The Online Student

Students need different skills to learn online than to learn in a traditional classroom setting. This section of the guidelines identifies the skills needed for online learning and discusses how those skills can be taught.

Online Learning Skills

To be a successful online learner, students need computer, reading, online interaction, and independent learning skills. Each of these types of skills is discussed in more detail below.

Computer Skills

Students need to be able to:

  • use a mouse
  • use a computer keyboard
  • send and receive e-mail with attachments
  • use a word processor
  • move through website content (for example, they must be able to enter and exit a website, and move from one page to another)
  • search the Internet for information
  • print information
  • assess the reliability and accuracy of information found on the Web

This is a minimum level of computer skill. Some courses may require additional or more complex computer skills.

Reading Skills

Most information in online courses is provided in written form. Graphics, cartoons, music and the like provide additional information in some circumstances, but the written word is central to most courses. Usually, student assignments are submitted in writing. This means that in order to succeed in an online course, students must have good reading and writing skills. Reading and writing skills are as important in the online environment as in a traditional classroom. With face-to-face instruction, even if students have trouble reading, they can learn a great deal by listening to the teacher and other students. They can give their answers orally, if writing is difficult. The possibility of verbal interaction is much less in an online course than in a face-to-face classroom. For those students that are finding it difficult to succeed because of their lack of familiarity with English are strongly encouraged to take advantage of INSOTUS's ESL Reading Smart Programme.

Online Interaction Skills

Quality online programs such as the ones offered by INSOTUS are organized so that students can interact with their teacher and with each other. Most of this interaction is done in writing through e-mail, chat rooms or online bulletin boards. In this context students need to be able to:

  • write clear, unambiguous messages. Since facial expressions and other non-verbal cues that we often use to interpret verbal messages are missing online, clear writing is crucial.
  • use "netiquette". The Internet has its own etiquette and its own forms of courtesy. For example, using all capital letters is the equivalent of shouting and is considered rude in most situations.
  • use "emoticons". Keyboard characters that express emotion. For example happy :-), sad :-(.
Students will experience greater success and satisfaction with online learning if they take the initiative to contact their distance education teacher and fellow online students. They can introduce themselves, ask questions, or present topics for discussion, depending on the circumstances.

Independent Learning Skills

Students taking courses online are expected to assume greater responsibility for their own learning than is the case in the traditional classroom. Successful online students:
  • organize their time in order to complete the course
  • ask questions of their distance education teacher or site facilitator
  • locate relevant information using the Internet or the school library
  • persevere, even when faced with challenges, in order to complete the course.