If you think online learning is going to be easy, then think again. There is a distorted perception among the general population that online learning is somehow less challenging than traditional classroom instruction; that students in online classes can “go at their own pace” and simply take open-book tests to demonstrate their knowledge. If students wish to be successful in online education, they’re going to need a reality check.

Some students may not understand how online learning works. Their expectations may not be aligned with reality. Students need to know the software that will be required for their program (and how to use it), the expectations surrounding classroom participation, the average amount of time required for homework and reading materials, and the level of writing ability necessary for the program. Most of all, online students need an inexhaustible amount of self-discipline to manage the demands placed on them as students, parents, and providers.

Kristen Betts, director of online learning for Armstrong Atlantic State University, stated students must understand that “in an online classroom, there is no back row.”

In an online classroom, there is no back row. – Kristen Betts, AASU
Ideally, this message should be conveyed consistently by institutions’ marketing and information material, admissions staff, advisors, and faculty.  Students with unrealistic expectations might say things like “I thought online education was supposed to be for working adults” when they realize their work load is not any lighter or less challenging. Students who understand they will be held to the same (if not higher ) standards will be better prepared to begin their online academic journey.

Here is a short list I developed, in no particular order, of the skills online students may need in order to maximize their success:

  1. Self-management skills
  2. Writing skills
  3. Research Skills
  4. Information literacy
  5. Technological fluency
  6. Self-advocacy (e.g. asking for help, speaking up for oneself)
  7. Virtual Collaboration (Working in teams)

Distance advisors should be ready to offer mentoring in these areas and show students resources that can help them develop these skills. A proactive discussion about these skills can help students identify foreseeable challenges. Together, students and advisors can then review common challenges and co-construct a plan that addresses how to deal with such issues as they arise. Students will appreciate the heads up and feel prepared when those challenges arise because they will already have a plan in place to deal with them.