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A picture is worth a thousand words.
An interface is worth
a thousand pictures.
Ben Shneiderman, 1947 -
American computer scientist

The online learning series

Fundamentals of online learning
with you at the center

A concept map of online learning with the learner as central focus

Questions to ask before taking an online or blended learning course.

As a learner, what is your skillset, experiences & expectations
that will help you succeed in online learning?

Preparing yourself for an online course,
whether it is totally online or with some classroom time (blended learning),
is a matter of asking a series of questions.

Studies have shown that it takes a certain amount of self discipline and motivation
to schedule and manage yourself through such a course.
If this is your first experience with online or distance learning,
your skill set of experiences and expectations begin with your educational goals with the course.

Types of online
learning courses

What purpose does this online course serve in my education?
Think the process through!
You may have to work without face-to-face contact with your teacher,
your classmates, and possibly outside academic support

What motivates you? What are your educational goals?

How will your life's experiences contribute to your desire to complete your education?
What resources do you have to support you, that you will need to coordinate and manage:
time management, coping and communication skills, etc.?

How confident am I of

  • taking responsibility for my education?
    How prepared do I think I am?
  • Managing my time?
    Do I think I have the self-discipline to succeed in online learning without a formal "classroom"
    to keep me on track?
  • Keeping my focus on the course objectives and assignments?
  • Taking responsibility for accomplishing my assignments?
  • Meeting unexpected problems or challenges?

What elements should I consider in choosing courses?

The course syllabus provides information about

  • What are thepPrerequisites/preconditions;
    Course objectives and priorities
  • Who is the teacher and the language of instruction
  • How is course content delivered?
    Lectures: in person and/or remote via technology;
    textbooks, handouts, digital texts; course website; course management system
  • What is the course schedule
    or pacing as regards timelines for completing tasks
    or whether the course is "unpaced" with only broad deadlines
  • What are the assignments and the procedures for completing them
    as well as procedures for submitting them
  • Requirements for interaction
    whether live or asynchronous contributions
    whether in person or online via email, text messaging, chat rooms, videoconferencing
    whether discussions, feedback on projects, Q&A sessions,
    whether with the instructor, course mates, experts
  • How and when is my performance assessed?
    Tests; criteria for grading on assignments
  • Are there opportunities for feedback throughout the course.
    What opportunities are there for interaction with the instructor?
    What academic support is available, whether online or in person
    What/who are the study guides, help lines, online resources, reference works,
    tutors, research librarians, professional assistants, academic and technical helplines, etc.

What is my course electronic learning environment like?

  • What are the course technical requirements
    hardware, software, specialized applications
  • What is the optimal browser, and perhaps email client
  • What training is necessary for the course applications?
  • What training or orientation is available
    for the textbook website, CD, DVD, etc.
  • What training or orientation is available for the course learning system,
    such as Blackboard, WebCT, Moodle, etc.
  • What training or orientation is available for additional communications options?
    Conference or chat rooms, discussion boards, video conferencing, email, voicemail, text messaging, etc.

What is my home learning environment like?

  • What hardware and software do I have at home?
  • What access to the Internet and email do I have?
    How fast is the connection and what connection is necessary?
  • What technology and applications does this course require?
    (If not explicitly stated, ask the teacher)
  • If I should have a computer failure at home (disk crash, network failure or virus remediation),
    what is my back up?
    What institutional resources are available to help me at home?
  • Can I schedule time to complete assignments without interference?
  • What alternatives outside the home are available to me?
  • Access to institutional support centers: computer labs and assistants; training, tutorials

Who makes up my community of learning to help me succeed?

  • Teacher and teaching assistants; support professionals: librarians, tutors, study skills professionals, lab managers, etc.; fellow students; family.
  • What degree of independence is necessary or unavoidable with my community?
  • What (online) communication skills and methods are useful? are necessary?
    Individual: email, voicemail and text messaging;
    Group: video conference/chat rooms/discussion boards;
    What other applications are useful, such as for Internet voice calls outside of phone/cell services
  • What are the rules of engagement in communications, as for netiquette
See also:

Learning to learn | Online learning: questions | Distance learning | Mobile learning (M-learning) |
Taking online tests | Netiquette | Basics: Website development | Basics: Website design |
Making your website popular | Succeeding in continuing education |
Learning, studying, learning with others and online, classroom participation folder