The last time I taught in a physical classroom was in 1999, when my adult students let go of the fatigue of a day of working and caring for their children to pay attention to their fellow students. class and mine for three hours.
Much has changed since then as the world of online learning designed for working adults has grown. As an online college counselor, I know adults are drawn to the flexibility of an asynchronous online learning environment and the pace of accelerated semesters. This model has become more common over the past year due to the pandemic and as colleges research different ways to reach their students while teaching remotely.
While asynchronous online learning works well for many students, it is not without its challenges, and these can be the same attributes that make it appealing – this is the online learning paradox. Students balancing the multiple responsibilities of jobs, kids, or aging parents are usually drawn to the virtue of online courses anytime, anywhere, but they may also need more help dealing with all of these things. .
Let’s take a look at the features of online education and how they allow and limit learning, as well as tips on how counselors can help students resolve these tensions.
Flexible hours require structure
Not having to show up in the same place and at the same time as their classmates allows students to organize their school work according to their responsibilities in life. But for some students, this flexibility can easily turn into missed deadlines.
I remember a student who waited until the homework deadline night to dive into his homework. Too often, they ended up needing to ask their instructor a question about the assignment, but didn’t have time to receive a response before the deadline. As a counselor, I was able to help them develop the best habits necessary for their success.
Counselors can help students develop healthy work habits by sending them helpful tips for meeting deadlines before class begins, such as:
- Plan Ahead: Get a “lay of the land” of the course by reading the syllabus. Use an agenda to mark major course deadlines, review it regularly, and implement measures to meet those deadlines.
- Blocking Time: Set aside regular time each week for schoolwork and stick to it. Don’t wait for a homework notification to get started.
Access anywhere benefits from a dedicated space
Mobile learning management apps allow students to do homework and attend class when and where they have an Internet connection. They can check announcements during work breaks or read chat messages while waiting for a flight at the airport.
While the “on the fly” login may work well for some course responsibilities, many assignments require concentrated blocks of time for thinking and writing. In my academic coaching work with students whose grades are dropping, it is not unusual for me to hear a student describe working on homework while working. As I dig deeper, the student realizes that their attention was fractured to the point where they could no longer complete an academic assignment.
A dedicated space can lend itself to learning. If possible, students should find a place that can be dedicated to schoolwork and that offers ideal learning conditions. It means removing distractions like mobile devices and independent browser windows and enlisting the help of friends and family to honor their space.
Autonomy can lead to isolation
Some students need to be explicitly encouraged and supported to express themselves in discussion posts and homework in an online environment. If students do not have to speak or be seen, they can fall into a feeling of isolation. This can be addressed by setting expectations for engagement and developing students’ inquiry skills.
Through the admissions process, online orientation, conversations with counselors and with course instructors, we can help students understand the value of discussion, engagement and knowledge cultivation through to collaboration. It is essential that we let them know that they have something valuable to say.
But simply saying it does not make it easy for students to express themselves; for example, asking questions is a learned skill. Counselors can help their students approach an instructor and formulate a question that meets their needs.
A particularly rewarding counseling experience occurred when a student, unhappy with his grade, asked me, “How do I put a question to a teacher who doesn’t look combative?” I helped them phrase their question to their instructor in a way that avoided the defensive “why did you do that?” Statements and instead used a problem-solving approach: “I want to understand”.
Slow down to move forward
Online colleges often compete for students by touting the rapid completion of the program. Subsequently, students may underestimate the time and effort required to go to college.
One student offered to take maximum credits for four consecutive terms, while still working full time and being a parent. Remaining positive, I saluted their ambition, then we imagined and articulated the reality of their days and weeks with such a calendar. The student realized that this schedule may not be achievable. Although they did not immediately change their course, they are now aware of the risks and are ready to change their path if necessary.
If students fail a course, that F and the shame that can accompany it can create setbacks and potentially derail a student’s progress. Counselors are able to suggest that students sometimes need to slow down in order to move forward. This could mean suggesting taking fewer credits per quarter. Counselors can also help students realize their strengths and develop healthy school habits and routines. They can offer tools to help students manage their time.
Finally, the proactive awareness of students goes a long way in letting them know that they are not alone in this situation. Counselors are there to encourage, guide, coach and direct students to additional learning resources. After all, the students who are least likely to ask for help are the ones who need it the most. A strong communication plan involves proactive outreach to new students as well as students who are showing signs of academic difficulty.
Managing the e-learning paradox successfully requires both a / and mindset. It requires human contact: listening, inviting, encouraging and connecting. Admissions counselors, academic advisors and coaches, instructors, program directors and anyone else who interacts with students play a role in managing expectations and supporting. You have to be transparent and let students know that the work will be hard but that they are not alone in their journey.