Higher education is moving fast and to succeed in today’s online learning environments you need some basic technology as well as the skills it takes to use that technology to quickly access and digest your course material wherever you happen to be. Here are a few things that every student needs to have in their digital toolbox to succeed when learning online.
Essential Technology for Online Education
Broadband Internet: A fast internet connection is essential when you’re accessing an online lecture video, testing systems or just research resources. DSL internet can work, but it’s really going to slow you down. And the whole point of learning online is to make the best use of your time possible. It has to be reliable, fast and accessible to multiple devices. Preferably, you’ll have home Wi-Fi set up so you can connect with non-wired devices, too, like tablets and smartphones.
Laptop or Desktop: A laptop is ideal since you’ll be able to take advantage of studying wherever you are—at work, on your commute, while your car is in the shop. But the main point is that you need a computer that works, one that can get you online and run the type of software you need to access online course materials, get your homework done and let you access multimedia resources online.
Your desktop or laptop should have the following at a minimum to run most programs and web applications you’ll need for online courses:
· 4 GB of RAM
· 160 GB Hard drive
· Dual-core processor or better
· Built-in wireless
Even most used PCs can offer you at least these specifications, and you can often upgrade the RAM or hard drive if you need to. You don’t need a brand new shiny ultrabook that costs over a $1000 to go to school. Buy that once you start your high-paying career after graduating!
One caveat, here. If you’re in a heavily technical program, like a bachelor’s of information technology or some other tech-field, you’re probably going to need a more powerful PC just to run the software you need to get through your degree.
Smartphone: Some people might say that this isn’t an essential for online students, but I disagree. We live in an increasingly mobile world, and a smartphone can help you access online course materials and get urgent communications from class even when you don’t have access to a computer. And when you do have your laptop with you, you can use many smartphones as a Wi-Fi hotspot to help you get work done anywhere.
Office Software: You’re going to find a word processor indispensible during school, and you’ll probably make use of slide-presentation programs and spreadsheets as well. If you can’t afford a Microsoft Office, which will be going to a subscription-based model soon, though with discounts for students, there are some free alternatives that give you basic functionality just as well. A lot of programs will let you save and open files in Word format, even if they don’t have all the bells and whistles of Microsoft’s office suite.
USB Drive: I can’t tell you how many times a thumb drive saved my life when I couldn’t get online to download some files to print at my college’s computer lab. All you need is a USB drive with around 2 to 4 GB of space. That’s enough to hold a bunch of regular files, and you can even store some photos and other important data on there. (Hint: You can also typically store and retrieve files on a smartphone using a USB connector cable in the same way.)
Getting everything to work can be intimidating at first, especially for those of us who aren’t naturally tech-savvy to begin with. But you’ll master these tools more quickly than you think, and your ability to access and control information along your educational path will pay big dividends in the quality of learning you’re able to do.
Author bio: Jennifer Cook writes about higher education, online learning and the future of education technology. You can read more of her brilliant tips and visionary insight on Strayer Buzz. When she’s not writing, she’s rocking out embarrassingly to show tunes in her office.