Active-duty service members and veterans tend to be nontraditional students — more likely to be married, have children, and to hold down a job while going to school.
For these reasons, the flexibility and time-efficient environment of online programs is well-suited to military and veteran students. Compared to the traditional college environment, they adapt to the online environment well, given that the military culture instills discipline, commitment and planning behaviors — attributes essential to success in an online learning program.
However, military students and veterans often need guidance to adapt from getting hands-on, in-the-moment training to completing reading assignments, written essays and final exams in an online environment. Arizona State University Online has developed a list of critical success factors that veterans and active military should follow to make the most out of their online learning experiences:
■ Build a relationship with your military resources. Make sure you contact the military online enrollment advisor for your program to guide you through your admission experience. Even in a distance-learning program, your military enrollment counselor should be available to help you with anything from GI Bill benefits, course selection, tutoring services, to general guidance. Military advisors recognize the unique nature of the military lifestyle and commit to meeting the needs of active-duty military, veterans and their families to help ease the transition. Ultimately, this relationship is critical to the success of military and veteran students.
■ Prepare for a transition and new mindset. After years of learning through simulation and hands-on training, the online learning environment may initially seem like a foreign land. You’ll be solely responsible for registering for classes, preparing for tests and finding the resources you need to be successful without your sergeant commanding your next move. Military students and veterans should outline their specific goals and the outcome expected before engaging in an online program, which will enable them to tailor their courses to reach those goals. Students should be prepared to assume control of their college paths and can start by deciding on a major that complements their skills and interests.
■ Learn the course technology. Military students and veterans must be comfortable with the course technology when education takes place online. Whether course content is delivered via Internet, video, audio or print, students should test all class components before the term starts to ensure the technology will not be a roadblock. It’s also important to know where to get technical support prior to any online assignments or exams so you have a direct contact in case any technical difficulties arise.
■ Communicate frequently with your professors. For active-duty members in particular, regular communication with your professors is very important. Since military duties may sometimes keep students away from the online classroom, students should inform instructors about potential issues and obstacles at the term start and share updates throughout the term. If you expect to be deployed to forward areas, let your instructors know that Internet access may be unreliable with possible communication blackouts. In general, frequent communication with instructors is critical in an online environment to ensure you’re receiving constructive feedback and updates on where you stand in the class.
■ Devote time to study. Effective time management can be the difference between success and failure when juggling education, active duty, a full-time job and family. Many assume that distance learning is easier than a traditional college education, but online programs require the same time commitment as on-campus programs. Military and veterans students should plan to dedicate two to three hours weekly per credit for studying and online assignments. It’s important to limit the amount of classes you enroll in each term to realistically meet the study time requirements.
Online education is often a natural fit for troops and veterans who already possess self-discipline. But it’s also important to be technically and mentally prepared. Military advisors and online instructors can help guide troops and veterans through this process, whether they’re in California, Texas or Afghanistan.
Mario Matus is a military advocate and senior online coordinator at Arizona State University Online. As an ASU alum with several years of experience in the online higher education industry, Mario is a proud Sun Devil who works to enhance the ASU student experience by working with the enrollment and student success teams.