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The first time that students attempt to determine the requirements for the online course they are taking, the result is often stunned silence. The assignments are heaped on top of a mountain of reading, and, to make matters worse, the instructor has provided an additional set of documents that he calls "Resources." Students then think back to a college prep class they took that urged them to develop "Effective Online Study Skills," but they can't quite remember what those skills were.
If, as instructors, we think back on the habits we used to be successful, we can provide our students with advice that can alleviate some of the stress that students experience. There were some important study skills I used in taking online courses that had a significant impact on my success. The most important skills were information management, creating manageable blocks of assignments, and painstaking attention to the instructions provided by my teachers.
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Online Study Skill 1: Managing the Vast Amount of Information
The sheer volume of information available to students is awe inspiring, and yet the availability of all of these resources can result in something I call performance paralysis. Students that read assignments requiring research on various subjects must evaluate content accuracy and reliability as they attempt to conduct research. Instead of being directed to the Internet for research, instructors can help their students by encouraging them to use the school online library. When students have a reliable source of information, the issue of credible sources and information overload can be mitigated.
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Online Study Skill 2: Blocking Out Assignments
Some students become overwhelmed when they examine all of the assignments that are due for a particular course. The sheer volume of papers, activities, and submissions that are required can cause a student to despair. This is especially true with online students who tend to be a bit older and have additional responsibilities like children, careers, and spouses.
Online students should organize assignments into blocks of work that suit them best. For some students, a weekly block works, but, for others, a single day is actually more valuable. This approach helps students reduce the insecurity that can be caused by the imposing thought of so much work for a given course. Another important benefit of this strategy is that it helps students create a study structure that allows them to stop and restart easily, which is essential for many adult students.
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Online Study Skill 3: Study the Information from the Instructor
Instructors want to see their students succeed and provide written materials to help them achieve their goals. I am often surprised by the number of my own students that ignore the samples, feedback, and guidelines I provide prior to the class beginning and at the start of each week. The reason for this is partly due to the perceived value of the information. Students must recognize that the instructor that is doing the grading is providing the guidelines. Instructors can help their students if they can instill the importance of the information.
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Students should take a step back from the information and the assignments required in their class and understand that many other students have successfully completed the course. Instructors can assist by reminding students that all of the materials that are provided for the students are done to help them improve their performance and are therefore essential reading. Students will make more time for that material if they know they have a reliable resource like the school library from which they can gather all of their research information. Students can also gain an advantage by creating blocks of assignments that are manageable and that fit within their busy lives.