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How to Get Started with an Online Course

You want to take an online course, but how do you get started? We can help.


It's so great that you can take a course from just about anywhere in the world while you're sitting in your own home. If you can afford it, there really is no limit to what you can learn.

But there are some things you should consider before you get started with an online course. We've got five suggestions.

1. Find the Right School

Almost every college and university now offers online courses. How do you decide which one is right for you?

Location and price used to be at the top of the list, right after whether or not the topic you want to study was offered. Online courses have made location irrelevant, which opens up a lot of choices.

First of all, make sure your school is accredited. Don't send money to a school you're not absolutely sure is legitimate.

We've got other questions to consider in: Choosing the Right School

2. Make an Appointment with a Counselor

Every college and university has counselors available to answer your questions and talk with you about the courses and degrees the school offers and the resources and support available to students. Take advantage of this opportunity. It's available to all students, including you.

There are so many people over 25 heading back to school that lots and lots of campuses now offer non-traditional student organizations. While you're getting your questions answered by a counselor, ask if the school has such an organization and whether or not you can participate in it virtually.

3. Make a Commitment to Yourself

Taking an online course requires discipline. It's the No. 1 thing almost every university administrator lists as a requirement for online students. With a million and two distractions around you, from children to weeds growing in your garden, it can be a real challenge to make yourself sit down, participate in class, do the required reading, write papers, and study for tests when it's just you.

You're the one who makes it all happen. Make a firm commitment to yourself. You are now on your calendar as a priority, whether or not anyone else around you likes it.

4. Update Your Software

Depending on how long you've been out of the classroom, you may be shocked at the really cool things your computer can do. You may need to do some of these things in order to fully participate in an online course.

Make sure your computer, whatever kind it is, and however old it is, can do whatever your course requires. Not sure? Ask your counselor. Or ask your teacher. See No. 5.

Some software you'll need:

  • A reliable email program (many are free!)
  • Internet connection
  • Media player
  • Word processor
  • Spreadsheet program
  • PDF reader
  • Photo program
  • Presentation program

You might not need all of these, depending on your course. Make sure you know what's required. Software can be expensive, but some is available as freeware.

5. Connect with Your Teacher

Assuming you have chosen a course at a school you feel comfortable at, and have gotten your questions answered by a counselor, take time to connect with the person teaching your class. If you have any misgivings at all, it's especially important that you say hello to your teacher.

Teachers can be intimidating, but the very best ones are not. They are approachable. They are there to help you. They are in the classroom because they have a passion for sharing whatever topic they teach.

Your teacher wants you to be successful. Help him or her help you by letting them know of any special circumstances that may be obstacles for you. You don't have to be a whiner, simply communicate your concerns and ask for help if you need it.

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