For some students, taking different online courses can be a blessing, but for others, it’s their least favorite experience. When enrolling in an online class, it’s usually for the convenience in scheduling, allowing a student to free up space around other classes and work schedules. What I didn’t realize when I enrolled in my first online class was that the format of a virtual classroom would become my favorite, not to mention what I would learn about myself as student and the kind of learner I am.
Throughout my college career, my friends and family have often looked at my color-coded planner, calendar and binder only to say, “You’re way more organized than I am.” I always brushed that off as a small compliment, without realizing how my excessive organizing skills would change the way I saw myself as a student.
In my second college semester, I enrolled in my first online college class. My class schedule that semester was jam-packed, and there was no room to pick up another class, but I desperately needed the extra credits. At this point, I knew I was going to have to sign up for an online class, so I began asking around about how the virtual classroom worked, including what the day-to-day routine consisted of, how teachers taught the class and how heavy the work load would be.
As I asked around, the feedback I received from my peers was mostly, if not all, negative. These students claimed that the professors were lazy and failed to guide students through assignments. As a result of the class structure, students would miss due dates or attempt to finish on time after procrastinating until the last minute.
The reviews were discouraging, and I wasn’t fond of the idea of taking an online class, but my schedule didn’t give me much of a choice if I wanted to complete enough credits. By the time spring semester rolled around, I felt like I had no idea what I was about to get myself into.
My online professor posted a syllabus that not only contained his expectations for the course, but also a detailed timeline of readings, assignments, quizzes and exams. Looking at the syllabus, I considered that some of the students I talked to didn’t like online classes because of poor time-management.
I filled my planner with all the due dates and assignments. By making my planner this detailed, I could manage my other classes, social life and my online class.
It all worked out until the first quiz came around. I caught myself procrastinating on studying, and I waited until the day the assignment was due to even begin working on it. I also had to juggle assignments in my other classes. After struggling to balance everything, I realized I couldn’t put off work for this class again because it would only stack up, so I decided to design a personal routine to make sure I did my work on time instead of letting it pile up.
For the typical in-person class, structure comes from students and professors developing a routine. Class is scheduled on certain days of the week for a designated amount of time throughout the full semester. Beyond the regular schedule, teachers typically have students read some small sections of the textbook before each class, then the professor lectures and assigns homework, which is due the following class. They also provide the dates of quizzes, exams and review days, so students have a clear outline of how to manage class work.
An online class typically lacks this strict timeline, and it’s a lot more open. Students know what readings and assignments are going to be due, but no one tells them when to do it.
Considering the common structure of most college classes, I framed an online-class routine off this model. Knowing an assignment had a due date didn’t mean I couldn’t complete it ahead of time, so I made my own deadlines for future assignments, creating a day-to-day routine like that of other classes.
I remember a friend asking me how I was doing in my online class, and I explained my assignment schedule and how much it had benefitted my grade. I never missed a due date, and I had plenty of time to study for exams, do other classwork and have a functioning life outside of school. The friend responded, “You are way too organized.”
While this comment was true, it was my organization that helped me succeed in my online class. When I heard that people struggled with this virtual form of education, I knew I had to find a way to avoid the same fate.
My need to excessively organize and prepare for my online class taught me that I was the kind of student who flourished by teaching myself. I benefitted most when my professor provided a due date and allowed me to plan how and when I worked.
Since that initial experience, I have taken at least one online class every semester, even in the summer. Having the freedom to organize how and when I want to do my classwork is what keeps me enrolling in online classes.
Now, when I talk to other students about their experiences with online classes, I’ve began to hear positive feedback. A lot of the feedback comes from other students who describe themselves as “self-organized.” Often, they are drawn to online classes for the same reasons, because they all describe themselves as students who learn best in extremely organized, self-taught environments.
“I like online classes because I can learn at my own pace and complete tasks when my schedule allows, as it varies often,” says Madeline Purdue, a sophomore at the University of Nevada, Reno. “It allows me to be more organized and my grades don’t suffer from it.”
“As an organized student, I take online classes because they help me remain focused,” Jolie Ross, a junior at UNR, says. “I am constantly on the go, and when I don’t have at least one thing to do in the day, I feel like I’m forgetting something. Online classes allow me to fill those moments, making the most out of my day.”
Organized or not, some students like online classes, and others don’t. If you find yourself taking an online class due to scheduling issues, try to manage your time. Consider the best class format you’ve learned from, and use it as a foundation to manage the online class with the rest of your life. Being crazy organized helped me, but everyone organizes their life differently.