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So You Think You Are Ready to Take an Online Course? Money, Time and Materials?

written by: Doc Smith•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 11/19/2009

Many students seem to believe that anyone can successfully complete an online course. There are others who are hesitant to take one. Before you decide to take or not take an online course, here's a list of questions you should ask yourself before signing the virtual dotted line.

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    Am I Ready to be a Student in an Online Course?

    Before you decide to take – or not take an online course, here is a list of questions you should ask yourself before you sign on that virtual line. In addition to the questions I am going to provide short and sweet explanations that I have learned throughout years of online undergraduate and graduate college teaching. The explanations will also include what I have learned from distance learning students.

    1. Can you afford the monetary cost of the course?

    Explanation: Cost involves not only the monetary cost of the course that you pay up front, but what happens if you can not complete the online course. This happened to my son-in-law and the outcome was in excess of $1000. Be aware and informed before you sign the virtual line.

    Additional cost of online courses involves a computer and online services (of course), possible purchasing of textbooks and additional course specific computer programs. These can add up extremely fast.

    2. Can you afford the necessary time to take the online course?

    Explanation: Some courses are hugely time intensive; some involved outside of class time research; some classes actually meet in a virtual meeting classroom during a specific time; and some online classes require that you take your tests or quizzes in a real time proctored classroom.

    On the other hand, some courses are self-paced where you decide when and what you will do to complete the course requirements. However, be aware that even though the course is described as self-paced, there will be deadlines for the class. Even if you decide to take a self-paced college class in your pajamas, you will need to set aside time for your class.

    3. Do you have the necessary computer and online Internet services that are requirements to take the class?

    Explanation: For some online college courses, the only successful computing platform that is supported is anything but a Mac. That is right, some online college classes do not – repeat do not – support Macs. It is vital that you are aware of this up front.

    Every online college should have a statement of the minimum computer system requirements. Be very sure to make certain that whatever your computer is – that it is totally supported. In addition, that means you will need to be aware of the use of pop-ups, cookies, antivirus software, and browser requirements. Here is a generic example from an online class:

    If you are experiencing issues with this site such as seeing incorrect course content or if you’re being asked to reauthenticate after you click a link or tab, do one of the following to clear your web browser’s cache/temporary Internet files:

    For Internet Explorer 7, go to Tools, Internet Options, Browser history. Click Delete, and then Delete Files next to Temporary Internet Files. Then, click the Settings button under Browser history, and make sure Every time I visit the webpage is selected.

    For Firefox 3 click Tools and select Clear Private Data. Select Cache, and click the Clear Private Data Now button. You must have Internet Explorer v.7 or Firefox v.3 to use this site correctly. Safari is not a recommended browser to use.

    Instead of using the back button to go back a screen, use the breadcrumb trail.

    Users will automatically time out a user after 120 minutes of inactivity. You will be notified by a pop-up screen and can click to stay in the system.”

    If any of this does not seem like things you know how to easily do, you might want to reconsider. Of course, you can usually find a computer savvy neighbor, or a middle school member of a computer club, or the commercially promoted computer-geek to assist you to do those things, but then you will be faced with the amount of time you will need to get ready to take an online class.

    In short, ask yourself these questions before you decide to attempt an online class and become a distance learning student. It is the old story of money, time and materials. You have to have all three to be a successful online student.