Personal Preparation

Are you ready to learn online? Distance learning is very different from learning in a traditional classroom setting, often requiring special learning skills. Learning online means that you must be independent and self-motivated because there are no structured meeting times. Procrastination is the distance learner's worst enemy! Additionally, technology plays a major role in distance learning. If you are not comfortable with your technical skills, you may find online learning even more challenging.

Who is learning online?

Many online students are primarily working people who are trying to better their opportunities. This is changing however, as more and more young people become aware of the online model. The traditional campus will never go away, but virtual classrooms are becoming significant players in today’s educational community. Corporations are also using the online model to train and develop their professionals. The opportunities for online students are expanding rapidly. Results from recent studies indicate that many online students have the following characteristics. Do you?

  • Three-quarters are working full or part-time
  • Three-quarters are working towards a degree
  • Two-thirds are female
  • More than half are married with dependents
  • Half are 35 years old or older
  • Twenty percent are new students
What are online courses like?

Online courses can vary in their approach to the teaching and learning process, but often have certain characteristics in common. Generally, students use a computer to connect to the World Wide Web and access course materials that are housed inside a Learning Management System (LMS) web site. Standard classroom textbooks and printed materials are typically used in combination with online lectures, assignments, and supplementary course materials. Some courses have formal lectures, similar in length and content to lectures given in face-to-face classes. Online lectures may be entirely text-based or consist of some combination of text, graphics, sound and video. Other courses break the content up into smaller units or abandon the lecture entirely, instead relying on group discussion and others types of learning activities.

You will communicate with your instructor and other students through the LMS primarily via e-mail and electronic file submissions. The online course is designed so that you receive course assignments, complete them on your own time, and then return them as electronic documents. Your instructor will evaluate them and provide feedback. Many courses will also use a threaded discussion forum and chat rooms in which you can share information, collaborate, and interact with other members of your class.

Depending on the course design, you may take your tests or exams online or go to a testing room on campus or at a local community college. You may also write papers, complete projects, take part in simulations and solve problems as alternate forms of assessment. Additionally, some courses and programs may require predetermined trips to campus, which you should plan for before registering. 

You should expect to spend as much time for study, or perhaps more, as a classroom course since you are managing your own learning using the online information and materials. This requires that you be self-disciplined, motivated, and have some skills using a networked computer and a web browser. The content and rigor of the online courses offered by the University of West Florida is generally equivalent to the on-campus version of the same course.

How is online learning different?

In general, you will have more freedom and more responsibility for your own instruction. Your instructor becomes more of a "guide on the side" than a "sage on the stage." Fortunately, the multimedia approach to the instructional content employed online often addresses a wider range of student learning styles than do most forms of traditional classroom instruction. Studies indicate this encourages students like you to become more active participants in the learning process and you are likely to perform better and remember more.

The following are few characteristics of the online learning experience or bits of advice on how you can succeed in distance education courses:

  1. Studies have shown that there is no significant difference in the learning outcomes experienced by students in a traditional classroom versus those in the online learning environment.
  2. Online learning allows you to take advantage of the opportunities to interact with your instructor or with other facilitators or mentors, through occasional face-to-face contact, e-mail, telephone, discussions, live chat sessions or whatever means available.
  3. Don't be intimidated by the technology. The goal is the same as in traditional face-to-face instruction: to convey knowledge and/or skills, to help you understand or become proficient in a subject, and to evaluate your grasp of the material.
  4. Use the Internet and the Web as a resource for follow-up materials. The libraries, universities, and all the amassed wisdom of the world are literally at your fingertips.
e-Learning at UWF

We recommend that you familiarize yourself with our "eLearning" online course management system. To assist you in this, we have developed a demo and eLearning Help for Students. The demo is a "walk-through" of the eLearning interface and shows the location of common course features. eLearning Help is an on-demand database of instructions on how to effectively use the eLearning online course management system at UWF. You may want to bookmark "eLearning Help" for future use.

Technical skills for online learning

These online tutorials will help strengthen your technical skills.

  1. Internet 101
    Created for those who want to know just the basics. This guide will provide you with enough knowledge to have fun on the Internet, yet will not bore you with too many details.
  2. Online Dictionary for Computer and Internet Terms
    Webopedia
  3. Core Rules of Netiquette
    Guidelines for proper behavior online
  4. Mindflash
    Technical skills for online learning
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