Online college classes have a reputation for flexibility, allowing you to set your own schedule and work from any location. But this doesn’t mean that an online class is easier than a traditional class; the course content is the same and, despite the obvious benefits of online courses, there are some drawbacks. You can avoid some of the most common online education pitfalls by following these five tips for getting the most out of an online class:

1. Be prepared.

High-quality online courses use sophisticated computer environments that allow you to access course materials and communicate with your instructor and classmates. After you enroll for an online class, your school should provide details about the online environment. Make sure you login and explore the system before your course begins. You’ll need to know how to access lectures, participate in class discussions and turn in assignments. Checking out the system before the first day of class will leave you enough time to contact technical support if you run into any problems. Plus, it will be much easier to learn the material, whether it’s law or nursing, if you’re not distracted by the technology behind it.

2. Stay organized.

Online classes are usually self-paced, meaning it’s up to you to stay on track. You should be provided with a syllabus on the first day of class. Use the syllabus to stay on top of assignments. Some people find that printing out the syllabus and marking off complete assignments helps them keep up with the work in an online class, while others use an online calendar that sends alerts to keep track of class deadlines. If your school’s online system sends reminders via email, don’t ignore them!

3. Participate.

If you don’t get involved in scheduled class discussions, you’re missing out on the interactive portion of your class. Also, your participation in discussion will probably count toward your final grade. Most classes have a limited time frame for discussions, so make sure you post early enough to be part of the online conversation.

4. Do the work.

The reading material provided by your instructor represents a large portion of your investment in the course, so don’t gloss over it. If you’re in a law program, read the case studies. If you’re studying teaching, learn the assigned pedagogy. The same goes for your assignments: By putting your best effort into assignments and turning them in on time, you’ll leave enough time for your instructor to provide feedback. Give your full attention to preparation for quizzes and exams and make sure you set aside quiet time for completing them.

5. Get to know your instructor and classmates.

Don’t be anonymous in your online class. Reach out to your instructor via email or through the online system message board. Since communication is usually asynchronous, you actually may have more opportunity to ask your instructor questions. Get to know your classmates by participating in the online system’s public forum. Just because your class is online doesn’t mean you can’t network, collaborate and even make new friends.

Enrolling in an online program requires an investment of time and money. To make sure that you receive the full benefit of your investment, you need to be self-motivated. Maintain a positive attitude about your class by keeping your final goal in mind. If you stay focused and keep up with assignments, you can avoid stress and get the most value from your online class.

Melissa Woodson is the community manager for @WashULaw, one of the premier LLM programs offered through Washington University in St. Louis that allows foreign attorneys to earn their LLM degree online. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and making half-baked attempts at training her dog.

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