If you are thinking about trying out online learning, you might wonder if you are actually ready to start on this new adventure. If you are generally comfortable with technology and use a computer regularly, you will probably be more concerned about the learning content or about the time involved rather than worrying about the technology. On the other hand, if you are not very comfortable with using a computer, you might wonder more about just how complicated online learning is.
What you need to know about computers and technology will depend on the type of online learning you are interested in. Because online learning comes in many shapes and sizes, you may only need a basic comfort level with technology or you might need to use more advanced skills. In fact, online learning technology (along with technology in general) is becoming more user-friendly every day, making it even more accessible than it was just a few years ago, so it might be easier than you think.
For example, if you want to learn about a particular subject using self-study modules like these ones, you need to be able to locate a website and navigate your way through the modules. If you are going to participate in a live training event, you may need to be able to download some software, and you will probably have to know how to set up your speakers and possibly a microphone. If you are going to enroll in a multi-week accredited course, for example, you may be required to register with a website, possibly download software, navigate through a learning management system, download lessons and upload completed assignments. If you want to listen to an audio podcast, you will need to know how to download the file and either listen to it on your computer or transfer it to your iPod or other MP3 player.
Some online learning opportunities will include information, often through a FAQ (frequently asked questions), to let you know what skills are required. The FAQ will also tell you if you need special equipment such as a microphone, if you need to have a high-speed connection or if you need to download software. Be sure to check out all of the information before deciding if a particular online learning opportunity is right for you. It can be very frustrating to sign up for something only to learn that you need additional equipment or you aren't comfortable with the skills required to participate. For example:
Contact North provides a Quick Connect information sheet that includes system requirements, recommended software and instructions on how to test your computer to see if you can use their online learning software
However, not all online learning comes with instructions. You may be expected to know how to download or otherwise access a file such as a training video or even a PDF file.
Along with thinking about your computer skills and the equipment you have, you also need to think about how you like to learn. If you are a person who learns best with others, you should look for an online course that encourages interaction and promotes the development of an online community. This type of course usually includes some type of discussion forum where you can communicate with the other participants and the instructor or facilitator. Some courses also include an opportunity for group work. Some online courses may be offered in a blended format, meaning that they include both face-to-face learning opportunities and online sessions.
On the other hand, if you prefer finding information and working through it at your own pace and in your own time (or if your personal schedule fits this type of learning best), you might prefer a self-study approach. If you are an audio learner, you might want to look for audio-based podcasts so that you can listen to the learning content rather than reading about it. Visual learners can search out video-based podcasts and training videos from sites such as YouTube, TeacherTube or the Media Library of Teaching Skills. Thanks to technology, there is a learning option available for virtually everyone on just about any topic imaginable that incorporates almost any learning style.
You will also need to think about how much time you have available. If you are signing up for an afternoon workshop, for example, you just need to have that particular time slot open. If you want to listen to an audio podcast, read a text-based PDF document or watch a video, you can download it now and use it whenever is convenient for you. On the other hand, if you are signing up for a course that lasts a few weeks or longer, you will have to decide if you have the time to participate and to complete any assignments that might be required.
If you are the type of learner who prefers to learn on your own at your own pace, you probably will not want to sign up for a course that requires you to meet deadlines or to participate in group work. In this case, you will want to look for something that does not have a specific start or finish date. You will probably be more interested in self-directed learning, which is often made available through a series of web-based modules like these ones or through podcasts and m-learning. To learn more about some of the common online learning technology that is being used today and some of the newer Web 2.0 applications that are becoming increasingly popular, be sure to visit the Technology module.
If you still are not certain if you are ready, we have included links to some self-assessment quizzes that you can take to help you decide if online learning is for you. There are many quizzes like this available on the Internet (you can do a search to find more); you might even find one when you go to register for an online course.
Athabasca University, Canada's Open University, (and host of the GO Project) has some helpful FAQs.
Ontario Learn, a consortium of 22 community colleges in Ontario for the delivery of online training and education, also has an “Are You Ready” self-assessment quiz.
This quiz, called “Are You Ready to Learn Online” is from Ocean County College in New Jersey. It asks a number of questions about your computer skills and then scores your responses.
Cerro Coso Community College provides two self-marking quizzes; one assesses your computer skills, the other one asks about your learning skills. They are both available here.
The University of Wisconsin offers a more indepth assessment that they call READI (Readiness for Education at a Distance Indicator). This assessment will take you a little longer to complete than the others, but it also offers a live help option in case you need some assistance. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this page to find the username and password you will need to use READI.