Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing and Academic Support Center
Academic success comes from meeting and exceeding expectations at the same time that you are learning what these expectations are. From adopting the conventions of Standard American English and academic style to learning Microsoft Word and how to navigate your course website, when you attend college online, you are expected to perform, see, and think in ways that will feel new if not foreign to you. Learning a new vocabulary and style to communicate when you are well into your adulthood can test even the most accomplished person’s sense of self. Meanwhile, you have chapters to read, content to learn, and papers to write.
Scheduling more study time than you think you’ll need and setting short and long term goals will help, as will seeking the support and resources available to you in the library and Academic Support Center. But every step you take toward achieving your goals will also require more of you—more of your time, your attention, more initiative, commitment, intention, and persistence.
Academic success online is as much about building your character and integrity as it is about acquiring knowledge. Here are three keys to meeting and mastering all that is expected of you for a successful academic career—each one integral to the other. Hold them close:
Key 1: Trust yourself
Learning involves taking risks, which in turn takes having a strong character. In order to overcome the fear of failure or the anxiety of not knowing the answers or what you are even doing, you need to trust yourself, see your learning process more objectively, and take the feedback you receive less personally. Your grades are not a measure of your self worth, nor is your ability to format a header in Microsoft Word. Grades only measure your competency with new skills and knowledge. If you are unsatisfied with your performance, reassess your approach and attitude, and make the changes necessary to achieve the outcomes you want.
Trust in your learning process and the time it takes. If you are here to learn, you are in the right place. The decision to enroll was the right one, and the sacrifices you made or are making to be here are worth it. Trust you belong here. The online university is an inclusive community; you just have to show up, take part, and believe in yourself.
Key 2: Think positive
Your attitude matters. “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right,” said Henry Ford. Self doubt creates a mindset of failure, which leads to just that. When you think positive, you can persist when your best attempts fail. Believe you can succeed. Believe you can do this and only good will come of what you’re doing.
Positive thinking will help you stay on track when interruptions cause delays and when obstacles test your inner strength. When you have problems, don’t complain. Everyone has problems. They are a good reason for being here. The academic environment is a place for problem solving. Apply what you learn here to the other areas of your life.
When you become overwhelmed, take a 20-minute break. Get some air. Step away from the computer and get the mail or water the plants. . . Stretch. Shower. Refresh. Recharge. Then get in touch with a peer, your instructor, or a tutor. You are part of a learning community. Do not let negative thinking isolate you from those here with you.
Also, be positive in your communications. How you are with people, what you say, and how you listen and respond matter. When you attend college online, you write even to engage in casual conversation with peers. They cannot hear how you sound or see your body language just as you cannot hear or see theirs, so do not make assumptions or judgments too quickly. Identifying tone can be tricky in online communication, but listen for it, and pay attention to your own tone when writing.
You are expected to write more formally here to convey professionalism in your communications, so be polite, clear, and kind. Writing in complete sentences will help you to avoid sounding abrupt. And always capitalize the first letter of your name. Take the extra seconds to tend to the details, for that will show you care, which is important. Think before you write and edit before you send. Demonstrate your positive attitude in all you say and do.
Key 3: Tell the truth
You are here to learn, so do not hide your learning or skip what you do not understand or like. Short cuts will only short cut your learning and take you further from the path to your goals. If you do not understand, express this. If you cannot yet write with a college-level vocabulary or syntax, that’s okay. Write how you write and get feedback from your instructors, peers, and tutors, so you can learn and improve. Also, read more. Read like a writer. Consider what makes the text logical, clear, interesting or pleasant, and believable.
Whatever you do, do not plagiarize. If you feel you must convince others that you know or think what you don’t or that you’ve done the work that you haven’t, then go back to Keys 1 and 2: Trust yourself and think positive. If you don’t have enough time to do your best work, adjust your schedule. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. If you need help, be honest with yourself and others about this, and then you will get the help you need.
Also, when you strive for honesty in all your communications, you will end up being clearer about what you mean. When it’s your turn to contribute to a discussion, write a paper, or answer a question in seminar, your intention to be honest will require that you listen to what you are saying and pay attention to what you are writing. You’ll recognize when you don’t know what you mean or you don’t believe what you are saying, and then you can reflect and revise, which are crucial parts of learning.
When you tell the truth, you can contribute to academic discourse. You are not only in college to learn about the body of knowledge in your discipline, but you are also here to build on it, to add to it. First you learn to comprehend the ideas that came before you, and then you analyze them, discuss them, and apply them to your own experience and knowledge to arrive at new ideas, your own ideas, which you are expected to add to the larger conversation that began before you were in college. This is also why it’s so important that you are here in college. You are needed to grow the body of knowledge in your field of study. You may not have thought about it like this before. But you truly matter here.
If you fear you have nothing to add, if you are intimidated by the process or all the expectations, go back to Keys 1 and 2. Trust yourself and think positive. You have much to say, and learning what that is along with learning how to say it using an academic style takes time, practice, the support of your learning community, and honesty. Reflect on what you are doing and be true to yourself. When you are, you’ll find it much easier to give yourself that well-deserved pat on the back and feel proud of yourself as you should.
The pace and expectations of your online education will increase as you advance in your studies, but they will also become more predictable and more do-able if you begin with these three essential keys. It takes having a strong character and always acting with integrity to succeed not only as a student but also as a professional, so trust yourself, believe you can do it, and be honest, and you’ll do terrific. Good luck!