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So I was reading this article the other day: a really great article from EDUCAUSE Quarterly, an instructional technology group. The article was a gathering of recommendations from successful online students for students new to online learning. The recommendations are very useful ( a lot of what you would expect, emphasis on time management and proactive learning) and I give the article to my online students.

But this article is troubling to read because, like so many similar articles about learning online or off, it has a title that follows the popular genre, ” Secrets to Success in …” It’s troubling, not because I don’t want anyone spilling the beans about academic success, but because I don’t understand why the steps to succeeding, online or anywhere else, are secret. And I think, what the article implies is that no one, not event he instructors of these online classes, told these students what it meant to learn online and how best to do it.

But when I think back on my undergrad experience, I don’t have any strong memories of being “let in on” the keys to being a successful university student. Even in face-to-face classes, I never received instruction, for example, on any of the following: how to read an academic article, what to write down during a lecture, how to prepare for a test or for office hours. I learned these things by careful observation, trial and error. I was lucky that these methods worked for me, but I came from a culture and a home life where these activities were somewhat natural to me, or at least familiar. Not everyone has those advantages.

The whole issue of “secrets to success” reminds me of another wonderful article by Gerald Graff about making education truly democratic by making the processes of academic achievement explicit and easy for student to understand. (You should all read this article. It changed my approach to teaching.)

So in this spirit, I challenge you to articulate for your students ( and here in the comments section of this blog) the “secrets” to succeeding in your class. What have you learned about how to learn in the academy? Bonus Points for those who provide “secrets to online learning” that were not included in the Educause article.

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