The last time I taught in a physical college classroom was in 1999, when my adult students relieved their tiredness from the work day and took care of their children for three hours watching over their classmates and me.
Much has changed since then, as the world of online learning created for working adults has grown. As a consultant in an online college, I know that adults are attracted to the flexibility of an asynchronous online learning environment and the speed of an accelerated semester. This model has become more common over the past year as a result of the epidemic, and colleges are looking for different ways to reach their students while teaching remotely.
Although asynchronous online learning works well for many students, it is not without challenges and may have the same attributes that make it attractive — this is the paradox of online learning. Students who handle multiple job responsibilities, children or elderly parents are usually attracted to any of the points at any of the online courses, but they may need the most help to manage all of this.
Let’s take a look at the features of online learning and how they both enable and limit learning, as well as tips on how mentors can help students deal with this stress.
Flexible schedules require structure
Not appearing in the same place and time as classmates enables students to schedule their school work around their life responsibilities. But for some students, that flexibility can easily change over time.
I remember a student who waited until the end of the assignment deadline to dive into their school work. Most of the time, they need to ask their coach questions about the assignment but they don’t have time to get an answer before the deadline. As a mentor, I was able to help them develop the good habits they needed to succeed.
Counselors can help students develop healthy work habits by sending helpful tips to meet deadlines before class starts, such as:
Plan ahead: Get a “piece of land” by reading the course. Use the planner to indicate the deadline for the main course, review it regularly, and follow the steps to meet that deadline.
Block time: Schedule regular time each week for school work and stick to it. Don’t wait for the assignment notice to begin.
Gain access anywhere from dedicated space
Mobile learning management apps enable students to do their homework and attend classes whenever and wherever they have an internet connection. They can check out announcements during work breaks or read discussion posts while waiting for a flight at the airport.
While logging “on the fly” may work well for some course responsibilities, many assignments require focused time to think and write. In my academic coaching work with students whose grades have dropped, it is not uncommon for me to hear a student describe their school work while on the job. When I inquired further, the student noticed that his attention was distracted by not being able to complete the academic work.
A dedicated space can lend itself to learning. If possible, students should find a place that can be dedicated to school work and that provides ideal learning conditions. This means removing distractions, such as mobile devices and unrelated browser windows, and asking for help from friends and family to respect their place.
Autonomy can lead to isolation
Some students need to be clearly encouraged and supported to express themselves in discussion posts and assignments in an online environment. If students do not need to speak or appear, they may become overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness. This can be addressed by setting expectations for engagement and developing students’ inquiry skills.
Through the admissions process, online orientation, conversations with mentors and course instructors, we can help students understand the value of collaborating, engaging and cultivating knowledge through collaboration. We need to let them know that we have something valuable to say.
But just saying that doesn’t make it easier for students to express themselves; For example, asking questions is a learned skill. Counselors can train their students on how to approach the instructor and how to create the questions they need.
A particularly rewarding experience came when a student-unhappy with his class asked me, “How can I ask a teacher I don’t think is fighting?” I helped them put their question to their coach so that the defensive “why did you do it?” Used statements and problem-solving approaches instead: “I want to understand.”
Slow down to move forward
Online colleges often compete for students by claiming to complete fast programs. After that, students can reduce the time and effort required to get a college education.
One student proposed to take a maximum credit load for four consecutive terms while working full time and parenting. Being positive, I admired their ambitions and then we imagined the reality of their days and weeks and clarified through such a schedule. The student realized that this schedule was not possible. Although they did not change their ways immediately, they are now aware of the risks and are willing to change course if needed.
If a student fails a course, the F and the embarrassment that accompanies it can create obstacles and jeopardize the student’s progress. Counselors are in a position to suggest to students that they sometimes need to slow down to move forward. This may mean taking less credit per term. Counselors can train students to be aware of their potential and to develop healthy learning habits and routines. They can provide tools to help students manage their time.
Finally, the students’ proactive outreach to let them know that they are not alone. There are mentors to encourage, guide, train and navigate additional learning resources. After all, the students who are less likely to ask for help are the ones who need it the most. A strong communication plan actively reaches out to new students as well as students who show signs of academic struggle.
To successfully manage the paradox of online learning requires both / and mindset. It requires human contact: listening, inviting, encouraging, and connecting. Admission counselors, academic advisors and coaches, instructors, program directors and anyone else who interacts with students play a role in managing expectations and providing support. You have to be transparent and let the students know that the work will be difficult but they are not alone in their journey.