Water Cooler: Is online learning for me?

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By Melany Hallam
No matter what career you’ve chosen or what job you’re doing for now, at some point you will find yourself needing to upgrade your skills by taking a course or a program of some kind.

In Powell River, your options for face-to-face learning in the classroom are quite limited-by either local availability or scheduling. More and more, job seekers are finding that online learning is the only way to get required work certificates or longer-term programs. And depending on how you learn and on your past school experiences, that can be pretty intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be.

I’ve been on both sides of the online learning process – as a student and as someone who provided online learning at a university. I can tell you that, without a doubt, the most difficult thing to manage is time. It’s not the difficulty of the subject you’re learning or how it’s delivered online or how you relate to your teacher, it’s just putting in the time.

Managing time is something that everyone has experience with, mostly along the lines of “there’s never enough of it!” Well, here’s a revolutionary idea: there’s always enough time. I can see you rolling your eyes at that statement. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start talking about discipline and setting goals. In fact, I`m going to talk about being as easy on yourself as possible.

I have a friend (let’s call her “Sandra”) who is taking an online cooking and nutrition program right now, a two-year commitment. Exams are due on certain days and there’s a weekly online lesson time but, for the most part, the work can be done whenever Sandra wants. So she made a schedule, and then she tried to stick to it. As very often happens, it drove Sandra crazy that she couldn’t get the lessons done when she had scheduled them.

After going along like this for a while, she realized that she was actually learning a lot and was really excited about what she was learning. She was putting in the time each day to learn, and that was a huge accomplishment – she should have been patting herself on the back. Instead, she felt like she was failing. Setting goals to finish certain lessons by exact dates wasn’t helping her learn. She sometimes raced through material to get to her goal and then didn’t remember what she’d read. That was especially unhelpful when it came to doing exams.

What can you learn from Sandra’s experience? You could start by committing to working in small, easy-to-handle chunks of time, say 20 minutes every second evening. And then don’t go over that time.

You heard me.

If you get to the end of your chunk of time and you’re not completely exhausted (as you would be if you leave your work to the last minute and try to get it all done at once), you can feel good about what you’ve accomplished. You met your goal. Then just keep doing it, and increase the length of your chunks of time at a pace you can handle. Go easy on yourself.

If you miss a session – it’s OKAY, don’t panic! And don’t beat yourself up about it. Just keep going and try to spend an average amount of time over a week or a month. Put in the time and the lessons and tests will get done. It’s inevitable.

And, who knows, in addition to finishing the course you need for work, you might even enjoy it!

Are you motivated about online learning yet? Here are some more things to consider and questions you can ask to help in your decision:

  • What is your work goal and is the course or program going to get you closer to your goal?
  • Will the course or program work around your schedule?
  • Be clear on the different types of online learning situations available and what you are comfortable with. Formats include: For longer programs, check out the course reviews and find out about the instructor – not all online coursesare created equal.
    • Self-paced (usually videos and multiple choice quizzes), take whenever you want. Completely on the computer, no interaction with an instructor or other students.
    • Monthly start dates with specific end dates and assignment deadlines. Reading and assignments. Message board interaction with instructor.
    • Specific schedule. Some real time interaction with instructor and other students. Includes instructor and/or peer assessment of your assignments.
  • Compare prices. Sometimes the exact same course is offered by different institutions at different prices.
  • Look worldwide. People tend to look at courses offered geographically close to them, even though the course is online. Broaden your search and you may find exactly what you’re looking for (as long as it’s accepted locally).
  • Technical considerations – how comfortable are you with computers? If you’re not very comfortable or you don’t have your own computer, here are some places where you can upgrade your skills or use computersfor free:

Online course offerings to try out:

  • Not sure what course formats might be right for you? Here are some free and sample courses to try out: Here’s a list of short, work-related certificate courses such as FoodSafe and Serving it Right. Most can be taken at any time:http://www.careerlinkbc.com/education.php
    • Lynda.com offers software and business courses by subscription, mostly videos. Click on any specific course to view a couple of lessons for free.
    • Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer general interest courses online for anyone to take, for free. They offer certificates of completion for a cost, but you don’t have to take them up on it. Includes online interaction and assessments by peers and instructors.
  • Education to Go. A wide range of courses that start every month, including software, business, design, writing and more, http://www.ed2go.com/viu/.
  • Canadian Virtual University. Online university courses from 11 accredited Canadian universities and colleges, http://www.cvu-uvc.ca/english.html
  • All colleges and universities offer at least a few online courses. Start your research from our B.C. post secondary institutes listing here:http://www.careerlinkbc.com/education.php



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