Five Mistakes Online Students Make (Part 2)Margaret O'Hara | Director of E-Learning, University of North Carolina System
In the first part of this series, O’Hara explained that, over the past decade, she has seen online students make a number of mistakes in their path to degree completion. However, she noted, students who successfully avoided five significant pitfalls were often those who earned their degrees. The last article reviewed the first two mistakes online students can make — underestimating the time it can take to earn a degree and mismanaging one’s time. In this conclusion to the series, O’Hara outlines the other three missteps students must seek to avoid.
Mistake Number 3: Family, Friends and Work
One suggestion I always made to my students was to get a signed contract from spouses, other family members and friends about their support. It sounds silly, but coming to consensus about your time requirements with these individuals helps to avoid misunderstandings later. Your family should know they will always come first, but that short-term wants may have to give way to long-term goals. An upfront, honest discussion about expectations at your workplace while you’re taking classes is also useful. If you don’t have your supervisor’s support in your endeavor, you are far less likely to complete your degree, as work will get in the way too often. When I worked on my MBA, I had financial support from my employer, but I knew that work always took precedence and I ended up with more Bs than I wanted due to missed classes. Consider the industry in which you are currently employed. As an IT operations person, I had to respond to situations when they occurred, so I had little wiggle room for postponing a work-related task. On the other hand, if you work in a field where tasks do not always require immediate attention, your time is far more flexible.
Mistake Number 4: Finding Support
One comment we often hear from students is, “I didn’t know that” about items clearly indicated in the information provided to them. I would guess about 75 percent of “surprises” were covered in orientation materials. Don’t come into your program thinking you know how everything will work. Read the support material you’ve been given to determine sources of support. Ask your advisor for a video / telephone conference or online chat. Often, issues requiring dozens of emails are settled in less than 15 minutes in a live encounter. Your professors are another support source. Most online instructors are aware of the issues you may face, and most will work with you. Avail yourself of the professor’s knowledge and help during virtual office hours. Don’t assume your professor will ignore a request for assistance or not bend on a due date. Bring up issues in advance of their occurrence rather than after, and always be armed with possible solutions. For example, “I can’t take the exam Friday due to work, but I can complete it Thursday” tends to be more effective than a flat-out refusal. Classmates are another support source. Most of them are balancing career, family and school, just like you. Reach out to them as virtual study partners. If your online class is not set up to support this, ask the professor to create a Q&A forum for students to exchange information. You will be surprised at the strength of your relationships with other online classmates.
Mistake Number 5: Getting Discouraged
No matter how much you plan and how much support you have, something will likely go wrong. When it seems school must take a back seat to other obligations, first see if you can work out a solution with those involved. If you can’t, find out what the options are from your professor or advisor. As an advisor, I found many students simply dropped the class, when asking for a due date extension or even taking an “incomplete” was a viable alternative. As an instructor, I stressed to students that they should contact me before dropping a class to see if we could work things out. Most of the time, we did. Dropping a class greatly diminishes your likelihood of completing your degree, so view this as a last resort. Don’t waste a drop on a class in which you can earn a B or C by holding out for an A. Sometimes, taking the B or C is the right thing to do. Traditional college students with little work experience may need a high GPA, but you undoubtedly have good work experience and references.
To attain your degree goal, you really have to want it and you need to work hard at getting it. It won’t be as easy as those college face-to-face classes you took when you were 18, but your ability to plan, to identify and tap appropriate resources and your maturity will take you a long way. Be proactive, take charge of your learning and maintain open communications with all those concerned. Good luck on your journey!
To read the first part of this series, please click here.
Author Perspective: Administrator