Faculty, students, and administration alike have to face it: online education is transforming higher education and graduate school. In fact, I recently saw an ad recruiting adjunct professors to teach an online family medicine course for a medical school. Believe it or not, online education can play a part even in the training of physicians and attorneys. It has already made its mark in the world of theological seminaries, schools of government, and schools of business. But, the rule for success requires a new approach to learning. Here are nine habits of highly successful graduate students who are studying online.
- Check your learning management system every day. Even if you don’t have work scheduled for a particular day or your class is not meeting in a synchronous course, you need to be vigilant — even obsessive-compulsive — about checking the learning management system platform each day. Check for updates from the professor. Check for the new discussions or comments from your fellow students. It takes only a few moments, maybe while you’re having coffee in the morning, maybe right before lunch or before you go home from work, but a quick touch will pay big dividends in your online learning experience.
- Follow the footnote trail. Professors are looking to see that your research papers or demonstrating that you were actually learning. Merely providing what is ask may not be convincing. What is convincing is looking at the footnotes in your readings, in your textbooks, and then doing a “deep dive” into online databases and other research resources such as Google Scholar. When you make that deep dive you will discover some pearls of wisdom, including the highest source of credibility in the taxonomy of citations, the unsurpassable peer-reviewed journal article.
- Make your comments a mini paper. Instead of responding to fellow students by just saying, “great idea.” Or, “I really agree with that!” Go deeper. Create a few paragraphs that demonstrate critical interaction with your fellow students. If you agree with the comment, pull out one idea and reflect on it. If you disagree, disagree “academically.” By this, I mean you should make your own citations in your arguments. By the way, “arguments” means scholarly positions that are asserted with proper citations.
- Remember to follow your professors mandated style guide. For instance, if you are in social sciences you are no doubt using APA style guide. If you are in humanities, you may be using MLA. If you are in theology and religious studies, history, and several other departments of learning, you’re probably using Chicago or Arabian. Nothing is more frustrating for the professor than to constantly receive papers that don’t have a cover page, don’t use citations, and don’t follow the style guide prescribed in the syllabus. Make it easy on yourself. Get the grade you deserve. Put all of that great content into the format prescribed by the professor.
- Communicate with your professor via the learning management system. To make your online learning a success, don’t hesitate to contact the professor with your questions or even your comments. Interact with the professor. He or she will appreciate the initiative. There’s an old saying that showing up is 90% of success. In online learning, communication with your peers and your professor is often 90% of success.
Everything we’ve covered won’t guarantee you a 4.0 for your course. But it will put you in a strong position to succeed. Online learning is here to stay and is bound to grow in its technological sophistication. Make it work for you with these simple but effective five habits.