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Essential Skills All Online Learners Need

Posted by Adrienne Erin
Adrienne Erin
Adrienne is a freelance writer who is always interested in learning and writing
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in eLearning Strategy

No matter where you live in the world, you can get the education you want through an online university or e-learning program. But while these online educational systems are accessible to anyone, in order to make the most of it and learn as much as possible, there are skills you should have before you even start the schooling.  

While many of these essential skills include a proficiency in using a computer and the Internet, they’re certainly not the only ones. After all, while the beauty of eLearning is that it can be accessed and done from anywhere in the world, it also means that you and you alone are responsible for showing up for “class”, carving out the time needed and investing enough effort to succeed. 


Technical Skills


Technical know-how is a must. Not only will you need to navigate the school’s online education system, but you’ll also do all of your “classroom” participation, research and homework assignments online as well. 


Basic Office Software Knowledge


Many of your assignments will require the use of office software, such as Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works, Google Docs (a cloud-based system) and Lotus Symphony. These software packages, among others, typically have the functionality for word processing, presentation software and spreadsheets, to name just a few of the things you can do. Word processing will often be used the most. This is simply because it’s a text-based program where you can create everything, from an academic paper to a memo. But presentations, with program’s like Microsoft PowerPoint — part of Microsoft Office – are often a part of coursework as well. Spreadsheets will be used, particularly if your field of study is related to business. 


Familiarize yourself with one of these office software systems, but do consider this: you’ll want whatever system you use to be compatible with the online school you’re attending. Chances are your eLearning program, as well as your fellow students whom you may work with on group projects, will use a Microsoft platform. 


Multimedia Knowledge


Audio and visual media is increasingly a part of the online classroom. This includes everything from watching or listening to and producing videos and podcasts, to building websites and creating animation. All of this will most likely be dependent on your field of study. But as a precursor to starting your eLearning program, familiarize yourself with multimedia resources. One such way to do that is to use video tutorials, such as those hosted on Youtube, to learn how to use certain online resources. Some online universities will also offer tutorials as well. 


Internet Skills


Good research skills are a must for any sort of educational program. As such, know the best -- and fastest -- ways to perform research. Of course, start with the basics with keyword searches on the big sites, like Google and Bing. But also know this: it’s not just about typing in a generic search term; rather, it’s about picking the right keyword and then determining if the source is both 1) original and 2) an expert in the field from the best facility. In other words, Wikipedia will not do.


For example, if you’re studying engineering, you may need to do a research paper on equipment management. But the keyword “equipment management” is too broad. Drill down into your topic by getting specific with your keywords, using terms like “oil analysis” or “fluid samples” to find targeted articles and news related to your topic. 

You can get even more specialized with your searches using other academic search engines. Lexis Nexis is great for business information. Whether you’re studying marketing or finance, while Google Scholar offers a plethora of academic resources, and LawCrawler features legal information for law students. 


Virtual Learning Environment


Last but not least, once you sign up for your eLearning program, you’ll also need to get to know the virtual learning environment that is particular to your school/educational program. This can also be referred to as a course management system, and it’s where you’ll access materials provided by the professor, post your assignments, work with other students in groups, and see your grades, just to name some of the functionality. 


As such, before the course even starts, poke around and familiarize yourself with the system. Use any help tutorials provided by the distance learning program, and understand how to use it. Such as how the discussion board works, or how you’ll upload files. This will save you a great deal of time once the coursework begins. Then you’re not scrambling to upload a file before a due date comes and goes. 


For all these technical programs, one last note: know how to troubleshoot the software, even if that means just familiarizing yourself with how to use the ‘help’ function. Because while technology is supposed to make our lives easier, glitches do happen with software, and you’ll want to know how to solve the problem easily so as to not stress out. That said, be sure to backup all your work. 


Reading, Writing and Communication Skills


Studying and learning online is different than going to a classroom every day. Instead of cracking open a textbook, you’ll be spending quite a few hours in front of a computer, where – chances are – all your reading assignments will be. As such, it’s essential for online learners to be comfortable with both reading and writing online.


An offshoot of that is your communication skills. You won’t be interacting with your professor or classmate’s face to face. While your professor may host video sessions while teaching the class, most of your communication will be online. As such, be polite in all of your correspondence, and make sure that you’re being as clear and concise as possible so no misunderstanding occur. Be sure to use spell check, and always read over what you’ve written before hitting send, or posting to a discussion board. 


Self-Discipline Skills


Online learning requires a lot of time management. That’s because while many programs will have “class” at a certain time, it’s up to you to be in front of your computer and signing on so that you can actively participate and show your professor that you’re there to learn. And then when it’s time to complete assignments, you need to make sure to carve enough time out of your day to meet deadlines.


To do this, stay organized. Once you receive a syllabus, be honest with yourself about the time it will take you to do certain tasks and homework assignments. As an online learner, without a “place” to be technically, it’s up to you to stay motivated and get the work done.

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Adrienne is a freelance writer who is always interested in learning and writing more about online education and e-learning.


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