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Five Traits Every Successful Online Learner Possesses

By Therealsupermum @TheRealSupermum

spend save sign 300x300 300x300 Five traits every successful online learner possesses

Distance learning or online coursework is becoming more of a force in today’s educational landscape.  More universities and colleges are offering courses and even whole degree programs online.  Online courses allow for greater flexibility and more choice in what courses one takes and from the institution that is hosting the course.  While most people think the idea of taking classes online would be the easiest way to take classes, there are some very specific attributes a student needs to have in order to be successful in an online setting.

  1. Online learners must have superior time management skills.  The number one reason many people feel that online courses are superior to face-to-face classes is flexibility, mostly in regard to time.  Students can access the class at any time, not just during the specific meeting time.  This flexibility of time makes it possible for students to work full-time, take care of their family, and attend college.  However, with the convenience of a flexible time schedule, there are also a number of responsibilities which fall into the arena of time management.  Most online courses do not, as many people believe, have flexibility in due dates and assignments – only in the timing of logging on to the class website.  Students are given a syllabus at the beginning of the course that can be referenced online with assignments and due dates.  Without strong time management skills, students may find themselves scrambling at the end of the term to get assignments completed that they should have been working on throughout the term.  Online learning requires a significant amount of self-discipline if a learner expects to be successful.
  1. Online learners must be able to problem solve independently.  Due to the nature of online learning, students have to be able to solve problems, find resources to extend their learning or answer questions, and navigate the course material by themselves.  The virtual classroom isn’t one of consistent interaction, as in a face-to-face setting.  It may take several hours to several days to receive an answer to a question.  Students also do not have as much support available from their classmates as in a traditional class.  While there are still opportunities for interaction in the virtual setting, the learner is required to rely on themselves for a majority of the time.  Students who need a great deal of support and personal interaction with teachers and peers will find the online classroom to be a daunting place.  Some students will feel ‘cast adrift’ because they lack the skills or practice in independent problem solving.  Experienced online teachers will support their students as much as they can; however, much of the responsibility for finding immediate solutions to questions and concerns will fall to the student.
  1. Online learners must have the ability to function in a virtual environment.  Learning online is very different than being in a classroom setting.  It is a major paradigm shift for most people as we, as learners, have gotten used to being in a classroom and depending on that face-to-face interaction for feedback on learning.  In a virtual environment, there is limited face-to-face contact so the learner has to adapt their expectations to fit this shift in methodology.  Online learners become adept at conversations over an extended period, such as in a bulletin board setting.  Writing becomes the main method of communication so students either must be strong writers to start with or be able to become a strong writer in a short period of time.  Students must also understand that situations can change quickly in the virtual world so they need to be willing and able to keep up with the day-to-day contacts and changes in their virtual class setting.  While some institutions offer courses by video link, these courses do not have the flexibility of a course that does not have the video element.  Finally, students need the ability to communicate clearly as there can be misunderstandings and confusion that stem from unclear or misinterpreted communication.   Online learners must remember that the same rules used in communicating face to face, such as politeness and consideration for different opinions, still apply in a virtual community.
  1. Online learners must be able to be in control of their own learning.  While the scope and structure of the course are directed by the instructor and the institution, it is the responsibility of the learner to be in charge of their own learning.  In the online classroom environment, even more so than in a traditional classroom setting, the learner will get out of the class what they put into it.  In the online environment, it is much easier to disengage with the coursework and run the very real risk of just going through the motions and getting only a surface understanding of the course material.  Additionally, students need to be able to monitor their learning, comprehension, and progress more closely in an online course.  It is essential for those participating in an online course to be aware of all facets of their educational experience, from the day-to-day assignments to managing one’s degree requirements.  Issues with grading and other concerns must be handled in a timely manner as the greater the amount of time between the occurrence of the issue and the addressing of that issue, the greater the chance of the problem will not be solved efficiently or effectively.
  1. Online learners must have strong skills in technology use and management.  While it may seem obvious that online classes require strong skills in technology, many learners feel a bit overwhelmed when they begin virtual learning.  The software that is being used to deliver the course can make a difference as some systems have a steeper learning curve than others.  However, all systems will require students to learn to navigate it and use the features that will affect their performance.  The technology used in online learning is created in such a way that it benefits both the instructor and the learner.  For example, most systems will time stamp items that are deposited in the drop box.  This benefits the instructor in that they will immediately know if an assignment was submitted by the due date.  The student benefits from this feature in that there is a time trail on their assignments which not only proves when it was submitted but also creates a record of intellectual property in case of questions regarding academic honesty.  Technology is constantly changing; therefore, online leaners must be able to adapt and work with these changes.

Online coursework offers learners the ability to pursue a degree in an environment that is convenient for learners who are not able, due to time or locational restraints, to attend courses in a face-to-face model.  Yet for all the benefits afforded learners from an online course, the learner must bring to the table certain characteristics and skills in order to be successful.  When the right learner meets the right delivery method, learners can thrive and achieve in that environment.  Online learning is a growing option for many learners.  With the right set of skills, an online learning experience can be rewarding and fulfilling for the student learner, giving them the ability to create a course experience that is individualized and will meet the specific needs of each learner.

Sameer Bhatia  is the founder of, a provider of online learning management system software. .

 Five traits every successful online learner possesses

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