It happened to me again. After completing 15 online courses and an M.Ed. in online learning, I thought I would be over it. After designing hundreds of online courses, I thought I would be able to understand and manage the anxiety. But the foreboding feeling crept up again.

I call it Falling Behind Online Anxiety, or the dread of having to return to an online course after putting it off for a few days fearing that you have dozens of posts to read and respond to or that your peers are asking, “Where are you? We’re waiting for your input.”. These most-likely imagined issues make it difficult to log back in to a course.

And yes, I really did love my program and its content and I wanted to participate, but the anxiety often returned regardless of how much I wanted to learn and participate. The anxiety of failing grades and letting myself and my peers down always crept in.

I always logged back in, but I find that many people can’t. They would rather drop the course if the anxiety hits them early enough. Although I haven’t found a study on this, I feel that this anxiety can be a factor in attrition rates.

As a student, what can be done to minimize, or even eliminate, Falling Behind Online Anxiety? Here are a few tips that helped me:

  1. Stay on top of things of course. Log in once a day to check progress, even if only for 10 minutes. Knowing you can’t get too far behind in one day eliminates the anxiety.
  2. Don’t feel you have to contribute to every discussion. Instructors understand busy lifestyles. Respond to two or three threads in each forum and then focus on the next week.
  3. Don’t look back at previous weeks’ discussion forums. They sometimes fill up with posts even after the closing date. Focus on completing this week’s activities.
  4. You may have 36 fellow students in the class, choose two or three that you share interests and career ambitions with and focus on reading and responding to their posts. You can’t read them all.
  5. Set a time of week that you will do your readings, and if discussion is required then start a thread. Starting threads show initiative and proactiveness and spark lively discussion. Now that you’ve got the discussion going you can leave it up to others to keep it going.

As an instructor, ensure that these expectations are clearly outlined in your instructions.

These are a few tips that helped me do very well in my courses, so I would say they worked to minimize my anxiety. Although I was doing well in the earlier part of my program, I didn’t apply these anxiety reduction strategies until later. I wish I had known about them much earlier on.

By the way, although my anxiety was real, the reason for it was completely imagined…again. My course hasn’t even started yet.


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