Online learning isn't the best option for everyone. Your learning style, comfort with technology, and motivation for taking courses all affect your online learning experience.
To help you determine if online learning is right for you, please consider the following two sets of questions:
- Do you feel comfortable using computers? You will need to work independently when taking online courses, including working on the technology required for your course on your own.
- Do you have access to a computer at home, with a regular connection to the internet? Many of your assignments will be online, requiring a steady connection to the internet. It would be nearly impossible to take an online course without a computer and the internet at home.
- Does your home computer have basic software such as a word processor (i.e. Microsoft Word), a PDF reader (i.e., Adobe Reader), and a media player (iTunes, Windows Media, RealPlayer, Quicktime) installed on it? You will need all of the software listed above, and possibly more, for your online course. To find out if you need additional software for the course, contact the instructor.
- Do you feel comfortable using common software programs like word processors, internet browsers, and e-mail programs? These are the most common types of software needed in online courses. If you are not comfortable with the software, consider taking a noncredit course that will introduce you this software before signing up for an online class.
- Do you feel comfortable communicating with others via tools such as e-mail, chat, wikis, blogs, and online discussions? When you take an online course, you will need to write often, in e-mails, chat, wikis, blogs, and discussion forums, in order to communicate your ideas and questions about the course work.
- Are you proficient at creating and editing basic electronic documents? Students will create, write, and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. They will also be asked to upload, modify, download, and attach files.
- Do you feel comfortable navigating the web? You may be asked to do online research and should be able to assess the reliability of resources found online.
If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, you have the technical skills to take an online course. Next, take a look at the second set of questions below about personal learning styles.
If you answered "no" to just a few questions, you may find ways to improve your comfort level with technology in the Student Resources.
Personal Motivation and Time Management
- Are you self-motivated? Online learners do not have a set class time to help them stay focused and disciplined. You will need to be motivated enough on your own to sit down and do the school work needed to learn new material and complete assignments.
- Can you communicate well through writing? In an online environment, almost all of your communication with other students and your instructor is through writing. Writing clearly and communicating your ideas effectively is essential.
- Do you have effective time-management and planning skills? Most students today are juggling work and school, and many have families as well. You will have to manage your day-to-day schedule and also plan ahead to reserve time for school projects or times your family responsibilities are higher (out-of-school time for your children, for example).
- Can you stay actively involved throughout the entire course? Online courses require regular, active involvement in order to stay on top of the fast moving discussions and to master the content over time. You cannot study for a few hours once a week and expect to do well in a three-credit course.
- Are you willing to speak up? Your instructor can’t see the confusion on your face. If you are having trouble understanding key concepts or parts of an assignment, you will need to ask your classmates or instructor. If you wait for things to become clear, you could easily fall behind.
If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, you're ready to pursue your education online!
Want to learn more?
It is also helpful to understand how you approach time management so you can understand the areas of strength in your approach and the areas where you could improve. Portland State University has a useful self-assessment for time-management skills (scroll to the middle of the page).
Penn State has also developed a Learning Style Inventory to explore your study methods and way of learning.