The ABCs of Success in Distance Education

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Two years ago I was an online academic advisor for an online university. I was required to contact students regularly (I called about every two weeks) to answer any questions and make sure they were receiving the help they needed in class. Oftentimes I would hear various reasons for the poor grades reflected on my reports: children were sick, transportation issues, the instructor is not grading fairly, my books never arrived, the computer died, I live 200 miles away from the closest library, etc.

With these conversations in mind, I started to develop the ABCs of success in distance education. A collective group of activities every online student should know and follow, I hoped that these weekly emails would encourage and guide my online students to success each week of the term and I hope to see they will help you too. I will first provide letters A-D so as to not overwhelm any readers. Enjoy!

A: Attend class

Attendance in class is crucial to being successful in college, regardless of whether you are in a physical classroom or not. In contrast to popular belief, however, students do not need to be “in class” in order to complete all necessary assignments. Each week, you can log into class, gather your assignments (or print the syllabus at the beginning of class) and follow along with each required piece of work. For example, if you have  a paper to write on the War of 1812, you do not need to be logged into the classroom whenever you work on your paper.

B: Begin reading early

If week 2 of your class begins on Monday and ends on Sunday, you should begin reading your assigned readings no later than Monday. Discussion board postings and written assignments will be referencing your assigned readings and you will not be as successful as you could be by beginning your assigned readings the last day of the week. Oftentimes students who procrastinate do not do well in class; eventually week 1 assignments pour into week 2 and then stress ensues and eventually a withdrawal is pending.

C: Contact your instructor with questions or concerns

Did your computer crash? Are your children sick and you haven’t had time away to write your paper? Any issues that arise need to be addressed immediately and your main point of contact should always be your instructor. Sending a mass email to your classmates will not provide you with the needed extension; only your instructor can grant such a  request. I’ve never been quite sure why students contact every person beside the instructor in these scenarios, but to truly address the issue you may be experiencing, immediate contact with the professor is necessary.

D: Dedicate time to complete your assignments

Most students pursuing their degree through distance education do so because it fits better with their schedule outside of school and provides convenient access to higher education. With that being said, students need to uphold their end of the bargain. While work, children, a spouse or volunteer work may also require your attention, your schooling needs to be given equal time in order to be successful. Laying on the couch after a long day of work may sound like a perfect scenario, but at minimum on hour should be dedicated to your studies. Establish “mini-milestones” to keep the momentum in your class: read chapter 1, write the introductory paragraph for your paper, or post twice to your discussion board.

Ashley Benson is a distance education professional with five years of experience in the for-profit sector. She has worked coast-to-coast within the United States as an academic advisor, an adjunct teaching assistant and, most recently, a campus Registrar. Through formal education and industry experience, Ashley practices staying informed on the current events and changes within higher education and the students involved.

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