Online Classes: A Non-Love Story

computerSo here’s the deal, HLS friends: despite the fact that I am a documented introvert, I like to do my learning in an actual classroom.  I know that many library school programs are online, and that this format is convenient for people who don’t want to leave good jobs, or who can’t pick up and move to a new location, or who have to take care of their families.  There have even been several posts here at Hack Library School in support of online education.  But I made the decision to leave my job and move to a new place and go to school full-time because I wanted the experience of an on-campus program.

So what, exactly, is the problem?  Well, there are many things I love about my library school program.  However, enrollment in my specialization is small, and many of those who are enrolled choose the distance program; as a result, the majority of our classes are online.  Last semester, I took only core classes, so this semester is my first experience with online courses.  And I am going a little bit crazy.

For one thing, I’ve mentioned before that I am a procrastinator by nature.  While I am working to be better about this, the fact of the matter is that I tend to put off working on things until the last minute.  With two online classes this semester which both have modules that end on Sunday nights, a lot of work gets left to do on the weekends (this also makes me feel like there’s no real ‘break’ in the week from work and classes).

studentsFor another thing, I do, actually, like talking to and interacting with my classmates and professors; this is much harder when two thirds of your classes take place in the virtual world rather than the actual one.  I find class discussions valuable (even if I don’t love to participate in them), and I don’t think online discussion boards provide the same experience.  Additionally, it’s much easier for me to pay attention to a professor who is actually in the same room as me; when I’m listening to an online lecture, I’m tempted to do other things on the computer instead of giving the class my full attention.

I also miss the social aspect of learning; I spent last semester building new relationships with classmates through group projects, class activities, and casual social interactions, and now I feel like I rarely see them, because we all lead busy lives, and now we don’t have campus classes to bring us together each week.

So, what can I do to make the most of this educational experience?  Well, here is this campus girl’s guide to surviving online classes:

schedule1. Make a schedule.  Campus classes normally last about 3 hours.  I’ve started blocking out a 3-hour chunk of time each week for each of my online classes.  During this time, I close out all of my other computer programs, put my phone away, turn off the television, and devote all of my attention to the class.  Sometimes I finish early, and sometimes there’s a little more to be done, but after that three hours, I’m done for the day.  (Obviously, homework and project assignments require time outside of this block.)

2. Make friends with the other campus students in your online class.  I’ve been lucky to have one or two fellow campus students in my online courses.  When the time comes to work on group projects, we make a point to work together; this is a good way to incorporate some of the social aspects of learning back into online courses.

3. Get involved in extracurricular activities.  Outside activities are a great way to pursue different interests and maybe even add something useful to your resume.  They are also a good way to make sure you actually get to talk to people, and don’t end up having increasingly random conversations with your cat (not that that’s happened to me…).

reading-cat4. Unplug.  Like many people, my job as a graduate assistant requires me to spend most of my time at a computer.  Add to that the time I need to put in for online classes, and I am spending a LOT of hours each week in front of a screen.  It’s important to take a break-read a book for fun, go to a Zumba class, meet a friend for coffee-so that I don’t end up with a hunchback and astigmatism.

Like I said before, I am not trying to bash online education-I know it’s a great option for a lot of people.  For me, however, it isn’t ideal; since it is my reality, though, I want to make the most of it, and so far, these are the solutions I’ve found.

So what are your thoughts on online classes?  Do you love them or wish you could leave them?  Do you have any suggestions for how I can keep improving my experience?  Let me know in the comments, or find me on Twitter @alisonjane0306.

P.S.-Are you a distance student dealing with online classes?  Check out this post for some great survival tips.

28 replies

  1. I’m with you entirely on this topic–basically ambivalent but leaning towards the in-person classroom space. I chose my program because it is in my town, and in fact, I had been planning on going back to library school for a few years but waited until my program got ALA accreditation.

    I’m a little biased because I taught college literature for about a decade, and while I understand that learning can happen well in online spaces, I can’t quite grasp at a gut level how it work for me. I think one of the issues I have with online classes is that they have to be structured very rigorously for them to work well (down to the way discussion threads are woven together and how students are required to interact, for example). But that very rigorously of structure makes it difficult for the kind of learning that I cherish the most–the off-the-cuff, not entirely planned revelations or concerns that good teachers know how to pounce on and make into interesting lessons.

    It turns out that my program, while completely lacking in online courses, is in many ways a kind of distance ed program as well since the student population by and large works full-time during the day and lives just a bit far enough from campus to make it not worthwhile to stop in for extracurriculars. I’m actually trying to see if there are things we can do as a program to use online meeting spaces (webinars, etc.) for extracurricular or cocurricular learning and interaction….


    • “But that very rigorously of structure makes it difficult for the kind of learning that I cherish the most–the off-the-cuff, not entirely planned revelations or concerns that good teachers know how to pounce on and make into interesting lessons”

      I agree with you about this-the very structured “discussions” that occur online make it difficult to have a free-flowing discussion, and instead of hearing interesting (if, on occasion, tangential) new ideas or interpretations, the topics are much more limited.

      As for online meeting spaces, do students in your program have access to Adobe Connect? It’s something that students at Syracuse can use, and it’s fairly easy to use, and we’ve been able to have distance students (or campus students who can’t get to campus at the time) participate in extracurricular activities that way. It might be something to ask about with program administrators.


      • I just emailed the tech coordinator in my program about setting up some kind of live webinar environment for extracurricular events, and he said he’s looking into it (his position is just a year old, so there’s lots of stuff he’s had to put into place so far). I suspect that there is some resistance on the part of the faculty to implement distance learning technology, and I’m sympathetic to concerns that doing so may force the department’s hand in terms of offering online courses. I think having some courses online would be great, and certainly many of my peers would love having that option.


  2. I share many of your concerns with online classes. I am considered an on-campus student, too, but all my classes have been online after my core classes. My core classes had great discussion. I miss that. Our online classes are all live and you can interact in real time with the professor and other students, but the limitations of the software make it painfully slow and awkward. It’s not my favorite method of having class, but that said, I do appreciate the fact that I can enjoy a class of wine during my class. So I guess there’s some good in it.


    • I understand the frustration of slow interactions with the other people in the class, but on the other hand, I like the idea of having classes in real time. That at least provides you with a set time to be in “class mode” and the potential for more authentic interaction with classmates and professors, provided the software functions properly.

      I also like your positive attitude-wine with class is definitely a benefit 🙂


    • This is actually quite interesting to hear from both you and Nicole–that programs with both in-person and online student populations can end up being predominantly online for the in-person students, too. I would be frustrated by that. I wonder if it would be possible to create an in-person classroom environment that would also allow substantive participation from a live, distance student population….


  3. I like online classes for the fact that I don’t have to commit to being on campus X number of times per week. However, I find myself procrastinating as well and fitting in school work “when I have time” instead of setting aside specific time slots for it. I can really identify with your “make a schedule” point and this is a goal I have for my online classes this semester.


    • I understand that not having to commute to campus is a benefit-I work on campus, though, so I have to go there most days anyway!

      I’m also really trying to be better about the schedule thing. Sometimes I commit that block of time, and then get distracted…but it’s a goal for me this semester, too.


  4. Thanks for the tips, particularly. I also prefer the classroom environment, but this semester I’m facing a class where a bunch of the lectures will be online. There was a dry run with some videotaped material this week, and I got way too distracted. As all of our programs increasingly involve online classes, every little trick will help!


    • It is so hard to focus on online lectures when the internet has so much fun stuff! At first, I would tell myself that i could listen to the lecture and still understand even if I was doing other things…but that doesn’t really work. I really have to close out Twitter, Facebook, and all the other distractions so I can actually learn something.


  5. I’m a recent MLIS grad who took all of her classes online via Distance Learning. I wouldn’t necessarily say classroom learning is better than online learning- they’re just different, and they cater to different learning styles. As a fellow introvert, sometimes I do prefer the “anonymity” of being in an online classroom. I also don’t have to spend extra time driving myself over to the classroom. Heck, I don’t even have to be dressed decently to go to class!

    On the other hand, you do have to put more effort into online learning. Its a lot easer to skip out on class, or to become distracted with Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. It’s not like the teacher’s going to notice 😉 Online classes definitely require more motivation. Again, it all depends on your learning preferences.

    That being said, I found this article to be very helpful to those beginning their MLIS degree, or for those considering the major. Thanks Alison!


  6. I’d prefer on-campus for the social and networking aspect, but online is the only way to go for me due to work. I feel like I’m missing out on meeting people and that I have to be extra diligent to network.

    I take two classes a semester and for full time. I set a schedule where certain parts of my week are devoted to school. Tuesdays and Wednesdays after work plus all day Sunday. I manage to be able to get all of my work done during those times. I may throw in an extra evening or take a vacation day for a big project.

    What’s been very key with this schedule is making sure to take time to do something non-school and non-work that I want to do. I make sure that I have at least 30 minutes in the morning after breakfast to work on a hobby – not course reading, not cleaning the apartment. It helps me not feel so overwhelmed with school and work taking so much of my time.


  7. Great article I will go and write myself a schedule straight away.
    I’ve been studying online since 2011, working towards completing my BA in Librarianship and Info Management. University Discussion Boards are generally a waste of time because even though we are required to participate each week there is little if any interaction with tutors. Contact with tutors should be the main purpose of the discussion board, but if the tutor or lecturer doesn’t commit to responding regularly then there is little or no point to making it part of the assessed work.
    One of my biggest lifesavers has been the Facebook group of fellow online students enrolled in the same course. Although we aren’t all online at the same time (we are spread over 4 time zones), there is always someone to bounce ideas off discuss problems and share information with. We even get together at the end of Semester and have online parties using Google +, complete with glasses of wine and funny hats!
    I agree online study does tend to isolate but it just means you need to be more proactive in finding ways to communicate with other students and your tutors.


  8. You brought up a lot of good points Alison. I’m in my final semester in a fully online program and it was a huge adjustment for me, especially starting it up just a year after completing a traditional, classroom-based MA. While I completely agree with you about many of the difficulties inherent in an online platform – especially the social / collaborative aspects and the difficulties of having meaningful class discussions – it got easier once I realized that online programs are really a you-get-what-you-put-into-it situation, and it sounds like you’re already getting a handle on that. Blocking of time for classes, disciplined scheduling and extracurriculars are a brilliant way to find your rhythm and thrive in an online environment. Speaking as a fellow introvert with a preference for in-person learning, I can say that it gets easier. You just need to know, very specifically, what you want to get out of the program, and then take proactive steps towards ensuring that you get it. It’s weirdly empowering in a way, knowing that you really are in charge of the depth and breadth of your experience, at least I’ve found it to be so (though I might have preferred a more traditional program in the end – I haven’t decided yet). I hope it ends up working out well for you.


  9. I moved to Tallahassee for a GA position in the FSU Libraries. So, I live in Tallahassee, work on the FSU campus, but will never set foot inside a campus classroom for a LIS course. I’m thankful for distance learning courses, since I was able to begin grad school before moving… but I am not a fan of online courses.

    Online courses make me feel disconnected from my education, classmates and professors. I have to force the investment of work for an online course that is normally natural for me during an on campus course, and I feel that my professors aren’t invested in me either. I don’t know any of my professors and they don’t know me. It is great that there are programs that offer a option to do the degree completely online, but I think my education would be strengthened if there were more options for on campus courses. I’m rather disappointed.

    Your tips are definitely great though. If we’re stuck in an online course we have to make the best of it.. now to find what the best is.


    • Chealsye-
      I am at USF and completely empathize with your online experience. I have started to take advantage of some webinars, which has helped me with networking and some social/intellectual time, but what has really made a difference was moving exchange from the discussion boards to emails to texting. And even though I feel odd describing the evolution of my friendships in this manor, I have made some really great friends.

      I do feel I should pay a different tuition scale and not pay parking fees or athletics fees since I am not on a campus. But my real issue is with getting references from professors. Recently, I asked for a reference from a professor that has had me in three courses, but she was hesitant because she has not met me F2F.
      In some ways, online education is ahead of our social culture.


  10. I’m in my last semester of a fully online program, and I have loved it for many reasons. The first is that I work full-time and would be unable to commute after work to local MLIS programs, and the second is that I have been taught by many incredible professors who work in various geographic locations across the country. If my job had not been in a library or archives, I could understand feeling isolated — but since I confronted library-related issues daily, I actually felt a little burnt out by thinking about libraries all day at work and then all night while during schoolwork.

    I am also a very independent learner, and while I can excel at the traditional classroom learning, I like having time to digest material before being forced to discuss it immediately. I always set a schedule for the week, carving out specific time to listen to lectures and work on assignments — I’ve always been an intense planner, so it was an easy adjustment for me to make.


    • Yes, I think it definitely helps if you are very good at structuring and pacing your own learning in online courses. My internship supervisor is in an online LIS program, and she is very with-it in terms of scheduling her school, work, and family obligations. I am pretty bad at time management, unfortunately. >_<


  11. I recently completed my MSLS online program in August. I am a people person and definitely wanted to be present in the classroom but my choices for MLS programs locally was limited so I chose the online route. I must say I completely enjoyed my experience as an online student. Because I am an organized person online learning was not a difficult task. But one definitely should become organized and cognizant of time management. Now comes the task of finding a job!!!


  12. Alison-
    As a fellow online learner, I took your advice. I joined my university’s student organization of LIS’ers for some outreach and social exchange, and now we have a meet up for members in my area at the end of the month. I made a calender with time blocks for work, writing, and breaks. I even put in a power walk to get a little recharge. I can’t ignore it if it is on the calender! Thanks for all your ideas.


  13. I am still working through my MLIS and half way through the program switched from the physical to the virtual classroom because I started working full-time M-F in a library.

    I have mixed feelings about online classes, but ultimately think it comes down to how students approach the coursework and how an instructor structures the online curriculum. I took a web development and information architecture course online last year and LOVED IT. I really felt like the professor knew how to manage instructional technology because I felt connected like I would in a physical classroom. The instructor moved away from discussion boards and setup Google Hangout meetings throughout the week to accomodate student schedules. There would be hangouts with 10 people talking about web design and readings for the week. It was always super interactive too because GHangs have share screen functionality. You could actually present your website and have full on discussions. This worked well for me because my strong talent is speaking, not writing. I guess the point I am trying to make is…. we need better instructional technologies that aren’t just text based and professors who are innovative and creative in the virtual classroom.


  14. After I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the exact same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove me from that service? Thanks!


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