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Being a successful learner, online

SISLT expert says participation is key to online classrooms 

Ditch the old idea that an “on-line learning environment” is just a fancy term for a chat room. Through online learning environments, “we are using the internet as our classroom,” says Aimee Klimczak, an SISLT professor at the University of Missouri.

With just a computer and internet access, students can join in the discussion from anywhere in the world at any time of day. Students from rural areas or from other countries may not have the opportunity to get a degree from the University of Missouri if it weren’t for the online program, Klimczak says.

Online v. in person

Is there a big difference between learning online and learning on campus?

“I would say they are more similar than different,” Klimczak says. “We require the same work from our online students.”

But online courses can offer more time to get involved in the conversation. In Klimczak’s online class, students discuss class topics on a discussion board for a week, while a traditional class only runs for an hour or two. “Many students comment that they like being able to think about their responses more in the online environment,” Klimczak says. “We usually get a very lively discussion going.”

Klimczak offers some tips for students thinking of joining an online learning environment:

  • Participate!  “You must be willing to contribute to weekly discussion, sharing your ideas and your life experiences,” says Klimczak. “The instructor is not the only source of information in an online course.”
  • Manage Your Time. Since on-line courses don’t meet at an assigned time, make sure you set aside class time in your schedule. “You need to log onto the course every single day,” Klimczak says.
  • Be Prepared.  “You can’t be a successful online student without very dependable hardware and internet access,” Klimczak says. If you work from a computer at home, find your nearest library or computer lab so you’ll have a back-up plan if your computer or internet fail.
  • Believe in the Environment.  If you think learning only happens in a room with a desk and a podium, on-line environments may not be for you. “You need to believe in the merits of online learning and appreciate the opportunity it presents.”
  • Don’t say things online that you would not say face-to-face. “Every now and then I have to delete discussion board comments that go beyond what I would want in a course discussion,” Klimczak says. “Just because you seem anonymous, remember there are real people reading your comments! 
  • Take what you learn to your own classroom.  For education students, an on-line learning environment can teach important lessons and strategies about incorporating technology into the classroom.