Not all courses are created equal. Do you know what to expect when you register for your next online class?
Online courses tend to be fairly standardized within an academic program. The course navigation, weekly to-do lists, and assignment submission instructions are (or should be) fairly consistent throughout. However, what happens in one online course may be very different from the one that came before, and the one that follows.
Explore the types and components of online classes, as well as how to prepare for online learning success.
Types of Online Classes
Students interested in pursuing online education should be aware of different course formats, and how these “types” of courses impact participation. The College Board’s quick guide to college course types provides helpful explanations for face-to-face learning. You’ll find variations of these course types in online programs, too.
- Lecture and Discussion: These courses often mirror a traditional on-campus “lecture” course in which an instructor presents a topic and students then engage in an open class discussion. Your online courses may include recorded lectures, along with text-based content, textbook reading assignments, and threaded discussion boards. Other assignments vary, but you’ll likely find a combination of papers, presentations, quizzes, and exams. The MIT OpenCourseWare project provides access to example audio/video lectures online.
- Virtual Labs: Science courses typically involve hands-on learning with a variety of tools and processes. Oregon State University’s online chemistry labs offer an environment in which students “review concepts, explore modern methods, develop lab techniques, apply data analysis, develop teamwork, and create an immersive experience.” Virtual lab activities include graphics, animation, scenarios, simulations, and other interactive components.
- Independent Study: In some courses you may be the only student, working directly with a faculty member on a project or subject specific to you and your academic program. Other courses in this category are also self-paced, allowing you to complete the work on your own time, but within certain limits. Many of Brigham Young University’s Independent Study Online Courses, for example, must be completed within one year of enrollment.
- Capstone: These courses normally appear at the end of your degree plan, but aren’t part of all programs. They are designed to be a culminating experience of your time as a student, pulling together all of the key concepts covered in your previous courses. You’ll encounter a combination of experiences and assignment types, such as service learning projects, ePortfolios, and research papers. Walden University’s capstone project is just one example of this kind of course, with a goal of “demonstrating your mastery of the competencies addressed in your program.”
- Seminar: It’s harder to define a seminar, which is often shorter in duration than a typical course, and enrolls just a small number of students. The format can also be similar to a workshop or webinar, focused on a specific topic. Online seminars may or may not result in earned academic credit as part of your program. Illinois State University’s Transfer Student Seminar is one online example, which assists new students with the transition back to college.
Online Course Components
In addition to general course types, you’ll also find a variety of approaches to online course design as you move through the classes in your academic program. Depending on the subject you are studying and the learning objectives of each course, a combination of components is likely. Understanding the range of possible participation requirements can help you set realistic expectations for the experience before classes even start.
- Projects and Exams: Your learning is assessed through the assignments you submit and these can take on many forms. Some courses focus on papers and projects, while others rely primarily on tests, quizzes, and exams. Expect to encounter different combinations of assessments in different courses.
- Individual and Collaborative: Some courses require you to complete all assignments on your own, while others include small group or team projects. Collaborative assignments can range from discussion posts and case study analyses, to larger, multi-step projects. Many classes include a combination of individual and group work.
- Synchronous and Asynchronous: Synchronous is another way to say “live” or in “real time.” Some courses require you to attend online events or meetings scheduled at specific times, while other courses are completely asynchronous (i.e., you participate when you can within established time frames). Harvard Summer School provides a description of what to expect in its live web-conference courses.
- Hybrid and Online: Online courses as a category can include hybrid or blended learning approaches, in which you complete some requirements online and others at a physical location. Courses that are advertised as “completely” or “100%” online usually do not require you to attend an in-person class meeting, but you should check for other requirements to be present at a physical location, such as exam proctoring.
Online Course Preparation
Once you’ve registered for a new term or semester, schedule some time before the first day of classes to print out or save the syllabus from each class you are taking. Review each one with these questions and tips in mind:
- What type(s) of courses are you taking? You may be able to identify courses in the categories listed previously, as well as combinations of them and formats unique to your program. Are all of your courses the same length? Check each syllabus carefully to balance completing schedules when enrolled in multiple courses.
- What kinds of assignments are included? Will your semester require a lot of reading? Do you need to find out how to access to the library’s research databases? What about group work? Get an overall idea of how your study time will be spent during the term.
- Are there any real-time or in-person sessions? Look for details about when and where your class will meet, whether it is face-to-face or online through a web conferencing system, and add these events to your calendar. Keep in mind that group assignments may also require live meetings with classmates, which aren’t listed on the syllabus.
- Test your technology. Make sure your computer or mobile device is ready for class participation. Download any software or apps required and test virtual lab and conference room links before it’s time to log in with your instructor. Don’t skip this step, even if you used the same technology last semester. You may need to download new versions and updates,and access requirements may have changed. Plan time to test and troubleshoot.
- Contact the instructor. A lot of information can be found in a course syllabus, as well as in course descriptions and other information provided when you register. If you aren’t sure about the requirements of a particular course after reviewing the details, contact the instructor for clarification before the course gets started.
Develop a big-picture view of your upcoming semester that helps you organize your work, set weekly priorities, and manage your study time. The effort will also go a long way in relieving stress about what will be expected of you during the term.
As an online student you are continuously learning, not only about a subject area, but also about technology, and improving your study skills along the way. Each course you complete gets you closer to graduation, and your experience in each course prepares you for the ones that follow.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog