So you are interested in an online course but don’t want to spend your days on the computer or online…is it possible to have your cake and eat it too? In this case, YES!
And I created this little guide for all of you out there who are intimidated but also attracted to online learning experiences. Read on and find that your big worries and fears are really not insurmountable at all as long as you keep these questions in mind:
How do you learn best?
There are many different ways to learn. Some people are most comfortable reading their information off of a page. If that describes you, then prior to enrolling in a course of study (whether its online or offline) make sure that it is primarily delivered in written format.
Others are audio-verbal and they learn best by listening to information and then having opportunities to give either verbal or written feed back.
Still, others are kinetic based learners, this means that they do not do well when someone “tells” them how something works, they need to be “shown” and then they need to have the opportunity to do it themselves. If you are a kinetic learner then a video format (for online courses) or better yet, in person workshops and gatherings are the way to go.
Get to know and honor your learning style.
What are the tech-specs?
Most of the time the technical specifications for an online course are not very elaborate or fancy. You don’t need the most cutting edge computer or smart phone to be able to participate. But if you have questions and/or you are not sure if your equipment will work with a program’s delivery method, then just ask! Oftentimes if there is an issue, the course instructor will help you figure out a workaround so that you can still participate.
Can the lessons be taken off-line?
Even though there is more pressure than ever today to stay on-line, the internet is merely a tool. We can still use it that way.
Many courses have substantial written components. I prefer reading print text off-line, so when I take an e-course I always print out the material. I don’t even have an e-reader, and printing out any written materials is an easy way to unplug quickly and bring the lessons into the space of my physical life.
In our day and age of digital audio, there are also many courses that are delivered primarily through audio mp3 files. In fact, one of my courses, Spinning Gold, is structured with both written and audio components.
For programs which are primarily audio, an easy way to get off the computer is to download the mp3 files into your phone or iPod and listen to them while you are on the go or at home over stereo speakers. My favorite time to listen to podcasts and audio files? When I’m cleaning!
Online courses typically have some components that are not electronic, such as group phone calls, “printables” (well-designed pdfs that are meant to be printed out and written on) and in some cases one on one time with the main instructor. Any good course description should include a section on what the various components of the course are so keep an eye out for add-ons that do not involve you logging in.
Is the forum optional?
Most classes which are delivered either partially or entirely online include some kind of forum, whether that is a private facebook group or a custom forum hosted on an individual’s website.
I have taught classes using both methods, and I have taken classes using both methods too. Almost always participation in the forum is not required. It is simply another way to flesh out your learning experience.
An online forum can be like a student coffee shop. Some folks love to hang out in coffee shops and other people don’t. But it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing kind of thing. You may not be the sort to hang out in a coffee shop, but you know you can still get something out of it. You can, for example, pick up a latte and a muffin and then get on with your day.
In exactly the same way, even if you don’t like to hang out on electronic forums, you can still make limited use of it in a way that works for you. Ask a question, or see what others are asking; get some information and a perspective on an issue, and move on. You won’t be missing out on anything if you do, because the information submitted by the group does not disappear. It will be there when you return, if you want or need it. There’s no hurry. You can take your time. It is that simple.
Can you set the pace?
One of the oft-cited benefits of web-based learning is that it allows the learner to set the pace. In today’s world of many online courses that is not always the case, so it’s a good idea to get clear about the delivery schedule in your course.
How many lessons?
How long in between lessons?
Do you get the repeat the course again and again for free or not?
What happens if you fall behind?
Knowing how to answer these questions before you enroll in a program will prevent a lot of stress down the road.
Are there quiet periods for reflection?
To me, this is one of the most important questions to answer. Learning requires periods of active engagement on the part of the learner and then it requires periods of reflection, integration, and implementation.
Lessons need a chance to come out of the book, audio file, or classroom, and into each individual’s life – they need to be practiced.
And guess what? Periods of quiet and reflection most definitely take us off the web.
For instance, I have structured both of my year long courses to include a month of active learning and then an implementation month during which time I continue to make myself available for correspondence, but learners have the space to talk about, reflect, integrate, and implement the information they have received, and especially to nurture emerging insights from within their own understandings, experiences and practices. The implementation months are crucial incubation periods for your own soul growth and spiritual practice.
In our busy lives we are trained more and more to expect everything to keep moving, but if we never take the time to be still, to think about the information we have received, asking whether or not it sounds correct, asking too how it might play a greater role in our lives, and how we might implement it, then we are not really engaged in learning at all. Instead we are merely checking off boxes and going through the motions. So give yourself the gift of time and space for thoughtful reflection. This is what gives depth and breadth to any and all learning you will do. If such times are not automatically built into a course then make sure that the course design allows you to create them for yourself.
Online learning is brilliant in that it allows for flexibility and learning “on-the-go” in a revolutionary way, but like everything else, it works best when it works for you and not the other way around.