Monday, October 08, 2007

Distance Learning Classes - Technology Tips For Distance Learning Success

The growing popularity of online degree programs and distance learning has ignited the need to make online learning mediums user friendly, but it is vital that students have a working knowledge of programs such as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), Internet Explorer, Microsoft Access, and Windows Media Player or RealPlayer. If you are hesitant about using any of these programs, it is recommended to take a tutorial first before registering for online classes. You should also be comfortable using the Copy & Paste features as many distance learning instructors will not accept attachments for fear of viruses and worms. Additionally, you need to be comfortable with reading online textbooks as there is a good chance your course information will be distributed via eBook format.

Online classes offer all the normal activities of a traditional learning environment, but use course presentation software materials (such as BlackBoard, FirstClass, or WebCT) instead. This software incorporates email, discussion groups, instructor-created handouts, and various multimedia channels. Occasionally, podcasts and tele-learning technologies may be included. Assignments are turned in via email or message board postings, and class boards/websites have mandatory logon requirements (ex: five posts a week). One strategy for posting success is to post early and often. Don't wait until the end of the week to comment on the course material, as it's likely that other students will have already posted the same observations you've made. Also, avoid emoticons in your responses. Treat your emails and posts the same as you would a term paper; you wouldn't put a "smiley" in an exam essay, and it's not appropriate in online learning assignments, either.

It is vital to give your school a valid email address. First, you are registered for distance learning classes via your email, as well as given access to your university's Students Only area of the website. Secondly, your school advisor and class instructor will contract you through this email. Valuable class/exam/registration information will be lost if you don't have a functioning email to receive such messages. Finally, if you don't provide a valid email, there is a good chance your school will drop your enrollment after multiple attempts to contact you have failed.

When working on assignments required for online degrees, compose your work in a word processing program (like Microsoft Word) which makes it easier to find spelling and grammatical mistakes than an email. It is much easier to make and track changes in a word processing program than in an html coded email program. When copy & pasting your distance learning assignments from the word processing program to email messages and posting boards, double check your work to make sure that special characters (such as apostrophes and parentheses) come across as you intended them, rather than a garbled string of random symbols.

Keep copies of all sent emails (i.e., bcc yourself on all outgoing messages). By keeping these sent emails in a separate file, you can always back yourself up with email dates should your instructor fail to receive on of your assignments on time. To keep everything organized, create sub-folders in your Inbox for messages regarding ongoing projects, sent assignments, messages from your instructor, etc. Start organizing your files and messages from Day One because it's much easier to stay organized than get organized halfway through the semester.

Most importantly, always have a contingency plan, just in case your computer or internet connection goes down. See if a friend will let you use their system should the need arise. Perhaps the local library has a computer bank for public use. Many companies even offer an internet caf for their employees to utilize during breaks. For your own benefit and peace of mind, become familiar with both PCs and MACs, and different ISPs.

The skills you utilize and hone for your online learning experience are not only beneficial to you while earning your degree. Any distance learning program you're familiar with should be listed on your resume as a Transferable Skill. When employers see that you have practical, working knowledge of several well-utilized programs, you're sure to get more interview calls. This is just another benefit to earning your degree online.

Author Mark Lu writes on distance learning programs for Online Degree Zone. Find a distance learning program and search hundreds of online degrees on

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