Thursday, April 26, 2012

how to study for online classes

Learning takes places in many ways and occurs in a lot of different shapes. Typically, online course designers and educators are trying to guide students through reflective learning to understand certain tasks and concepts. Most of the courses have weekly discussions and a weekly assignment and follow this format throughout the length of the course term. It would seem like this format would create a higher pass rate for online learning yet consistently evidence shows that online learners fail at a higher rate than those sitting in a classroom. Traditional schools typically point to this as evidence that the courses aren’t rigorous although the research suggests it’s about the same if not harder. So why the dismal pass rate? Like most things people use statistics to examine, the picture is much broader than just a pass/fail ratio. The Department of Education defines a non-traditional student as one who meets some of the following characteristics; working, married, has children, and over the age of 25. With these types of commitments the average online student doesn’t have the time that a traditional age student does to work on the assignments.
Studies show that people only have a limited amount of cognitive energy each day. Each person can only do so much each day. Research indicates that people don’t actually multi-task that they actually get worse at every project the more they do during the day because they are draining their cognitive batteries which need to be recharged.
William Deresiewicz in a lecture at West point noted that solitude is needed to actually think about a topic. To be able to turn of email and Facebook which is slowing sucking away at your cognitive batteries and to read and reflect on a topic.
Lets take Mr. Deresiewicz’s argument one step further and assume that people should also use their existing strengths to learn. Every time I hear someone say “I’m not a strong test taker” I cringe because my next questions are “Did you use flashcards? Did you outline the text? Did your spouse quiz use about what in the book? Did you search for more information about the topic?”
The point is that with a limited amount of cognitive energy in a busy world with an understanding that doing more is not doing better, did you take the time to organize a cohesive plan of attack that legitimately gives you enough space/time/energy to learn?
In order to develop a plan attack I ask student to reflect on how they achieved a past success academically albeit how small or large the success because those tools can be replicated for future success. The classic example is the infantry man who signs up for an online class and shortly fails out. They always tell me that they don’t have the time and couldn’t understand the material yet when I ask them the maximum effective range of each and every weapon system in their platoon they recite it as if they born knowing the information. Success in the learning the weapons system took time, dedication and an understanding that learning that information was important. This same dedication can be used to conquer any online program. Students should reflect about what learning strategies they used in the past and modify that system to be successful in the classroom.
It may seem obvious but students who take the time to read the book, make flashcards and carve out enough quiet time to read actually pass their courses. Educators refer to the process as self-regulation and it creates a self-fulfilling loop for the students. The key is getting students to understand their own learning methods and giving them permission to quietly read and reflect.

1 comment:

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