With the benefit of experience on my side, I have recently been thinking a lot about a standard process for planning and getting the most out of an online course. These are things that I myself will be thinking through in a structured way before my next online learning experience. I am not talking about thinking about what course I want to take, or any course selection details, but instead about the things you need to think about right before the course starts. You’ve selected the course, it starts next week (or tomorrow!), and you need to think these things through in order to get the most out of it. Let’s be clear: You can pass the course, you can get “the most out of it”, or both. They are not always the same thing.
Ask Yourself “Why am I taking this course?”
Are you taking the course because you earnestly want to learn the material? If so, are you interested in all of the material, or just some of it? Or are you taking the course because it will help you receive some kind of credential or certification that you think will help you once you have it on your resume? Or is there another reason? First you need to be honest with yourself and identify why you are taking the course.
Set Up a “Plan of Attack”
After understanding why you are taking the course, you need to consider the implications that flow from this in terms of how you will “attack” the course. If you are very interested in all of the material – which would obviously be a good thing – then you will need to figure out how much time you will need to dedicate to the course per week in order to get what you want from it.
A week (or at max. two), into the course, sit down and honestly look at what you have accomplished and what time you have put into the course. I don’t necessarily mean “accomplished” in the sense of completing assignments successfully, but it may instead be in terms of learning what you are hoping to learn. It all depends on you and your reasons for taking the course. Look at the time commitment you have made – when and where are you studying and completing assignments? Is that schedule working for you? If not, what changes do you need to make?
Stay the Course or Make Adjustments
This flows out of your progress review. If things are working well for you, then stay the course. If not, make either major – or hopefully minor – adjustments. These adjustments should be easy to identify if you are clear on the above steps and are coming from a place of having completed them honestly.
Follow a Periodic Review Schedule
Trust me, an online course can finish up before you realize it. One day, you are bright-eyed and ready to absorb all the knowledge that you can, and the next you are overtired, have jettisoned all of your personal course goals, and are just working to “get it over with.” To be honest this is something that has happened to me personally. When it did, the end of the course really wasn’t a cause for celebration like I expected. I had “gotten it over with,” but I was left with more of a feeling of defeat than anything else. Sure, I passed the course…and I did learn some things. But I did not come anywhere close to my personal learning goals that I had before the course. So to me, a month after completing the course, it really did feel like a failure.
Years of online learning have led me to this process, and I truly hope that it is useful to you. Please take advantage of my missteps so that you do not make them yourself, and get whatever it is that you want to get out of your online learning experience, should you ever undertake one. Good luck!