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Online college success: Expert advice for preparing & prospering in a virtual space

Apr. 21, 2014 - 01:32PM   |  
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Active-duty troops and veterans tend to be nontraditional students ó more likely to be married, to have children and to hold down a job while going to school. Thatís why many choose to pursue a degree online.

The discipline, commitment and planning behaviors inherent in military service make troops a good fit for online education. But military students and veterans often need guidance to adapt from getting hands-on, in-the-moment training to completing reading assignments, written essays and final exams in an online environment. Arizona State University Online developed a list of critical success factors that veterans and active-duty service members should follow to make the most of their online learning experiences.

First, build a relationship with your military resources. Make sure you contact the military online enrollment adviser for your program to guide you through your admission experience. Even in a distance-learning program, your military enrollment counselor should be available to help you with anything from benefits to course selection and tutoring services.

More keys to successfully earning a degree online:

Prepare for a new mindset

After years of learning through simulation and hands-on training, the online learning environment may initially seem like a foreign land. Youíll be solely responsible for registering for classes, preparing for tests and finding the resources you need to be successful without a senior NCO or officer dictating your next move. Outline your specific goals and the outcome expected before engaging in an online program, which will enable you to tailor your courses to reach those goals. Prepare to assume control of your college paths, and start by deciding on a major that compliments your skills and interests.

Learn the course technology

Whether course content is delivered by Internet, video, audio or print, you must be comfortable with the technology. Test all class components before the term starts to ensure the technology will not be a roadblock. Itís also important to know where to get technical support prior to any online assignments or exams so you have a direct contact in case any technical difficulties arise.

Communicate with your professors frequently

For active-duty members in particular, itís important to communicate with your professors regularly. Since military duties may sometimes keep you away from the online classroom, students should inform instructors about potential issues and obstacles at the term start and share updates throughout the term. If you expect to be deployed in combat areas, let your instructors know that Internet access may be unreliable with possible communication blackouts. Frequent communication is critical in an online environment to ensure youíre receiving constructive feedback and updates on where you stand in the class.

Devote time to study

Effective time management can make the difference between success and failure when juggling education, active duty and family. Many assume that distance learning is easier than a traditional college education, but online programs require the same time commitment as on-campus programs. Plan to dedicate two to three hours weekly per credit for studying and online assignments. Itís important to limit the number of classes you enroll in each term to realistically meet the study time requirements.

Mario Matus is a military advocate and senior online coordinator at Arizona State University Online. He is an ASU alum with several years of experience in the online higher education industry.

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