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Learning Online - Are You Ready?

Teaching and Learing with Technology would like to acknowledge Jackie Ritzko for revising the content of this tutorial.



This tutorial provides an introduction to help you to:

Goals and Objectives

By the time you finish the Online Readiness tutorial, you will be able to:


The information in this tutorial has been divided into several sections. The recommended sequence is as follows:

  1. Take an Online Learning Readiness Questionnaire to know your strengths and weaknesses before taking an online course.
  2. Read about the required academic competency associated with online learning.
  3. Take a Learning Style Self-Assessment survey.
  4. Read about the required technical skills associated with online learning.
  5. Look for available academic resources and technical support.
  6. Read about rules and skills to interact with your instructors and peers.
  7. Read about different types of online interactions.

 Note: All external links in this tutorial will open in a new window or tab.




Instructor's Guide

Online Learning Readiness Questionnaire

Before enrolling in an online course, you should first assess your readiness for stepping into the online learning environment. Spend some time thinking about yourself as a learner and see whether your characteristics would help you be a successful online learner. Your answers to the following questions will help you determine what you need to do to succeed at online learning. Feedback provided after completing the self-assessment survey will also provide you with some information in terms of what you should expect from an online course.

Instructions: Click on the link below to assess the questionnaire.

Am I Ready? 


Required Academic Competency to Succeed in Online Courses

Student Dialog - Academic Competency

Sage: Hi, Heather. I am thinking about taking an online course on World Technologies and Learning next semester.

Heather: Hey, study buddy! That's different...

Sage: The course is about examining the impact of learning technologies from email to online learning on world cultures from a socio-technical perspective. Wanna take it with me?

Heather: Sounds interesting, but I've never taken an online course before. What kind of skills are required?

Sage: Well. You need to be motivated and persistent to complete an online course successfully. For example, you may want to take an online course because you'd like a different sort of academic experience or to enhance your skills or your knowledge in certain subjects.

Heather: Would I have to attend online classes on a fixed schedule?

Sage: One of the best things about online course is its flexibility! You can access your course materials or respond to a post in a discussion forum anytime you want, based on your own schedule. Just make sure you manage your time well and submit your assignments before the deadlines since online courses take more time than you might imagine.

Heather: Great! Thanks for the advice, Sage. I'll have to think about it.


Cartoon of Sage and Heather talking. Read the dialog above the cartoon.

Cartoon of Sage and Heather talking. Read the dialog above the cartoon.

Cartoon of Sage and Heather talking. Read the dialog above the cartoon.

Cartoon of Sage and Heather talking. Read the dialog above the cartoon.

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Motivation and Persistence

Different people take online courses for different reasons. Some hope to enhance their skills or knowledge, some hope to gain more academic experiences, and some may wish to get a better job after completion of online courses. Motivations might include both internal and external factors. Some advantages of online learning may motivate you to succeed. One of the biggest conveniences of an online course is its accessibility and flexibility. You can read and review your course materials, class assignments, and discussion forums almost twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week depending on your own schedule and availability as long as the course management system is not under maintenance. Distance education requires self-discipline and persistence. Hence, setting your own goals and purposes for your learning will help you to keep motivated to learn and to hold yourself responsible for proceeding throughout the online course period.

Time Management

There is usually an incorrect assumption that taking online courses requires less time when compared with traditional face-to-face courses. However, you should expect to spend more time working on your assignments or online discussion forums for an online course than you would in a face-to-face course. An online learning environment depends heavily on text-based instruction and communication; as a result, it will take time for you to complete reading assignments and discussion form posts, to type your responses and reports, and to interact with your instructor and peers. Therefore, in order to succeed in online learning, you must devote a substantial amount of time and effort to studying and working on assignments. 

Typically, adult learners like to have a sense of self-directing and control over their learning while practicing their personal responsibility at the same time (East Bay AIDS Education Training Center, 1988; Moore & Kearsley, 2005). One benefit of online learning is the ability for you to set up your own studying schedule and pace. You should develop personal time management skills to help you manage your time appropriately. Doing so, you will be able to work on your assignments step by step and complete your tasks on time, instead of burying yourself in the tremendous amount of coursework and being unable to finish them before the deadlines. To keep track of your self-paced online learning, you should develop a personal studying schedule for competing your online course assignments on a regular basis and you should also evaluate your progress periodically.

Study Habits and Learning Styles

Study habits and learning styles are essential in online learning. Your learning style might have influence on successful online learning (Battalio, 2009). Therefore, knowing your learning style in advance will help you to understand your online learning and studying preferences. One approach is to divide learning styles into three categories: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Auditory learners talk out their problems while trying to solve them. Visual learners rely on drawing diagrams or pictures of concepts to make sense of important messages during their learning process. Kinesthetic learners attempt to understand concepts by doing things physically. It is recommended that you try different learning techniques or a combination of styles under different circumstances to enhance your online learning outcome.


Learning Self-Assessment Survey

To determine what type of learner you are, and develop your learning strategies accordingly, you should to take the Learning Style Self-Assessment survey.


Learning Self-Assessment Survey


Required Technical Competency to Succeed in Online Courses

Although taking online courses does not require a high level of technical competency, familiarizing yourself with using computers and engaging in Web-related activities, as well as having access to the required hardware and tools, are critical factors in successful online learning. You should have some basic knowledge about how to navigate the Internet, how to use search engines, how to use computer operating systems (Windows/Mac OS), how to send and receive e-mails, how to use a word processing program to edit your writing assignments, and how to use course tools such as discussion forums and drop boxes. Familiarizing yourself with those tools will help you reduce your frustration while engaging in online learning activities. 

Penn State ITS Training offers a service in which Penn State faculty, staff, and students have free access to the software tutorials at, Inc.. This service is available at no cost for both Mac and PC users with a variety of most popular software, including Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, SQL, Drupal, audio and video editing applications, ColdFusion, operating systems, and many more. Go to the Penn State access page on the Web site (, and log in with your Penn State WebAccess User ID and password. Once you log in, click on any tutorial to get started. For any questions, you may contact the ITS Help Desk at 814-865-HELP or for help.

Accessibility to Resources and Support

Student Dialog - Accessibility to Resources and Support

Jose: Hey, Brian. Have you found your references for writing up your paper for the online course assignment that's due in two weeks?

Brian: Oh right, Jose. I need your help on that. I don't really know where to find references for my paper. You have any suggestions?

Jose: Have you tried the University Library' electronic databases? You could search for relevant books, e-journals, theses and dissertations or even request inter-library loans if Penn State doesn't have the references you need.

Brian: Wow! I didn't know that. Where can I find that information?

Jose: Just go to the Libraries Web page, and look for "Information and Services" page. You'll find a lot of useful links. And make sure you cite your references properly in your paper to avoid plagiarism. That information's there,too.

Brian: Jose, you're such a great help! I will definitely look up the Libraries Web page. want half a sandwich? Only missing one bite.


Cartoon of Jose and Brian talking. Read the dialog above the cartoon.

Cartoon of Jose and Brian talking. Read the dialog above the cartoon.

Cartoon of Jose and Brian talking. Read the dialog above the cartoon.


Awareness of available academic resources and technical support will help you solve problems you encounter throughout your online learning period.

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The Library

You can access the University Libraries resources and services via your Penn State Access Account. The University Libraries have an "Information and Services" Web page with useful links for undergraduate students at Penn State to search for relevant information. With these links, you can research how to find books, theses, and journal articles on electronic databases, how to organize your research by using referencing software or appropriate citation styles, and how to make course reserves, obtain materials through interlibrary loan, or contact librarians. You may visit the Web site at for more information.

Outreach HelpDesk

If you are taking a World Campus online course, you may access the Penn State Outreach HelpDesk Web site for technical support by using your Penn State Access Account. The Outreach HelpDesk online knowledgebase ( has a vast collection of frequent questions and answers that allows you to search for solutions from the knowledgebase.

ITS Help Desks

For non-World Campus online and blended (partially online) courses, the Information Technology Services Help Desk at Penn State offers a variety of consultation services to help you with your technical problems. You may call the ITS Helpline (814-865-HELP), e-mail the Help Desk (, walk in, or make an appointment for discussing your problems with the consultants. You may also search the online ITS Knowledge Base ( for answers to technology questions.

Online "Etiquette"

Practicing good online etiquette, or "netiquette," will help you to effectively interact with your instructors and fellow students, as you will not be able to utilize body language clues to convey or read messages when communicating from a distance. It is easy to misread the intended tone of an e-mail.

Ground rules for online communication (excerpts from World Campus 101 materials at Penn State Outreach offered by Ann Hamilton Taylor). Complete the True/False questions below to self-check if you are familiar with some basic concepts for online communication.

Online Etiquette T/F Questions


Online Interactions

There are three types of interaction in online learning: learner-content interaction, learner-instructor interaction, and learner-learner interaction. Your online instructors will help you to facilitate "learner-content and learner-instructor interaction" by keeping a balance between presenting packaged instructional materials to you and by interacting with you to assist you with relating new information to your own personal knowledge. They will further help you to respond to your application of new knowledge.  In order to better promoting interaction between you and instructional content and interaction between your instructors and you, your distance education instructors are suggested to be "empathetic (Moore & Kearsley, 2005, p136)" to understand your personalities, to identify your needs, as well as to perceive your emotions so that instructors will be able to guide, to support, and to encourage your involvements in various forms of interactions and participation in distance education learning (Moore & Kearsley, 2005).

"Leaner-learner interaction" is the third distinct type of interaction in online courses. This kind of interaction is typically conducted via uses of different communication technologies, such as shared documents, teleconferences, videoconferences, web conferences, and threaded forum discussions embedded in course management systems. You should try to interact with your peers by keeping discussion topics on track, relating discussions to particular instructional components, providing insightful comments to provoke deeper understanding and interpretation of the course content, as well as maintaining group harmony (Berge, 1995; Rohfeld & Hiemstra, 1995).




 * Indicates that the original Website is no longer available.


Image Credits

People Standing on Circles



The advantage of taking an online course is the flexibility that allows you to arrange your own studying time and pace based on your own schedule. However, it is your responsibility as a student/learner to be motivated and persistent throughout the course work in order to proceed and complete the course consistently and successfully. In addition, you must possess good time management skills and studying habits so that you will be able to keep track of your own work and meet your assignment deadlines on time. Knowing where to find available academic resources and technical support when you need assistance is also essential. You should try to utilize the library references and technology support offered by the University to help you deal with any obstacles that you might have when taking an online course. Finally, understanding online etiquette is critical for you to achieve better communication and interaction with your online peers and instructors.

Instructor's Guide

Quizzes, Reflective Questions, and Activities

Following are the assignments embedded in the Learning Online: Are You Ready? tutorial:

You can request students send you the results of both.

Relationship to Other iStudy Tutorials

This tutorial should be used before or in conjunction with the Consuming and Creating inthe Digital Age tutorial, as the ability to use and create digital materials is part of any online learning experience. The Time Management tutorial is also recommended.

Suggested In-Class Methods of Presentation



OPTIONAL - Have students openly discuss previous online learning experiences and any difficulties they encountered.

Key Points

These points are covered in the iStudy tutorial, but should be emphasized in any discussions.

Assessment Criteria

Completion of the questionnaire and survey. THese would be pass/fail, as there are no "correct" answers for either. Participation in course discussions about online learning. Assessment criteria are as follows (instructors supply the percentage weights):


Assessment Criteria





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The student has completed the questionnaire and survey.




The student can engage in discussion of his/her perceived online learning strengths/weaknesses.




The student can reflect on his/her perceived online learning strengths/weaknesses by identifying his/her weaknesses as well as by making plans to eliminate those weaknesses.