10 Mistakes Commonly Made by Online Students and How you can Avoid Them
Miscellaneous differences between traditional classroom-based learning and computer-oriented distance learning often lead to first-time online students making mistakes that result in problems which hamper their goal of earning a degree. One of the most common misconceptions students have about taking online classes revolves around the belief that distance learning is much easier than attending a “brick and mortar” university.
Since most online courses are “asynchronous”, students can log in and access class material and assignments when it is convenient for them instead of being expected to physically be in a classroom at a certain time on certain days. The attractiveness of the flexibility associated with online school has led to the popular assumption that earning a degree online is not as difficult as earning one at a physical campus. However, many seasoned online students report that because they are not expected to get dressed, drive to campus and be sitting in a classroom at a specified time, the impulse to procrastinate, put off assignments until the last minute or grow slack at studying are compelling and often damaging to accomplishing your educational goals.
Avoid Making These Mistakes to Succeed as an Online Student
1. Learn the art of self-pacing.
Self-pacing is the core component of procrastination, time management, cramming for an exam because you waited until the last minute to study or try to throw together a research paper in two hours. Students encounter difficulties with self-pacing when taking online classes that allow students to submit all assignments during the last few weeks of the course if they desire. Be aware that turning in your assignments on final due dates does not grant you the benefits of receiving valuable feedback, which may be helpful in passing a comprehensive examination.
Pacing yourself when it comes to studying, assignments and contributing to message board discussions means logging in every and spending at least one to three hours online completing what needs to be done. This may be hard during the first semester when you have yet to experience the stress and anxiety involved in making up several assignments, studying for a test and writing an essay all in one night.
Successful self-pacing means establishing a strong work ethic early in your online school career. Self-discipline and staying motivated may not come easy for some people, especially students who work-full time, have families who need their attention or are extremely extroverted and need to socialize frequently. Advice concerning self-pacing and staying on top of your online classes include keeping a student planner to which you can quickly refer if you do not know when something is due, thinking about and setting priorities before classes start and becoming aware of how you utilize your time throughout the day.
2. Knowing your learning style before beginning an online class.
Learning styles differ greatly among students, with some learning better by doing rather than reading instructions or reading about a subject instead of listening to a lecture. While most of us can adjust our primary learning style to adapt to various situations, some students who have attended only traditional classes may find the virtual learning environment uncomfortably foreign to them.
If you find that online distance learning does not seem to suit your learning style, seek help by contacting your instructor, your class advisor and actively participating in message board discussions with other students. Many students find it hard to “interact” with a computer rather than a real human being and need to experience genuine reciprocity with teachers and classmates. Alternately, some students thoroughly enjoy taking virtual classes and avoiding awkward situations that may arise in a traditional classroom setting.
3. Choosing the facility of plagiarism over the work involved in originality
Students who plagiarize may get away with it a few times but eventually, they will get caught by a suspicious instructor who takes the time to copy and paste parts of a student’s essay or research paper into a search engine. Plagiarism often results in a student receiving an “F” for the assignment or even an “F” for the entire course. If a student is in a graduate program and decides to plagiarize, it is quite possible that he or she could be expelled from the program.
If you are thinking about copying and pasting in order to submit a paper on time, don’t. It is better to simply not turn in an assignment than it is to plagiarize. In addition, many instructors understand how time-strapped online students can be and will grant additional time if you have good reason for not having the assignment completed on time.
4. Earning a degree from an unaccredited school.
It is exciting to think about enrolling in a degree program and earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree but make sure to take the time to thoroughly research the online school in which you plan to enroll. Degrees obtained by unaccredited schools are, unfortunately, invalid in the eyes of the U.S. Department of Education and more importantly, meaningless to employers. Further, beware of online schools that are not eligible to receive federal financial aid. This is a definite indication of an online school that is not accredited.
5. Lacking sufficient time to incorporate online classes into your schedule
For people who work more than 40 hours a week and have family responsibilities to attend to after work, enrolling in a full-time degree program may not be practical at this point in their lives. Although you might feel motivated to earn that degree in two or four years, trying to juggle work, family and 12 to 16 credit hours of classes each semester is one of the most common mistakes made by online students that usually leads to stress, burnout and failing to finish the first year of online school. Until you have more time to spare, choose to enroll as a part-time student instead and let yourself adjust to the experience of online learning.
6. Failing to apply for financial aid in a timely manner
The earliest you can apply for a Pell grant is January 1st; the latest is June 30. Applying early means your eligibility will be determined in time for you to begin school in the fall. Most accredited online universities and colleges as well as traditional higher learning institutions award financial aid packages to students sometimes in May or early June. Always apply as early as possible to avoid delays in tuition payments.
7. Not taking advantage of student support services.
When students find themselves experiencing difficulty with any aspect of the online school experience, they often neglect contacting their online schools’ support services that include advisers, tutors for most subjects and counseling services that offer help with budgeting, time management and enhancing life skills. Many problems that cause students to drop out of school could be solved with the assistance of professional support administrators who are trained to help a variety of online school issues.
8. Electing to major in a subject in which you are not truly interested.
Huge mistake! Never pursue a field of study that you find boring or too difficult just because you think a degree in this field will provide you with a high-paying job. Successfully achieving your education goals depends on having a passionate interest and unrelenting motivation towards learning all there is to know about your major. In other words, don’t enroll in a computer science program when you are happiest helping individuals make smart decisions about what they eat. Once you are confident that you would like to advance in the field as a dietician, take in to consideration what it will take to obtain a master’s degree in nutrition and wellness. This will not only make you more qualified but it will give you the support you need in order to pursue your dream career.
9. Underestimating the stability of your financial situation.
Before choosing to work part-time in order to attend online school full time, consider your financial situation by reviewing your monthly budget and expenses. Although you may be eligible for financial aid, this won’t cover much else but tuition, textbooks and maybe a month’s worth of bills after disbursement. Research into students who have had to interrupt their online school career due to financial difficulties shows that in many instances, these students are never able to resume their degree program.
10. Trying to attend online school using inadequate technology.
To be a successful online college student you will definitely need three things:
- A high-speed internet connection
- Basic computer literacy skills
- A desktop or laptop computer capable of running XP, Windows 7 or Vista
If you have not had much experience with a computer, online school advisers recommend taking computer classes at your local vocational school before enrolling in a degree program. Software requirements include Microsoft Office 2003 or later, Adobe Flash, Java, a good anti-virus program and Adobe Photoshop if you are planning on majoring in graphic design or computer animation.