3 Tips for Online Students
Written by Kate N.
There’s a certain appeal to taking classes in your pajamas, while petting your dog, and getting to hit pause if somebody knocks on your door.
I took online classes during my time in college and it was great to be able to watch lectures when it fit into my schedule. But there was also a learning curve. It’s still a new learning avenue in the education world.
I spoke with some Extension School students who are taking online classes this spring. They offered some helpful tips on navigating your way through the distance education world, while also pointing out some great perks.
1. Choose what you enjoy
With the flexibility to watch weekly lectures videos when and where you choose, you do have to be careful not to put things off and risk falling behind on assignments. All students I talked to had one common motivator: picking subjects they were passionate about.
“I choose courses that are intrinsically interesting to me, so I want to listen to the lectures and do the assignments,” said Debbie Van Heest, an Extension Student who already has a master’s degree and is now taking classes for fun. “I love it when the professor organizes the lectures around specific topics, in organized, thoughtful ways, with occasional visuals. When lectures are fascinating and thought-provoking, my motivation is high.”
Monika Lutz, a Bachelor of Liberal Arts candidate, sums it up pretty well. “I like to make time for something every day that makes me happy,” she said. Her online courses do just that.
Tip: if you are a degree candidate, you can log into online services to read past course evaluations to get a sense of the topics, teaching staff, and online experience.
2. Make it a priority
Each student I spoke to had his or her own ways ensuring class is a significant part of their routine.
“Mini-deadlines really do help,” Van Heest said. I find these often work for me as well. Breaking up an assignment or paper into several smaller tasks makes it much more manageable.
Interactions with the teaching assistants also help Van Heest stay on top of her work, “One TA would somehow manage to grade all papers within one to three days, and her encouraging, helpful comments made me feel as though I were accomplishing something.”
With everything on Lutz’s plate, she has to plan accordingly. “I intern, travel frequently, and am an executive on two Harvard Extension School clubs, while also taking courses,” she says. “For me, it’s all about setting priorities.”
Vincent Cho, who is taking literature courses at the Extension School, learned from his past mistakes. “I make it important,” he says. “I’ve paid money to do this, so the idea is get the most out of it as possible. I kind of wasted away my undergraduate years, so in a way, this is sort of penance for me.”
3. Take advantage of the flexibility
A common piece of advice each student shared was to take advantage of the fact that you can study when and where you want. You’re not stuck to a class time for many of the online courses offered through the Extension School.
Flexibility was a big part of why Lutz decided to take an online class. “While working in Singapore at the beginning of this year, I worked six to seven daily and spent every weekend in a new country,” she said. Lutz was able to fit the online lectures into her hectic schedule, even when she was jet setting from country to country. “That’s flexibility,” she said.
Cho said, “There is a degree of freedom that comes with being a distance student. I am able to balance the rest of my life along with class.”
Van Heest said, “I work full time, so the ability to work at my own pace in the class is important.”
“The ability to have professional experiences on the other side of the world that relate to my classwork, while earning my degree, is a great advantage,” Lutz says. “Coursework comes to life when I know I will be applying the principles in my internship on Monday morning.”
Harvard Extension School has plenty of online course offerings, and not in just one format. The distance courses these students have been taking are all video-based classes. We also offer live web-conference courses with a specific meeting time each week.