David Searls, Associate Editor of PLOS Computational Biology, has published a great commentary titled “Ten Simple Rules for Online Learning.” While targeted at people trying to learn bioinformatics online, his rules are applicable to all online learners, including those of us participating in this fall’s Mechanical MOOC. In fact, some of the advice may be equally valuable to students in traditional face-to-face classes. The article is not long and is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s my quick summary of the highlights, with a few additions of my own.
Make a Plan – Think about how the course you’re taking fits into a larger plan. Look for examples of course sequences or curricula that can help you select online courses that fit together and will lead in a coherent way to achieving your goals.
Be Selective – There may be more than one course or online resource for the skill or content area you’re interested in. Look at the instructor, content, time commitment of each course, and select the one that best fits your overall goals. New courses are being added all the time. There are some good lists online of MOOCs, connectivist MOOCs, programming courses and others. Even Lifehacker and Reddit are developing lists of online courses. Remember that online education is very international. You may find the course you’re looking for offered by an Indian Univerisity, for example.
Organize Your Learning Environment – Set up your learning schedule and dedicate a workspace to allow you to succeed in the course. Since you won’t have a set class schedule or school to visit, you’ll have to plan for the how, when and where of your learning on your own.
Do the Readings, Exercises and Assessments – You will get out of the course what you put in. Watching video lectures alone won’t give you what you learn to master the material. Exercises, quizzes, exams and writing assignments weren’t put into the course to judge you; They exist because they help you learn. Participants in the mMOOC should pay extra attention to this part of Searls’ advice:
For courses that are computational in nature, there is the additional imperative to do the programming assignments faithfully. You haven’t really taken a programming course if you haven’t been through the hard slogging: designing, testing, debugging, documenting, refactoring, etc. If the assignment is just too dull, you have the luxury of being able to tweak it towards some variation that interests you, but come what may, it’s well known that you must put in the time to become a proficient coder.
Exploit the Advantages – Online learning offers you more control of your experience. Take advantage of the technological bells and whistles of the learning platform, like slowing down and interrupting the video lectures, for example. Use the flexibility of online courses to try new things, like studying at different times of the day or breaking course materials into smaller chunks.
Reach Out – Getting help with the material requires you to contact the instructor, TAs or your peers. Make sure to include this in your time-management and learning strategy. Think about things like email etiquette in order to be successful in soliciting help from others.
Document Your Achievements – If your online learning is taking place within a MOOC or other course that doesn’t count toward a degree, you should think about how to document your learning for future employers. Keep a portfolio (perhaps as a blog) of your accomplishments. Look into online badges, CLEP, or other credential-granting tools.
Be Realistic – Not all your learning can take place online. Look for opportunities for hands-on practice, to develop speaking and people-skills and to build professional relationships.
*** Come back tomorrow. I’ll be launching a series on successful learning in MOOCs. ***