What are the Keys to Successful Online Learning?

There is lots of talk these days about online learning, especially with the proliferation of mobile devices. At first glance, it seems like an easy solution to our time crunched lives. For some the thought might be a scary one because it is so different from the type of learning we are used to.

I have been engaging in online learning and teaching since 1998. I’ll never forget my first class at LSU as I began to the doctoral program, I was nervous because it had been ten years since I finished my masters degree. I knew things had changed but little did I know how much until, the instructor wrote a website on the board and said this is where all of the course materials can be found. I was scared to death; I thought to myself, “You are not going to give me a sheet of paper with the requirements?” See that class was a face-to-face class but the blackboard site is where all of the course activities took place between our class sessions.

As a graduate assistant at LSU, I actually taught my first online class. It was at that moment, that I thought this tool has incredible potential for educating and forming ministry leaders. As a youth ministry leader for over 30 years, including 10 years as a diocesan leader, I knew that ongoing education was critical to success in youth ministry, any ministry for that matter. But I also, knew that for all of those years my schedule would not allow me always to prioritize my own continuing education and I knew that ministry leaders in my dioceses where experiencing the same struggle. That actually is how MTS came to be. Since 2000, I have been teaching and learning in this medium, an experience filled with many struggles and successes. In the past 12 years, online education has change dramatically. But the one thing that has been consistent is the focus on learning.

So, as an online learner, you may be feeling a little fearful about how you can be successful in this type of learning. Or, you may be excited about the possibility of being able to learn without having to drive or give up a full weekend, but are still wondering how online learning works.

What are the keys to success?

First, be intentional about learning. Online learning does not happen magically, just like in face-to-face learning, we have to focus our energy towards learning. Any learning requires our investment of time and energy to the learning process. As an online learner you are not required to be in one place with the instructor in order to learn. This online learning site provides you a wealth of information, actually much more information in some ways than if I was teaching this course to you on a Saturday in your diocese. Be intentional about how you schedule your learning time! Look at the course schedule and look at your schedule and figure out when you will complete the learning activates. Also, create a physical space for you to learn.

The second key is persistence in overcoming learning challenges; sometimes in a new learning environment, we can become frustrated. We forget our password; we can’t open a document, our Internet crashes. A successful online learner is persistent. They don’t give up at the first, second, or even tenth frustration. They keep at it and seek help to move through whatever issues arise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on the tech support discussion forum.

Sometimes, as an online learner we can feel alone with our computer, but the opposite is true. The instructors will share with you ideas and thoughts about how to be effective in ministering to the young church; however, the real learning takes place in our community interactions. So, make a commitment to the learning community. If you have questions ask! If you have insights, share! If you have a solution to another learner’s challenge offer it! As an instructor, I always get new insights from our shared learning.

The discussion forums are often the main way we learn together in an online environment. Other ways include completing course surveys, and following instructor or student blogs. Student blogs are not always required but they are excellent ways for ministry leaders to share and document their learning. Some of these student bloggers use this as a way to pass on insights gained in online learning with members within their ministry setting. Live webinar sessions are also great opportunities for collaborative learning! Finally, accountability in online learning is critical to success. The flexibility of online learning is the best and worst part of online learning. If we hold each other accountable, we will all succeed.

So, those are my three keys to success 1) be intentional in creating time and space for your own learning, 2) be persistent when obstacles seem to challenge learning, and 3) make a commitment to our online learning community!

If you are interested in pursing online learning, check out the NACYML OnCourse Youth Ministry Specialization Certificate, offered completely online. Classes begin on September 24th.