What Would You Ask a Prospective Online Student?

Posted on by Brooke

Not everyone is equally prepared for online learning, just as not everyone is prepared for a given degree program, or for several aspects of face-to-face learning. What would you ask of a prospective online student in order to help her determine her readiness?

I have been reading through some online quizzes that ask, “Is distance learning really for you?” Here is a sample:

The questions can be clumped into some more-or-less discrete categories:

  1. access to internet and minimal hardware and software

  2. minimal competence with an operating system, manipulating files, relevant applications

  3. comfort and experience with navigating tasks online (email, paying bills, renewing library books, search engines)

  4. comfort and skills with social aspects of internet (Facebook, blogs and comments, Google/Yahoo Groups)

  5. how much time one expects to spend on a course, and in what increments

  6. habits relating to organization and professionalism

  7. normal student skills like reading, writing, participating in discussion, interacting with faculty

  8. motives and expectations (why an online course rather than face-to-face?)

For me, some of the real biggies are those that pertain to the f2f classroom as much as to distance learning: How much time will you put in? Will you break that time into daily chunks? Do you have professional habits of time management and communication? Do you have experience with active reading? Do you have experience with several different kinds of writing? Why are you here? Some of this can be taught, but a lot of it amounts to disposition and attitude. Even a willing student who falls short in these areas will be struggling against likely long-term counter-productive habits.

The items more clearly related to the peculiarities of the online environment—knowing what to own and how to use it, navigating virtual space, translating existing social skill sets into unfamiliar venues—actually worry me less. Sure, the student has to recognize the need, and may have to get over a “fear hump,” but if that one hurdle can be negotiated, then it’s just a matter of learning a bunch of stuff.

This is, I acknowledge, my own idiosyncratic assessment: it’s how I think it would be for me to get started.

What would you want to ask of a prospective online student, to help her make a no-B.S. assessment of whether distance learning is for her? If you have been an online learner, what do you know now about “what it takes” that you didn’t know then?

[What Would You Ask a Prospective Online Student? was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/16. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]