLearn magazine, connecting with classmates and creating a sense of community helps students properly engage in online courses. By spending time to talk to others and ask questions of your instructors, you’ll get more out of the class than if you were to simply digest the presentation and work through the reading assignment on your own.

Track Your Achievements

Each completed course represents acquired knowledge that can help you in the future. Maintain a record of each class you’ve taken and the result of that class. Don’t forget to update your resume or LinkedIn profile with your new skills, especially if you’re actively engaged in a job search. Completing an online course demonstrates dedication and commitment to gaining expertise in a particular field.

Internet learning offers many benefits, not the least of which are ease of access and low (or free) costs to enroll. If you’d like to expand your knowledge in a particular area, an online search can quickly point you toward some of the best learning sources currently online.

The most popular free courses for professionals, according to Business Insider, include Introduction to Financial Accounting, offered by UPenn; and Programming for Everybody, offered by the University of Michigan. Many universities, even top-ranked programs at Harvard and Duke, provide courses online to enrich your knowledge in a wide range of academic subjects.

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