Learning Strategies for Online Graduate Students

Advice for New and Returning Students

Learning online is very similar, but also quite different, from learning in a traditional classroom. Students in both settings are responsible for textbook and lecture materials and readings, assignments, research papers, group and individual projects, and contributing to discussions, but how some of these educational components are conducted may vary depending on if the class is conducted online or face-to-face. Whether you are brand new to online courses or have many years of online learning experiences under your belt, these tips and strategies can help you to make the most of your experience.

1) Computer Skills
Computer skills are necessary to function effectively in an online course as students communicate with the professor and one another through discussion forums, email and video conference or chat platforms. Assignments and research papers will need to be uploaded through the course platform, and depending on the nature of the course, you may need to become familiar with creating and interpreting spreadsheets, presentations, documents and images. Having reliable access to a computer or laptop equipped with a webcam and microphone, as well as high-speed internet connection is essential.

2) Communication in the Digital World
Online students communicate and collaborate with instructors and classmates in a variety of ways, but most frequently through writing. Communication is either asynchronous, such as when students post messages on discussion board and respond at any time (similar to Facebook), or synchronous communication, such as asking chat questions during a live-streaming video conference session.

It is important to use "netiquette" skills when communicating online in a graduate-level course! Appropriate netiquette skills include behaviors such as using full sentences and complete spelling, avoiding sarcasm, and overly using emoticons. These skills also apply to email, where you'll want to be clear and succinct. 

Tip: To make the most of learning from your peers in the discussion forums, provide thoughtful responses that include deeper insights or resources that build on course materials. Students bring additional value to online discussions by encouraging others through thoughtful ideas and questions.

3) Online Research
Knowing how to conduct research beyond 'Googling it' on the Web is a skill set needed for online graduate students. It's important to use a variety of search tools to find scholarly articles, search databases, discern credible sources, and locate primary and secondary sources. For graduate students at Marist,  the online "e-brary" offers online tutorials in using library databases, search skills, etc. 

4) Time Management
If you're attending graduate school while working and managing family responsibilities, time passes quickly!  In order to be successful in your courses, time management skills are critical. Make this a priority from day one of your online course and do not  allow procrastination to set in. Successful online students make it a habit to have consistent and specific times set aside each week for their online studies.

Other suggestions include: Schedule time to log-in to your course at least three or four times each week to stay up-to-date with online discussions and post relevant questions and answers; keep a digital copy of the course syllabus on a mobile device to refer to throughout the course; and record all due dates for assignments, exams, tests... on your calendar, adding automatic reminders a few days or week before.

5) Collaborating and Group Projects
Collaborating with other students for group projects and assignments is an essential part of any online class. Working in small teams promotes the application of course concepts, develops knowledge and provides students with new skills to apply to problems and situations. Developing effective collaboration skills is also applicable beyond the classroom. Employers seek job candidates who are team players that can communicate effectively with colleagues or customers. 

When communicating with group members it's important to be present, be involved, and be vocal. Be aware that the same personality dynamics that play out in face-to-face communication also applies to the online environment. But, by getting to know the other students in your group, and building trust and knowledge of one another, group projects can evolve into a meaningful professional and personal experience.

Online learning provides a convenient and accessible method for many people looking to advance their career and level of education. Even if the idea of taking online courses is new to you, by applying consistent and persistent effort to the strategies mentioned above, and reaching out to students and instructors when help is needed, you'll find yourself appreciating the flexibility online learning brings into your life.

Contact Marist College's Office of Graduate Admission to learn more about our many online and on-campus graduate programs.

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