I can barely stand sitting in a classroom anymore.
There are other people there! I have to sit in a chair that I don’t own! I can’t noisily slurp ramen noodles! I have to wear pants!
Learning how to learn in an online environment was one of the best things that ever happened to me. When I enrolled in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign GSLIS online program (LEEP), I owned a Macintosh SE/30 that connected to the internet via an external dial-up modem. I had learned BASIC programming in the 1990s and I’m pretty sure I had no idea what HTML meant, had never seen a blog and certainly hadn’t ever learned anything online. This was 2006, btw– not too, too long ago. But I was a restaurant manager and apparently had NO USE FOR THE INTERNET (can you even believe that could be a sentiment?).
The LEEP program had synchronous-online classes– each class met at a specific time on a specific day of the week, just like a face-to-face class. With the wonderful exception of being able to attend classes in my pajamas on my computer (a new Mac laptop!) at my desk in my house. Every class met on-campus at UIUC once a semester, which gave us a unique opportunity to meet our classmates and instructors and do hands-on work that supplemented our online experience.
Since then, I’ve taken dozens of online classes (usually asynchronous, like SLIS classes) in a variety of programs, using many different learning management systems– Blackboard, WebTycho, D2L, Moodle and a few home-grown LMS, too. I love the freedom that online learning affords– the freedom for me to work when I have the time, the freedom to customize my learning environment, the freedom to interact with other students and instructors in a medium that I prefer (I love to write, I don’t love to talk usually). I prefer to read materials at my own pace, interact with lectures on my own terms and collaborate with classmates using the myriad tools available online for that purpose.
The skills I developed by completing my entire MLS online (and continue to develop in other online learning environments) include:
- Time management— Super obvious, but I hadn’t had to exercise much time management since undergrad. I was working full-time as a library assistant at the Newberry Library in Chicago at the time, but could easily schedule most of my classes for the evening. I had the amazing luck of having a job that allowed me to do most of my assigned reading on the clock (what a job!), but that hasn’t been the case in subsequent online programs. Finding time at the end of the day to get readings done, complete assignments, clock into the LMS, all require a dedication above and beyond the traditional classroom.
- Tech savvy— The LEEP program’s version of LIBR 203 is affectionately termed “Boot Camp”– a week-long, on-campus immersion experience for new GSLIS students. In addition to completing the 2-hour intro course “Libraries, Information, and Society,” we were put through the paces in a number of non-credit technology workshops. We learned how to use our LMS, the basics of HTML, netiquette for online learning and so much more. The program made me fearless when it came to new technology and allowed me to embrace Web 2.0 when it was ‘new’ and piqued my interest in social media generally.
- Distance collaboration— No one really likes group projects, let’s admit that. Online collaboration, however, seems to help students hurdle over many of group work’s most troubling aspects. Blogs, wikis, Google Docs, Dropbox and other online resources allow groups to work asynchronously or synchronously, share resources in real-time and see a final project come together more easily.
I’m an evangelist for online learning, but I understand that it is not for everyone. I’m taken enough classes with unprepared classmates to know that Discussion Boards are some people’s worst enemy. I’ve taught online enough to recognize a student who would be better served by a traditional learning environment. Many of my colleagues here at the college have strong, personal, negative feelings about online learning and prefer the lecture hall to the laptop. I think that with enough preparation and awareness, any student can succeed equally regardless of the mode of delivery, but recognizing one’s preference or ideal situation makes such a difference!