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6 Suggestions for Online Education Success

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Online degree programs are gaining momentum in the higher education arena. Flexible scheduling and affordability are typically the factors that attract students to a Web-based education. With significant numbers of colleges and universities offering online programs, how do you choose the best place to earn a degree?

In September, the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), an institutional and professional leadership organization dedicated to integrating online education into the mainstream of higher education, announced the winners of its 2010 Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning Awards. With more than 200 institutional and 700 individual members to choose from, Sloan-C set out to name institutions and individual educators devoted to improving the quality, scale, and breadth of online education.

Winners were recognized for offering online programs that match the quality of on-campus offerings, featuring instruction by tenure-track professors rather than adjuncts, providing training in online instruction for traditional faculty, and requiring online teacher certification. Sloan-C also considered cost effectiveness and student satisfaction in determining winners.

Even with the help of organizations, such as Sloan-C, choosing and completing a quality online degree program can be tricky. Following are six tips to help you be successful in an online degree program:

1. Create a Time and Place to Study

Before registering for a class, it is important to research its expectations in terms of required assignments. Many students attending online schools are also balancing the demands of a full-time job and/or family. Although you may not be confined to a classroom, online degree programs place demands on your time and attention. Budgeting enough time each day to study in a quiet place where you can concentrate uninterrupted is essential to success.

2. Research the Technological Requirements of Online Degree Programs

Online degree programs rely on the Internet to communicate with students. If you have an out-of-date computer or slow Internet connection, you may encounter challenges when completing assignments or submitting required work. Understanding the technology needed to successfully complete coursework is essential. If you do not have the necessary technology, research availability at your local library--just make sure the hours work with your schedule.

3. Learn About Online Schools Before Signing Your Tuition Check

Many students register for classes at online schools that do not meet accreditation standards only to discover that prospective employers will not recognize their degree. When considering pursuing an online education, confirm a college's accreditation status.

4. Be Honest with Yourself

We may not like to admit it, but most of us are very aware of our own strengths and weaknesses. This is true when it comes to learning, as well. If you reflect back on a time when you were enrolled in classroom learning, and think honestly about the reasons you struggled or succeeded, you can gain a lot of insight into your learning style.

Do you absorb more information by listening or do you retain concepts better after reading them? Do you feel more comfortable with the support of classmates or do you excel when left to work and study independently? Asking yourself these questions can help you determine if online education is the best choice for you.

5. Don't Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today

One of the attractions of online education is the flexibility it offers. Unlike campus-based programs, online schools are accessible at times that are convenient for you--you are not confined to a schedule that dictates the days and times you are assigned to report to a classroom. If you are a person who has a tendency to procrastinate, this freedom can quickly turn to disaster if you do not discipline yourself and practice effective time management techniques.

6. Make Your Work Your Own

When attending a campus-based program, you are required to have face-to-face interaction with fellow students and your professors. The perceived anonymity of online education sometimes gives students the impression of being distanced from their teachers and therefore may make them feel more comfortable with the concept of plagiarizing or cheating when completing assignments.

While it is certainly true that the Internet provides us with access to a surplus of information, it is essential to attribute credit to every source when researching online. Copying and pasting is not an option. The majority of professors who teach online degree programs have access to computer software that effectively identifies plagiarized work. Once caught, you can face an automatic failure and even expulsion from the school.

Online education is a wonderful option for many students. If taken seriously and given the appropriate amount of time and attention, online degree programs can lead to a future filled with possibilities.