If you're new to e-learning and the digital age, you might be concerned about the technical requirements. How much equipment will you need, and how will you learn to use it? Today's technology is fast and user-friendly. Just like email and texting, you'll get the hang of it in no time. Plus, many online colleges offer tech support hotlines and student communities for questions about technology.
Beyond the very basic materials (a computer and a high-speed Internet connection), your online college will determine which tools and programs you'll use. Different students need different equipment. If you're majoring in graphic arts, for example, you may need specific software — like QuarkXPress 8 or Adobe InDesign. If you're majoring in education or accounting, your software requirements would be very different.
Before you run out and buy everything on this list, check with an enrollment advisor at your college. Some schools provide students with all the necessary software (and even a laptop, in some cases), as part of their tuition cost.
Basic Hardware You May Need for Online Learning
You'll need a computer that has plenty of memory and hard drive. There's no official quota when it comes to RAM (random access memory) or CPU speed, but experts say that a post-2000 processor (e.g. Pentium IV or Celeron II) would be sufficient, along with at least 512 megabytes of memory. Most computers purchased within the last 7 or 8 years will meet these requirements.
A large screen (15 inches or more) is also helpful. Mini-laptops are great, but you may find that they don't easily accommodate most learning management systems (Blackboard, D2L, etc.) In order to fit everything in the screen, mini-laptop owners may have to reduce the viewing size to an eye-straining degree.
Mobile Device (Smartphone, iTouch, iPad, MP3 player)
Mobile devices allow you to receive tweets, e-mail, instant messages, and updates to your social networks. They can also help you download MP3 files of course lectures. Many of today's devices can also snap photos, which are useful supplements to blog posts, presentations, and e-portfolios.
You'll need to have speakers and a sound card installed in your computer, in order to hear audio clips and files. If you already have speakers, it's worthwhile to invest in a good headset, so you can listen privately. A microphone lets you participate in audio chats via Skype, etc. Microphones also allow you to record audio files and post them using Wimba (in your learning management system).
Printer / Scanner
It's a good idea to purchase a printer and/or a scanner, even though you may not use these items for every course. Some of the larger online schools – like the University of Phoenix, for one example – offer student resources at local campus sites. If you live nearby one of these locations, you may find that it's convenient to use their printing/scanning equipment.
Basic Software You May Need for Online Learning
An up-to-date operating system is a requirement for many online programs. Windows XP, 2000, NT, or 98 are usually acceptable. For Mac users, you will need System 8.1 or higher. If you're not sure which operating system you have, or whether it's compatible, contact your enrollment advisor.
E-mail is one tech component that's free. Most students have their own private e-mail account through Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or otherwise. If you don't, set one up. You may also need to set up a school-based e-mail account at your new college.
Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Access)
For word processing and data analysis projects, you'll need programs that can create text documents and spreadsheets. Microsoft Office is the most common suite for this purpose. If you don't have these programs installed on your computer, check with your school before you purchase them. They may be supplied as part of your course materials.
Adobe Acrobat (Professional)
This software allows you to create PDF files.
Plug-ins (Flash, QuickTime, Windows Media Player, Real Player, etc.)
Some version of a media player or flash player is necessary for streaming videos. And Adobe Reader is necessary for opening PDF files. These programs are usually free and easy to download. Your instructor can advise you on these and other necessary plug-ins.
Specialty Software You May Need for Online Learning
Audio Recording Software (Garageband, Audacity)
Movie Editing Software (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker)