02 June 2011

How to make the most of e-writing courses

E-writing courses are getting more and more popular these days. They are easy accessible for anyone with a computer and Internet access. They are cheap, can be run irrespective of geographical location, time zone, and day schedules. You don't have to take a day off to attend one - you can just do it in the comfort of your own home at any time that suits you. They also much cheaper - a typical e-course would cost around 10-30 USD, and you don't have to travel to the place, there is no hotel to book, no snacks to buy etc.
Not quite.
Having tried a number of e-courses recently (4 to be precise) I must admit I struggle with this format. I don't really want to say that I haven't learnt much form the ones I've 'attended', but I can't say I've learnt much either.
With this reflection in mind I hesitated over enrolling to yet another one recently, but I know I really need to learn how to pitch like a pro, since I've decided to attend a pitching session at RWNZ conference in August. So I've enrolled but then sat down to brainstorm ideas how to make the best of e-learning writing courses.

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1. Familiarise yourself with the format. If you're joining an online group/loop or forum, have a look around the forum - how the posts are displayed; are they grouped or displayed chronologically? Can you change the setting to have it displayed the way that suits you? The courses I've done were all based on Yahoo Groups - a format I'm familiar, but not necessarily happy with. For a reason unknown to me, even when I have 'group by topic' on, I keep getting messages all over the place.
The main upside of reading the posts on the forum is that you can group messages by topic and see how a topic progresses
If you prefer to read the messages in a digest - I'd suggest you opt for a daily one (see point 2). On one hand digests are good because they remind you about the course and prompt to read every day. But on the other hand there is no way you can group messages, and since it brings only what's new today, you may not remember what was written/discussed before. Often the replies would have the original post at the bottom, which is good for refreshing your memory, but I find it the most annoying aspect of e-learning courses: scrolling down the kilometers of old messages, displayed in the most annoying format with all these "<"  and   ">", which make it much harder to scan.
If you find this as frustrating as I do, see point 3 for some suggestions.

2. Make a commitment to read posts every day. This will not only allow you to stay up to date with what's on the group and keep up to speed with new information provided, but also take part in exercises, try out new skills or put the newly acquired knowledge into practice, which reinforces the learning process!

3. Make your own notes. I have tried to copy&paste relevant bits and pieces of posts into a Word document, but realised I've been missing the possibility of scribbling all over pages. I am a rather non-linear thinker and learner, so tools focused on linear approaches don't work for me. I suspect many writers are non-linear, so I would suggest you make your own written notes - not only this will reinforce the learning process but also allow you to make notes in whatever way you find beneficial, and go back to add stuff as you go along.

4. Participate in tasks/homework. Get your stuff out there, don't be scared or shy to get feedback on your writing. Practice the skills taught and get feedback on your progress. Also read what other participants have done and the feedback they've got - learn from other people's experience. The whole point of taking the course is to learn.

5. Don't undermine the power of community that builds around the course. On these rare instances I took part in homework tasks I got great feedback and helpful tips not only from the tutor but also from other participants. One of the most amazing things was that many writes were happy to chip in and brainstorm ideas for my (your, hers, his) book or story - completely free! Great bunch of people!

6. Enjoy :)

You can find interesting writing and publishing related e-courses here and here or here or here and in many other places.

Have you taken any e-courses? What is you experience? Did you enjoy this way of learning, or did you find it challenging? How do you make sure you make the most of this experience?

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