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Priming Yourself For Online Education


Online education, done right, is no easier than education provided in a brick building on a green quad amidst a sprawling campus. Higher education is a challenge anywhere and online education comes with challenges specific to its form. Being serious about online education is more than just evaluating schools, it's about evaluating yourself.

How's Your Personality?

Terrific, surely. Phenomenal, in fact. A class act, you. Still, online learning, or the interchangeable term, distance learning, requires a certain skill set. For some, these skills come naturally. For others, they are skills to be acquired, developed, honed.

  • Self-Motivation: In the classroom, teachers are able to give schoolwork shape, support, and an injection of spirit. In online education, teachers are at a remove. Students need to gear themselves up, sit themselves down, push through resistance, maintain focus, and endure the long intellectual haul on their own.

    - Successful online students are motivated, proactive, energetic, determined, and always at the ready.

    - If you know yourself to be short on self-motivation, look for courses that provide structure and direction: hybrid courses, synchronous courses, instructor-directed courses.

  • Self- Discipline: Online courses rely heavily on independent study. Students need to manage their time, prioritize tasks, impose deadlines, and stave off procrastination.

    - Successful online students are disciplined, organized, focused, and generally able to create and stick to set schedules.

    - If you know yourself to be disorganized, scattered, chronically behind task, or inclined to make excuses, look at online education as a way to teach yourself new habits. Look for the aforementioned hybrid courses, synchronous courses, and instructor-directed courses to provide good models of structure, balance, and regimen.

  • Self-Reliance: Distance learning is true to its name. There is a physical distance. Genuine human contact is minimal. Despite virtual contact with instructors or fellow students, students spend much of their online education without the company of others, and this can take both an intellectual and psychological toll.

    - Successful online students are independent, self-sufficient, and suited to isolation.

    - If you know you work best in group settings or social atmospheres, look for courses that facilitate class interaction, group work, and real-time connections. Also, look into student-created study and extracurricular groups to help foster a sense of involvement and connection.

  • How Do You Learn?

    Any prospective online student needs to be sure that they are technologically compatible with program requirements and inevitable upgrades. Students also want to avoid major technology issues in the middle of a course. If you are just getting by on an old operating system or a basic software platform, you will likely need to upgrade.

    • Inquire into both school requirements and course requirements. Requirements are typically listed online but you may need to inquire within. Be sure to have exact specifications. Also, be aware that courses may add on special software or accessories (e.g. web cams, microphones) beyond the standard hardware requirements of the general program.
    • Secure a reliable high-speed internet connection. Dial-up modems will slow your pace and result mostly in frustration, particularly if courses involve large files or multimedia files. Hours spent waiting for a file to download are hours wasted.
    • Have a reliable anti-virus program installed on your personal computer. You're going to be accessing public networks, unknown files, and downloading software and add-ons; all of these new programs should be properly scanned.
    • Clean up your computer. Organize documents, clean the desktop, purge unnecessary files.
    • Work on your keyboarding skills. If you are typing with two fingers, it may be time to learn how to type.
    • "Is Online Education Right For You?" (
    • Online Education for Dummies, Kevin Johnson & Susan Manning, EdD, Wiley Publishing Inc, 2010
    • "Overview of Learning Styles" (

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    Disclosure: Not all programs are accelerated, available in all locations, or in both online and on-campus formats. Financial aid including grants, scholarships and loans may be available to those who qualify. Program lengths and outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guaranteed. CompareTopSchools is a consumer information site that offers free, independent ratings and recommendations of colleges and universities. While we receive advertising revenue from most of the schools we rate and recommend, our editors thoroughly research each school and offer their honest opinions when rating each one. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own, including, without limitation, our designation of a particular institution as being a "top" or "best" school, college or university.