Issues to Consider Before Taking Online Courses
Lurleen B. Wallace Community College offers a wide variety of online courses. These courses are popular choices for students because of the flexibility and convenience they provide. However, before enrolling in any online course, students should consider 10 issues that could affect their success.
Ease of Use
LBWCC uses Canvas as its platform for online courses. Some courses also make use of video-streaming technology. The ease of using these courses depends greatly on how up-to-date students’ computers are and how well students know how to use the computers. Students can succeed in online courses if they have limited knowledge of computer use and if they have dial-up Internet connection; however, they must show patience and endurance as they will have to spend a good deal of time getting their system to work properly. Even if students have new computers yet do not know how to use them, they can expect some technical difficulty. LBWCC uses Canvas for hosting all distance education courses; however, access problems do arise occasionally. When problems arise, the LBWCC Information Technology department informs instructors, who have traditionally altered their deadlines to compensate for any down time.
LBWCC requires online instructors to interact with online students at least five days per week either through e-mail, assignments and tests, chat, discussion boards, or other methods they choose. Students who want or need immediate feedback are often frustrated with online courses. Students who are self-directed and do not need a lot of personal interaction with the instructor have more success with online courses. Some students need or prefer face-to-face instruction.
Students sometimes take online courses, thinking they will have to spend less time with the course than they would in on-campus classes. The opposite is true. Online courses require more time (sometimes significantly more time) than on-campus courses. The vast majority of students who struggle in online classes do so because they are unable to spend as much time online as they need.
There are students who succeed in online courses without owning a personal computer; however, complications habitually arise when a lab is closed or a friend is out of town on test day. The majority of students who succeed own fairly updated computers and know how to use them.
The LBWCC Information Technology department is available to assist students and faculty members with technical issues concerning Canvas and streaming video.
Basic Computer Skills
Students who know how to make adjustments to their Windows and Internet browser settings and who are generally comfortable with using computers have the best success rate. Microsoft Word is the accepted word processing program for LBWCC. Familiarity with Word and other Microsoft Office products helps insure student success.
Self-Discipline and Motivation
Online courses require a great deal of independent learning and personal responsibility. Students who do not succeed tend to get behind and miss deadlines. When students allow assignments to stack up, their task becomes overwhelming. The most successful students are those who keep a daily check on their courses and have the self-discipline to complete all assignments in a timely manner.
Clearly Stated Requirements
The most successful online students are those who have discovered what will be required of them prior to registering for online classes. Potential online students can go to the LBWCC Distance Education web page to learn what will be expected of them and their computer equipment. Links such as “Canvas information” and “Do I Have What It Takes?” guide students through information they need to consider before becoming online students.
Convenience and Flexibility
The No. 1 reason students give for taking online courses is convenience. Students with busy lives need the flexibility that online courses provide; however, LBWCC’s online courses are not self-paced. They require that students follow a timeline as they progress through each course. One goal of distance education course designers is to create courses that closely match their on-campus counterparts. Students must be mindful that there will be regular assignments and deadlines with online courses.
Online courses depend on students being willing and able to read texts. Assignments, tests, e-mails, discussion boards, and chat rooms require students to read. There is a direct correlation between students’ reading comprehension and success in online courses. Students who score less than 70 on the reading portion of the COMPASS exam should consider that they will have to spend more time and effort than usual in order to comprehend material and succeed in online courses. There are other factors beyond these top ten that affect student success. Learning styles and preferences, misperception of course difficulty level, lack of personal contact, prior knowledge, course design, and other factors affect success and should be considered, but students who review these top ten factors before they decide whether or not online learning is for them will save themselves some headaches and heartaches by knowing what is needed for online student success.