Published on 2013/05/23

Five Mistakes Online Students Make (Part 1)

Five Mistakes Online Students Make (Part 1)
Effectively managing one’s schedule and being aware of the time it can take to complete a degree are two of the five steps adult students must take to succeed in online higher education.

Thinking about going back to finish a degree online after an absence of several years? In the two articles, I will detail five pitfalls you should seek to avoid. Even the most prepared students can fall prey to these traps — and this is especially true for those who have not had an online class experience.

Having taught and advised online students for more than 10 years, I’ve seen lots of mistakes. I’ve worked with students who ultimately failed my class and with advisees who became discouraged and dropped out. In most cases, the missteps they took could have been avoided. Based on their comments, my observations and evaluation of the various scenarios, I’ve compiled five of the most destructive errors students can make.

I’ve also worked with dozens of students who have successfully completed degree programs; for the most part, those students avoided these missteps.

Mistake Number 1: Time

Taking the top prize for the deadliest error is underestimating the amount of time it takes to be successful in an online class. There is a common misconception online classes are easier than face-to-face classes, and that they will therefore require less time and effort. In a robust, accredited degree program, nothing could be further from reality.

Typically, students are advised to spend three to four hours a week for every credit hour in a 15-week semester. Are you certain you will have that much free time every week? One way to find out is to map your free time for a few weeks. Once you start classes, you’ll no doubt give up some of the “social” time, but how much of that time are you willing to give up? Having tracked your time for a while, ask yourself the following: how much time was truly free? Did you find nine to 12 hours you would be able to devote to a semester-long class? Could you find double that amount to complete an eight-week class?

Not every week of the semester will require you to spend the same amount of time on assignments and homework. Weeks with exams and major assignments will consume more time. Is your time flexible? Do you have the same number of hours free every week? How likely are you to be able to find extra time on those weeks when you need it?

Many students, having decided to finish their degree, decide they must do so as quickly as possible.  This is understandable, especially for those who need the degree to advance their careers. Rushing, however, can be deadly. Don’t take more classes than your free time will allow. If you only have nine hours, on average, free per week, the chances of more free time magically appearing are slim. Achieving an A in your first course can be a true motivator for you to continue your studies; earning two Cs can be a real deterrent for doing so.

Mistake Number 2: Planning

From the day you register for your first class, create a wall calendar. Don’t leave managing due dates to your smart phone or memory. Having a huge wall calendar, with color-coded indicators for your due dates, will make a big difference in your time management. Post due dates for your class, and indicate personal and professional obligations as well. Note possible conflicts early and get them resolved as soon as feasible. Is your son’s birthday the day before a major assignment? Does inventory day at work occur the same day as a major exam?

Finding seats in classes you need can be a real challenge, so you should register as early as possible. Note the earliest time you can register on the calendar and be prepared to do so the first minute registration opens. A wall calendar will help you prepare for what is coming and when.

Remember, school adds another source of “things to do” in your life, so stay on target. Don’t let a day go by when you don’t use your time effectively. Work ahead of, not on, schedule. Those three hours on Saturday you saved for your research paper evaporated when your hot water heater died; if only you had started it earlier!

Click here to read the second part of this series.

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Readers Comments

Stacy Hexner 2013/05/23 at 8:43 am

I’m happy to see the author address the misconception that online courses are somehow easier or require less time than face-to-face classes. In reality, they are simply a different method of course delivery; the material you need to cover is the same. In fact, online education might actually require more of a time commitment because students have to learn the technology and processes of online courses. When deciding to try online education, adult students should take this into account.

WA Anderson 2013/05/24 at 8:53 am

Looking forward to the rest of this series. At first glance, these ‘tips’ seem quite obvious (fill out a wall calendar instead of relying on your smartphone), but you’d be surprised at how few people actually follow them — to their peril. Ms. O’Hara has extensive experience working with students in online education, and I think we would all do well to heed her advice.

simon quattlebaum 2013/05/30 at 1:34 pm

I definitely concur! At the start of pursuing an EdD online, I found that reminders with bells and whistles are simply just that-bells and whistles! Attending and participating in a ‘virtual’ classroom within specific time limits called for something more. Having the wall calendar color-coded for upcoming assignments and webniars related to ones studies is a great idea.

Hopefully, the author will mention the importance of having a ‘virtual’ study team and or online mentor!

Although I’m closer to the the data collection phase of my study, careful planning and the to-do lists calls for an acute focus…I’ll stick to using my cell phone for calls and texts, thank you! Looking forward to part 2!

Kajal Sengupta 2013/12/15 at 1:17 pm

One mistake which the students make is to think that online courses are easier. On the contrary it needs more devotion and self motivation. Yet the growing number of learners enrolling in online courses are very encouraging.

Clarice Marlene Grantt 2013/12/30 at 11:23 am

I commend the writer of this article because I could relate with his understanding of what the on-line student experience. Having complete two online degrees I really came to respect meeting timely deadlines for course completion. I recall being on line at 2 A.M to get finals in by the schedule time. However,there are still some unforeseen issues that manifest due internet errors and miscommunications with an instructor. Having said that there is an ongoing need to stay in touch with the online instructor on a regular basis to get clarification. Earning online degrees can be quite challenging and never an easy can task, but can be very rewarding.

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