3 Tips for a Smooth Transition to an Online Degree Program

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With expanded flexibility and access to various programs, more students are making the transition to online degree programs. But the move from an on-campus education – or even just the transition back to online learning after taking a break – can be a significant shift.

Some students might be misled by the idea that online learning is easier; however, the rigor of coursework is often the same as on campus, and in many cases, the same faculty teach the classes. Students transitioning to online education may notice a freedom to complete work at a customized pace, but they must develop structure and self-motivation to ensure success.

[Explore how to develop self-motivation skills for online learning.]

Here are three ways students can ensure a smooth transition to online education.

1. Commit to a schedule: Online degree programs offer effective and flexible ways to earn a degree, but it’s up to the students to ensure they stay on track and complete their work on time. One key is to commit to a schedule that works.

Successful online students must have strong time-management skills to ensure they’re balancing school, work, family and other personal activities. Students should plan to set aside designated time each day for online coursework and build out a study schedule that is achievable.

2. Set up a designated space with reliable technology: Online students typically spend more time in front of a computer screen, so it’s important that they have a dedicated work space and the right technology to create and foster a similar type of learning environment as on-campus students.

A designated space gives students the freedom to learn and feel productive devoid of distractions. This could be a local library, a desk at home in a quiet area or even the break room at a job. They should find a space that works well and allows them to focus. But that space should also include reliable technology.

[See four technology must-haves for online students.]

Online courses are often cutting-edge and taught using a variety of multimedia tools and resources. This requires students to have up-to-date equipment and technology – including a desktop or laptop computer, a stable internet connection and possibly a webcam, headset and microphone – to ensure they can successfully access these courses. Using a mobile device for some coursework may at times be convenient, but it won’t always provide the necessary access and functionality to complete assignments.

3. Tap into the university network: Even though students aren’t physically on campus, online degree programs are meant to be a place where students can ask questions, interact with other students and feel a sense of community with their peers and professors. Thanks to evolving technology, there are several ways students can connect with classmates and professors, including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, peer-to-peer chats and online clubs.

[Discover tips to interact with professors and students in online classes.]

Online degree programs also offer support services and other resources to help online learners ensure their success. For example, Arizona State University’s ASU Online offers enrollment counselors to help students through the application process and ensure they are off to a good start.

At ASU Online, students are paired with an academic adviser who helps keep them on track. Separately, ASU offers success coaches who provide online students with success strategies and reminders.

Finding a program that offers support and a community as well as student resources is key.

The takeaway: If you’re considering an online degree program, be sure to create a detailed study schedule, find a designated place with reliable technology to learn and build a strong community support system. These steps are critical to making the transition successful.