By Ren Evans, Lead Writing Specialist

Over 6.3 million students enrolled in at least one online course in 2016, and the number of online courses continues to rise. Today, many careers are online as well. With digital platforms so integral to the modern world, it’s important for us in the LEC to help students become strong online learners.

Building skills in online classes

Online and in-class courses present different situations for learning, but adapting to each of them can help broaden your skill set for any situation.

For instance, online classes are convenient and you can access them from anywhere. They cut down on travel. The flexibility they afford can be great for working people, parents, and anyone with a strict schedule—so long as you practice good time management and prioritization.

Online classes can also be great for students who find public speaking hard. In an online class, discussion occurs in group forums, where you answer questions, respond to prompts, and even respond to other students—all in writing. Not only does this build your writing, reading, and critical thinking skills, but it also encourages self-directed learning, where the learner takes charge of their education.

Forums make online classes dynamic. When everyone is reading and replying to one another’s ideas, the atmosphere is electrifying. Sometimes students end up sharing articles and videos related to the course. As you get comfortable handling Moodle and different types of web pages, you’ll probably find your computer skills getting stronger.

Avoiding distractions while learning online

A drawback to the convenience of the online class can be distractions. I’m not just referring to online distractions, like email, social media, and Netflix. I also mean the people and activity taking place around you, whether you’re at home with family or in the MCNY library.

One strategy for handling distractions is to think about what you would do if you were in a physical classroom. Would you have a phone conversation with a friend while your professor was breaking down an important assignment? Would you post to Facebook while your classmate was engaging you in a conversation about the course topic?

Another way to avoid distractions is to create a work space that feels quiet and comfortable. Find a place away from family and friends. Turn off your phone. Close all the applications on your computer, except for a single web browser with Moodle. Keep a notepad available, whether it’s a blank Microsoft 365 document or a piece of paper.

Planning and preparing from the beginning

If you start an online with a plan to avoid distractions, you may find it easier to focus on the content—which can include dealing with the initial strangeness of taking an online class. Without a physical classroom to go to, a professor to look at, a printed set of papers to hold, it can be hard to keep track of deadlines. Assignments can stack up.

To prevent this from happening, investigate the course’s Moodle shell the moment you register for the class. Read the syllabus to understand the course content and the professor’s requirements. Figure out how often you’ll have to post to weekly forums. Posting to forums can be very important not just for grades but for attendance—professors often mark a student “present” if they logged into the Moodle shell and posted to the weekly forum.

You’ll also want to figure out if there are required texts, and whether they’re provided online, or will need to be obtained from the library. So just click on as many links and buttons as possible. You’ll get comfortable with the shell and the course, which will make you less likely to be surprised by, say, a series of articles you’ll have to read in order to write a mid-term paper.

Click here to read Part 2 of this series, which has tips and strategies for thinking deeply about online reading and communicating with professors and reaching out for support.

A version of this article appears on pages 21-24 of the Fall 2018 issue of Luminaria, under the title “Online On Your Own Time.”