When you find yourself at a stage in life where you feel that you are ready to go back to school, there are a few skills and mind-set issues that need to be addressed first. You will find that modern colleges offer many of their courses over the Internet using either Moodle or Blackboard. You will also find that the pace of college has not slowed over the years. These challenges are not impossible to overcome, but you will need to do some preparation and planning.
Online courses are not very much like a traditional course. You will be responsible for most of the information yourself. If you are a person who can stay focused on a task for a long period of time, or can pickup where you left off, then online courses are a blessing. Do not be afraid to enroll in an online course for your first class, but make sure you are ready to be learning online.
Blackboard and Moodle are two online programs that many colleges and universities use. They are generally called Course Management Systems, because they help the teachers of the class to manage the students and assignments. These are very much like a computer program that you might install on your home computer. There are always different ways to do things in an online course, and your instructors will have different takes on how the class should be setup. Make sure you feel comfortable using the web for various things. An easy and fun way to make sure you are ready for an online course is to setup a Facebook or MySpace account. Share some pictures with your friends, and enjoy connecting with long-lost family members. If you can easily navigate through Facebook, then you should be able to learn either Moodle or Blackboard.
Read something online. If you are reading this, then you are familiar with online reading. Unfortunately, your coursework will not be so enjoyable because you will be under a deadline and will have much more reading to do. Most college classes require three to nine hours of outside reading. Make sure that you can handle this much text without going nuts. True, you will be able to print out some of the materials. True, many of the classes you take will have paper-bound textbooks. The problem is that most of the classes you take will also require a lot of reading in message forums where you discuss the content being taught. It is difficult and counter productive to attempt to print out these forum postings, so the best thing to do is practice reading online as much as possible.
Reading is key. Do not take this to mean that you will be unable to complete your courses if you are not a highly skilled or experienced reader. You just need to know your limitations and boundaries. If you feel you need some practice reading before taking a Literature Survey or World History course, take a lighter class first. Find a class that will require some reading, but does not focus entirely on reading to complete the coursework. Practice reading by picking up a bestseller at your local library and reading it. Read something every day, and keep yourself focused on that task.
You will, inevitably, need some quiet time to complete various tasks. There will be some tests you need to take, and some papers to be written. Make sure you have a place setup where you can be alone for a few hours a week to take care of your work. You might decide to setup a corner in the basement or shed. You might even decide to use some of the tables at the local library. It does not matter where you are, only that you can focus on what you are doing and have time where you will not be disrupted.
For your first semester, do not take more than one or two classes. Even if you are a strong reader and a fast typer, you will find that your mind is being pulled in ways that it has not been pulled in quite a long time. If you are going for an advanced degree or certificate, your Professors will be talking like you just finished your preparatory work last week and clearly remember everything you learned. This is ok; it does not mean that you will not make it through. Just take your time and carefully read every assignment.
Reading every assignment can be an issue in some online classes. In a traditional, face-to-face classroom, your teacher always made sure you knew what was coming up next. In an online course, the impetus is on you to make sure you know what is going to happen. Do not assume that you will be informed of everything, or that you do not need to click on a link. Click on every link the teacher posts and read every assignment twice. Make sure you read the course syllabus and identify where the teacher has assignment due-dates.
In face-to-face classes, do not be intimidated by the younger people in there. Some of them will have just finished their initial degree and are following you to a higher degree. If you are getting a Bachelor’s or Associates degree, many of the students in your class will look like they know what is going on. Fear not, this is the mere hubris of youth. They are young and still believe that they are incapable of failure, or at least, that failure will not damage their image. Allow the other students to think what they will, you stay focused on your coursework and complete every assignment to the best of your ability. You are coming back to school after a break, so this education means much more to you than it probably does to them.
Finally, make sure you are taking notes in every class, every day. This sounds simple, but you will find that difficult classes are the most difficult to take notes in. These classes will whiz past you and leave you wondering what you got yourself into. Write down what the professor is teaching, and review it later. Ask questions during class, and do not be afraid to get a tutor. Your notes will allow you to be specific in your tutoring session, or when you are asking the professor for assistance. Your notes will also help you to understand some of the course readings.
Remember that you can do this. Colleges and Universities do not accept students who cannot complete the work. You filled out the application, you showed the acceptance committee that you were able to do what needed to be done, just take it one step at a time, and you’ll do fine.