Students Need Study Fuel by zsrlibrary
Students Need Study Fuel, Licensed under Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC-SA) by zsrlibrary on Flickr.

I was recently asked, “what do students need in order to succeed in an online course?”.

I ran across an article a few years back in the The Journal of Educators Online by Mandernach, B. J., Donelli, E., Dailey-Hebert, A. (2006) that included a fairly extensive literature review. Although their research focused on student success in an accelerated online course, the sum of the literature indicates the successful online student possesses four things: “time, technology, initiative, and competence”.

The successful online learner possesses…

– Time!

Higher education programs offer courses for credit, described in terms of “credit hours”. Typically a 3 credit hour face-to-face course requires at least three hours per week of in-class seat time and as much as two or three times that amount of study time outside of class. The online course is not “self-paced” – in the online course those “seat-time” hours are transferred from the classroom to online. It is not uncommon to spend 9 hours per week and more, for each online class you are enrolled. The online course is as challenging, if not more so, than the face-to-face course. The ability to manage time effectively and to devote sufficient time to being engaged in discussion, research, writing, etc. are critical to success in the online learning environment.

– Technology!

Liberal access to a computer with a high-speed network connection is essential. This means broadband access from home using the student’s own computer – not one that they must share. Most people enroll in online courses for the flexibility and convenience.The successful online learner must be able to log on and complete their work at the times that best fit their schedule. A familiarity with the technology is also required. If the student has not previously completed an online course they will be at a disadvantage. I would suggest instead, enrolling in a face-to-face course which employs similar technology to enhance the classroom experience. This format provides the learner an opportunity to learn how to submit assignments, take assessments, contribute to online discussions, etc., and can help the inexperienced become more comfortable with the technology.

– Initiative!

The online learner must be self-reliant – they will need to be able to solve problems on their own. Most online courses are designed for asynchronous interactivity. The student, their instructor and classmates may not be online all at the same time, so when running into problems with an assignment or use of the technology, help may not be immediately available. There are times when students will have to figure things out for themselves. Online students should be comfortable troubleshooting their own computer network issues and be adept at searching the Internet for solutions, as well as know how and where to look for help when needed.

– Competence!

The most successful online learners are students with a history of academic success prior to enrolling in an online course. The successful online student possesses good study habits, strong reading, writing, and communication skills. If it has been a while since they were in class, the new-to-online student may find the experience somewhat overwhelming. The structure and face-to-face interactions of the traditional classroom may provide the support necessary for the weaker student to become stronger academically before venturing into the virtual classroom. Other support services such as the writing center and tutoring can also help the weaker student prepare for success.

Knowing what to expect before enrolling in an online class for the first time can help students make better informed choices and offer greater opportunity for success.