This time of year the majority of school aged children are returning to school after a summer break. Their parents are purchasing uniforms, new backpacks, and much needed school supplies. The kids have to get in the right mind-set of returning to school and get ready for their first day. The same goes for adults when returning to school. Starting an online program can have an extreme learning curve if you are a “first time” online student.

First and foremost one has to have all the technical equipment up and working. There are no excuses such as “my computer froze/crashed” or “I lost my internet connection” unless there is a major storm going on. One must have all the required up to date software, as well as proper operating system for Mac and PC. As an online student you need to have an external hard drive and/or a thumb drive if you do not want to spring for one. Now one can save things in the “cloud” like Dropbox, Evernote, etc. just to name a few. Once all the tools are checked and rechecked now comes the time to check into the classroom.

I was very excited to get started in my new online program at University of Phoenix (UoP) when I embarked on my Master’s program in 2004. It was a bit intense because the environment was new and assignments were already required such as student bio, introduction, reading assignments, and the never-ending discussion questions a.k.a. DQs. This is where accessing the classroom early pays off big time. As a word of warning, if you are new to the online environment, and you are a procrastinator you might want to rethink your decision. If you are not somewhat technically inclined, this is not the environment for you. The instructors will not “teach” you how to use the Office products or how to login to the classroom. There is no time to learn how to use a computer and to do the assignments because the classes are 6-8 weeks depending on the institution.

A lot of the institutions will allow you to experience an online class for a week to get a look and feel of the environment (highly advised). The online experience is marketed and geared towards the working adult. It is prefaced that you can have access 24/7 and work at your own pace, well…….. that’s only a partial truth. There are deadlines on top of deadlines that you must be aware of or there can be points taken off as much as a whole letter grade. My assignments were due on Sunday at 11:59 PST, which worked out for me more time for I am CST, and I used it wisely. Now you can work on the assignments from any mobile device for this has changed from when I started. Apps for the university were not as popular as they are now (if at all) and there were no iPads (seems like Twilight Zone).

As I have mentioned in my previous posts, the online environment is about organization, organization, and organization. The instructors do not remind you that there’s an assignment due, in fact they have very little if at all any interaction with you. This is a solo environment. The syllabus and planner/calendar will be your best friend therefore, work them together. READ, READ, READ, and READ the syllabus over and over. Put all assignments on your calendar/planner with alerts if you use a computer or mobile device. At UoP and Capella University you are required to provide an electronic signature that you have read the syllabus and you will be held responsible accordingly.

Once all the jitters and preliminaries have been taken care of, introductions, welcomes, expectations, now the fun begins. Well sit back, login, and get comfortable with your new surroundings. If you are a returning student you know the drill and the grind but at least you are prepared (at least I hope so). With all the caveats that online learning can present, I would not trade it for the world. It has come a long way and still has a long way to go as others begin to embrace it. Next month I plan to cover some of the tools that I used to assist me such as, apps, programs, storage, backup, etc. TTFN!!