What You Need to Know About Attending Online Schools

By Rebekah Richards , last updated January 9, 2012

Attending an online school isn't the same as going to a physical classroom every day, so make sure you learn everything you need to know before starting your online education. Online classes have some obvious advantages, such as accessibility for students in remote locations and the flexibility of attending class at any time of the day. Online classes may also be less expensive, and they don't require you to commute or move to campus. However, they have some additional requirements, too, such as self-motivated students and certain technology.

Examine Your Learning Style
Online education is more effective for some learning styles. If you are organized and self-motivated, you are more likely to succeed in an online school. If you are accustomed to more support and external motivation, you might struggle to complete your work or manage your time effectively. If you're not sure what your learning style is, think back to your previous educational experiences. Do you always have your homework done early, or do you leave it until the last minute? Do you need the external pressure of a teacher or parent's reminders to stay on task?
Online schools also provide less face-to-face time, so if you think face-to-face communication is essential to learning or if you really want to build relationships with your classmates, online schools may not be right for you. Online education also requires you to primarily communicate through writing instead of speaking, which can be difficult for students who are not strong writers or who dislike writing.
In addition, while online classes are convenient, they still require hard work. Online courses usually require about as much time as an in-person class, so don't expect an online course to be easier than its traditional counterpart. You will be required to complete homework outside of class and submit assignments, such as essays and responses, for grading. Don't get behind on your assignments for an online course; it can be very difficult to catch up. If possible, try to log on every day to read new posts and check for new assignments.
Check Your Technology
Online schools require certain minimum technology to ensure you can access and participate in classes. Online classes generally require access to a computer with Internet. Check that your computer can support video, live chat and any other necessary functions and ensure you are comfortable troubleshooting basic computer or software problems. You must be comfortable using the Internet, typing and communicating through email and discussion forums to succeed in an online class.
If something goes wrong with the course or your technology, you must also be prepared to speak up and get help quickly. Unlike in a traditional classroom, an online instructor can't tell if you are having trouble accessing course materials or submitting your assignments.
Choose an Accredited School
Check that a school is accredited before you sign up for classes. Accreditation ensures that a school meets basic quality standards. If your school isn't accredited, you are less likely to be able to transfer credits to another school or qualify for certain jobs.
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