Learning Commons

Tips for Online Courses

Online courses can offer students welcomed flexibility and tremendous opportunities to learn in a technology-enhanced environment. However, expectations of what an online course will actually be like often do not match the reality. To be successful, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Assess your motivation:  Before you even enroll in an online course, recognize that there typically is no “class meeting”, and you need to motivate yourself to stay on track. Are you a self-directed student? When faced with a challenge, are you typically able to overcome it? Are you willing to ask for help if you get stuck?

  2. Review the course ahead of time: Much like with face-to-face courses, every online course is different. Make sure you understand the way it is structured, and what the expectations of your instructor will be. This includes due dates for assignments, how and when you will participate, and the software programs you will be using. All of this should be clearly indicated in your course syllabus and in course Learning Management System (such as Blackboard).

  3. Practice with the technology: As soon as the online course is made available by your instructor, get familiar with the Learning Management System. This includes how to navigate and find course materials, how to upload an assignment, and how to participate in an online discussion. If your instructor will be using other platforms like VoiceThread and Adobe Connect for class interactions, log in ahead of time and learn how to use the platform tools. Consider meeting with a Technology Assistant at The Learning Commons to help you orient to these programs. If your computer is having difficulty running the software, contact the USM Help Desk for assistance: (207)780-4029.

  4. Schedule time on task throughout the week:  Online courses often take MORE time, not less time, than face-to-face courses. This includes time for reading, reviewing courses materials, participating in discussions, and completing assignments. It can be easy to fall behind when you are not physically going to a class room. From a time management standpoint, you will need to block off at least 8-10 hours a week for a 15-week course. Choose the WHERE as well as the when, ideally a place where there is reliable internet connection and technology support if you need it.  

  5. Connect with your instructor:  Introduce yourself via email, or schedule to meet with your instructor during her or his office hours (listed on the course syllabus). Many instructors can meet with you via phone, Skype, or Google Hangout if you are not able to come to campus during office hours. Use the initial meeting to discuss your interest in the course, and ask any questions you may have. Consider interacting regularly with your instructor to discuss course concepts and receive feedback on your work. 

  6. Participate actively in the course:  Many online instructors use a discussion forum with guidelines for at least a minimum amount of posts for each student. Go well beyond the minimum! Interacting with your instructor and others students provides opportunity for active learning. Consider forming study groups with your peers. If near campus, you can reserve a group study room at The Learning Commons. Another option is scheduling Google Hangouts with your maine.edu Google account, allowing up to 15 people to be connected via audio and video.