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Time Management and

Course Formats

Jim Norrena

Time management checklist

Drive your own desired results with these effective time-management skills that keep your online learning on track. Use this checklist:

Pay attention to your own rhythms

When are you the sharpest during the day? When are you typically sleepy? When do you have the most energy? If you are most sharp during the morning hours, schedule time before you leave for work to do your assigned readings. If you work best in the middle of the night, schedule your project time at 10:00pm to 1:00am. If you get sleepy in the middle of the afternoon on weekends, use that time to take a nap or to take a walk - don't schedule your study time during that period. Remember that you have to be alert to study and learn well, so schedule your study time at optimal points in the day, not when you know you'll be tired.

A special note to parents: Most parents with small children really can't do much of anything until late at night when their kids are in bed. This "quiet time" may be ideal - unless you are exhausted. If you are, consider going to sleep when your kids do and scheduling study time very early in the morning, before everyone else wakes up. Or, schedule specific times on the weekends, shut the door and let your family know that you are not to be disturbed during those hours.

Course Delivery Formats

Live vs. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous vs. Self-Study

There are basically three types of instructor-led course formats: Live, Synchronous and Asynchronous. Self-Study courses make up the fourth common online format. Let's look at these four formats in more detail.

Live: These are real-time seminars, panel-discussions, workshops or other presentations that are delivered online by technologies known as webcasting or streaming. The events are "streamed" into your computer over the Internet in real time. These types of presentations fall into two other sub-categories: one-way or interactive (bi-directional). One-way means you sit back and watch the presentation on your computer like you would watch television. There may be exercises or projects involved, but you are not contributing to the online discussion in real time.

The other option, interactive, means that you can participate live, in real time, buy live chat, calling in, instant messaging or emailing questions to the presenters. Usually, in these cases, there is a moderator who takes the questions from the online audience and feeds them to the presenters. Note that participating in live streaming requires specific software on your computer, a high-speed broadband connection and the ability to live chat, IM or email in real time.

Synchronous: A synchronous course is one that takes place at specific times, with everyone "meeting" online. Unlike a Live course, a synchronous course can be as simple as an instructor designating a specific "class time," such at Tuesday night from 7:00pm to 10:00 pm, where he or she will be "present." During that class time, students can access lessons, reading, post exercises and assignments and get feedback from the instructor via message boards, email and sometimes telephone or conference calls (students dialing into a toll-free conference line). Unlike real time streaming, a basic synchronous course is all about "meeting time" and less about technological capabilities. A synchronous course could be conducted with downloadable PDFs and message boards only, if such a case could even be accessed by the student via a dialup connection.

Asynchronous: An Asynchronous course is one where the student can access the course information at any time of the day, 24/7, and post their exercises and assignments at anytime. Feedback from the instructor is intermittent, as the instructor is also reviewing student postings anytime of the day, 24/7. In this scenario, a student may post a question on Monday evening and receive an answer from the instructor on Tuesday afternoon or evening. All of the interaction is thus, "time shifted."

Self-Study: A Self-Study course is one where there is no instructor involvement at all. The instructor is more of an "author" who creates the material, but the student accesses it and interacts with it on their own. Classic examples of Self-Study material are language and motivational tapes or CDs. Sometimes there may be workbooks and other documentation included that the student can utilize as they learn.

There is another presentation format to be aware of: Start time. Some of the above formats require pre-set "start times" (the Live and Synchronous courses in particular), or they can start whenever any particular student signs up (the Asynchronous and Self-Study in particular). An inventive Instructor may configure his or her course to incorporate elements of all of these formats into the delivery process.

Read the Instructions

Pay attention to what technologies the class incorporates to facilitate student interactivity: chat rooms, discussion boards, video-conferencing, and other multimedia that build classroom community. (Caution: the more interactivity and multimedia a course offers, the greater the minimum technical requirements become.)

Chat rooms and bulletin boards allow students to post live or static messages, respectively, for expanded discussion offline. Features that offer a greater means for communication between students (and instructor) are key to successful learning. The semi-anonymity allows you to speak your mind without intimidation, making conversations lively and enriching. Private one-on-one email exchange encourages useful feedback.

Chat rooms also offer students with visual barriers or who are easily distracted in traditional classrooms a place to thrive because they accommodate greater concentration. (Remember -- bulletin boards and discussion boards aid instructors in assessing a student's overall participation and/or enrollment, so be sure to document your contributions frequently.)

Update Your Tools

Whether on a PC or a Mac, you'll need an Internet connection -- preferably using a high-speed Internet Service Provider (ISP) -- and at least 64 megabytes of RAM (memory), preferably more -- RAM is cheap and makes a huge difference in the performance of your system.

Because most home systems are older (and slower) than office systems, most many online courses are designed with this in mind. Contact the site's administrator before enrolling if you have specific questions pertaining to your system.

Summary: Review the Checklist Review the following statements and check off the ones that apply to you. The more affirmative responses you provide, the better your chance of learning effectively in the online environment. (The list is not exhaustive -- but rather a general overview of key characteristics successful online learners posses).

Online Learning is a Two-Way Street

Ensuring online learning success means showing up -- not literally, of course -- but rather being present for self-growth. Education is an investment in oneself. Expect back only what you put in, and don't treat it as a spectator sport.

Remember -- successful online learning is measured by your participation. Accomplishing your goals means taking responsibility for your work, as well as interacting with peers for feedback and support. In short, it's an exchange of ideas and information.

Don't Give Up Before the Finish Line Each course is a unique experience. What you put into a course is what you'll get out of it. Online learning approaches are vast -- choose carefully, then dive into it with vigor.

"90 % of success is showing up"
      - Woody Allen

Jim Norrena

Jim Norrena is a writer for http://www.searchforclasses.com Check there for information, tips and articles about online education. If you want to dive into self-guided education, check out Jim's Education News blog and stay up to the minute on all the news.

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