6 Things to Know Before Taking an Online Course

By Alicia Geigel on October 20, 2019

Education is not the same as it was 50 or even 20 years ago. In today’s day and age, there is advanced technology that makes it possible for students to be in a virtual school in the elementary and high school years, and even online courses or full degree programs offered by colleges! The presence of online learning opportunities in college not only helps students get a variety of teaching methods, but it can also help to balance different aspects of the student’s life, such as work, commute time, etc.

An increasing number of students are preferring online learning over the traditional classroom method, according to Jordan Friedman of U.S. News. Friedman writes, “At 7.3 percent, public colleges and universities experienced the largest growth in online course enrollment from 2015 and 2016.”  Making the decision to enroll in courses online can be intimidating and overwhelming for some students entering into uncharted territory. There are a few things to consider, like what specific classes to take online and when exactly to take them.

Despite the increasing number of students that prefer online learning, there is still not enough information available for potential (or current) college students to make the process easy or even desirable. Traditional learning in classrooms is still widely promoted and considered the ‘norm’ so there are plenty of students that don’t know the ins and outs of taking an online course.

While online classes are certainly great in some ways, each student has to make sure that the learning method and responsibility of an online class is suitable for them. Are you a student considering taking classes online? Unsure of what to expect? Not sure what classes to take or when to take them? Continue reading below to gain knowledge about everything you should know before taking an online course. Not only will this give you an idea of what to expect, but will also make the decision process easier for you!

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Be Sure to Evaluate Your Schedule 

One factor that is weighed heavily by students who take courses online is their schedule. When thinking about taking classes online and when to do so, evaluating your schedule is important. Are you balancing school, a job, and extracurriculars? Do your current home/work circumstances require you to be away from campus more frequently? These are important questions to ask yourself, as they will help you decide whether or not to take online classes and when to take them. If you are away from campus and need more freedom when it comes to classes, online courses may be the best option for you. The convenience of taking online classes is that you don’t have to make the trip to campus, you can learn right from the comfort of your own home.

6 Things to Know Before Taking an Online Course 

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1. Distractions Can Be a Struggle: Because the online instructional method is different than being in a classroom, your obligations and priorities are different. You are more vulnerable to distractions because of the mere fact that your class is online and requires you to be on a browser. Unfortunately, there are many distractions that can be super tempting when you’re working on schoolwork for your online course, such as engaging in social media, texting, listening to music, and watching TV.

To help minimize distractions, set yourself a timer for 10-15 minutes, indulge in your Twitter feed or texting your s/o, then get back to work. Once you set a time limit for yourself, you’ll not only feel better after your break but you’ll also be able to jump right back into work.

2. Attendance is Important: Part of the reason why online classes are so great is due to the fact that attendance is not as strict and rigid as regular classroom attendance. In contrast to the traditional classroom method, most online courses do not typically hold attendance. Instead, credit is given in the form of either weekly quizzes, discussions, or assignments.

Some online courses, depending on which kind you choose, can hold sessions weekly at a specific time, which in that case, attendance would be mandatory in order for you to engage effectively in the course. Regardless of the online course you select, you are in control, which means you can decide whether you want a more open course or rigid one with exact times. Just remember to take attendance seriously, because your online course is just as serious as your traditional classroom one.

3. The Routine of Your Teacher/Course Can Differ: Not all teachers run their courses the same way, and when it comes to online courses, you will find that some teachers hold virtual meetings while others encourage discussion board participation. Evaluating these differences is important when it comes to your learning style because you can distinguish which kind of approach works best for you and which ones don’t come as easy.

Because of the nature of online courses, teachers and professors have to be mainly available through email or some other form of contact, which allows for you to get in touch with them at any time to voice any questions or concerns you have about your learning pace or your progress in the course. Being in contact with your professor in an online course is especially important since they aren’t physically there all the time to notice if you are struggling and/or what you are struggling with.

4. You Can Still Take Risks/Have Fun: College is not solely about working hard and getting the greatest grades, it’s also about expanding your knowledge, ideas, and perceptions of things you otherwise wouldn’t have known about. With that being said, when reviewing what classes you want to take, take some risks and have fun! If you can take a film course or art course that fulfills one of your requirements, go for it!

In my junior year, I took a course that was about the science in science fiction films! It was so much fun- we got to watch a lot of cool movies, all while learning some interesting things about science, and it was online! While in college, you’ll have so many opportunities to learn and engage in fun ways, so don’t hesitate to explore fun courses when looking for online classes. You won’t regret it!

5. You Spend Plenty of Hours Online: Just like a regular classroom course, an online course requires hours of invested time. For example, almost all online courses have some form of classroom engagement, whether that is through a voice-thread post or discussion board entry. Discussions allow you to share your knowledge of the topics and lessons of the week as well as bring forward any questions you wish to ask fellow students.

In most cases, instructors will ask a prompt and require you to answer the prompt based on the knowledge of the lessons given that week. Following your response, instructors typically request that you respond to another student’s answer to the prompt with either an agreement, disagreement, or another question.  In addition to discussion posts, Stephanie Larson of US News states that your teacher may require you to watch/listen to lectures, participate in group projects and complete other assignments such as a quiz, homework exercise, or exam.

6. Credit Transfers Are Sometimes Tricky: One very important thing that many students forget to take into consideration when looking into online classes is whether or not the credits will transfer to their institution. Now, this is only the case if you were taking a course(s) at a different school than your main, however, it is still knowledge that all students should know.

Perhaps you’re taking a course over the summer to lessen the number of credits you take in the fall, or maybe you need an easy course to take to fulfill certain criteria in your major — regardless, connect with an academic advisor before enrolling to make sure that the credits transfer correctly and how you expect them to. You don’t want to waste time or money on a course that doesn’t count toward anything!

Myths and Misconceptions 

Online Courses are Easy: One of the common myths that people assume about online classes is that they are easy by nature. This is a complete myth! Online courses have the same curriculum as any course taken in a classroom, the teaching method is all that is different- and by that I mean, it’s merely taught online. In fact, online courses can sometimes pose more of a difficulty than traditional classroom teaching because students have more responsibility, says Lynn Atanasoff, a career counselor at Penn State University. “At reputable institutions, students have to complete the same material as in-person, except they also have to really manage their time because online no one is reminding them when assignments or projects are due,” she says.

The Quality of Education is Lower: Just because the course is online, does not mean that the quality of education is lower. The course itself has undergone some sort of process or evaluation by your university to ensure it meets specific standards and adheres to the set curriculum of the course. Online courses and instructors do not just get made up out of the blue and put onto your registration choice list, there’s a process. Jeff Davidson, a strategic initiatives manager of the Free Education Initiative at the Saylor Foundation comments, “I don’t think there’s any weight to the belief that quality suffers in online education any more so than with a lot of brick-and-mortars. We know brick-and-mortar degrees vary in quality, and that’s the same with online.”

There is Zero Interaction with Instructors or Classmates: Another assumption about online classes is that because it’s completely virtual, there is zero interaction with your instructors or classmates. While in some cases there isn’t a physical interaction like in a traditional classroom, teachers and students are available through other outlets like phone, email, etc. Teachers are even sometimes more available through online avenues than other ways!

You Have to Teach Yourself the Course Material: Because the teaching method is different, another myth is that you have to teach yourself the material of the course. This goes hand-in-hand with the quality of education being lower and zero interaction with instructors. This myth isn’t true at all! Online courses are no different than traditional ones, where there are assignments, quizzes, readings, projects, etc. The teacher creates outlines and presentations to help just as much as a teacher in-classroom would. From my experience, I’ve had some traditional classroom courses that I’ve had to teach myself more than any online course I’ve taken!

Cheating is Common: It’s obvious to think that because online courses are all on the internet, that it’s almost a given that students will cheat and automatically get away with it. This is not the case! It is no easier to cheat on online courses than in a traditional course. In fact, it can be a little bit harder! Teachers typically have a plagiarism section software to see whether or not a student has cheated on an essay assignment. Additionally, Terri Williams of U.S. News writes, “In addition to plagiarism detection software, some online programs require students to take a test at a physical location or to use a webcam while completing an exam. In both cases, students need to show proof of identification.”

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Deciding what classes to take online and even if you want to take them can be difficult without the proper help or resources. If you are considering taking courses online, reach out to an advisor and review your requirements, as well as read student reviews to help you decide, but don’t forget to have fun too! Always remember that taking courses online does not make you any less of a student or whatever other criticism you may have heard before. Everyone has different wants and needs, and online courses can be a great option to balance your classes and college life!

By Alicia Geigel

Uloop Writer
Temple alum | columnist at Uloop News | writer at Top5Must & KnowPhilly | photographer | food blogger

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