What Does It Take to Succeed in an Internet-based College Course?

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Internet-based courses can offer a unique opportunity but do they also offer unique
challenges? Every college course whether taken on campus, by traditional distance
means or through a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), challenges the student
academically. That is the nature of higher education. Distance study and especially
MOOCs, can make particular demands on students. Recognising these specific
difficulties should allow us to identify the characteristics or skills which will aid the
student.

The major difference between an internet-based course and one presented in a
traditional face to face environment is the physical isolation of the student. This
isolation has a number of consequences. Firstly, there is less opportunity to get direct
feedback to queries. In a lecture or seminar a student will, at least in principle, have
the opportunity to seek immediate advice if they do not understand the material
presented. In an online learning environment such contact will tend to be through
discussion forums. Using such channels requires some confidence in communicating
via written messages as well as the ability to make judgements as to the validity of
input from peers.

A second aspect of isolation is one of motivation. In a traditional campus-based
course a student will be one of a number enrolled on a programme. The students will
typically have some regular contact from instructional staff as well as social contacts
within the group. Combined with a fixed…