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Going to College Online? What to Expect

Apr 20, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 3 Comments

If you’ve never taken online classes before, it can be tough to know what to expect. Some common misconceptions include the idea that online classes are easier than traditional college, that you’ll be handing in your assignments mostly in written form, and that you’ll be fairly isolated during your degree program. In most cases, those aren’t true. Here’s an overview of what to expect in your online classes.

Expect it not to be easy

It’s common to assume that online courses are less rigorous than traditional classes. After all, you can do them on your own time—and sometimes you don’t even have set due dates for assignments. But that’s often not the case. Sometimes online courses have tough requirements that students find more challenging than they would in a traditional classroom. No matter what type of class you’re taking, be prepared to work hard.

Expect to put in a lot of “participation”

Many online degree programs expect students to participate by leading, instigating and contributing to course-related discussions online. Your participation will be factored into your grade. And often it’s not just the amount
of participation, but its quality—the thoughtfulness of your posts and the type of
questions and issues you raise. Be prepared to get involved in the online discussion
with other students—and contribute interesting thoughts.

Woman at Computer

While online classes are quite different from traditional classroom programs, they are also very much the same—in terms of challenge, peer support, assignment variety, and instructor attention.



Expect more than written assignments

Distance education may have once been about simply writing assignments and completing tests. No longer. You may find yourself handing in your assignments in the form of blog posts, computer programs, PowerPoint presentations, online videos or audio recordings, or complete websites. Online education these days utilizes many different forms of technology—and expects students to be fluent as well.

Expect to work with your peers

If you think earning your online degree will be a lonely experience, think again. With all the online participation you’ll be doing, you’ll probably get to know them and develop relationships over the course of your degree program. In some classes, you may have to participate in group projects—enabling you to work with students after class. And if some students in your classes live in your area, it could be beneficial to form in-person study groups.

Expect to manage your time well

You may be able to log on and take classes whenever it works for you. But you still have to complete a certain amount of work by a certain time. And the workload can be heavy. Students who take online classes for the first time often find it challenging to manage their own time without the assistance of a professor and a set study time. Be sure you organize your time well so that you can get all your assignments and classes finished.

Expect some in-person class time for certain majors

Not all online classes are completely online. For instance, nursing and scientific degrees generally require some in-person practical and laboratory training. If your degree program requires some in-person classes, expect your college to help you find a facility that can help you fulfill those requirements near where you live. Talk to your college before signing up to make sure they have the capability to support your geographic area.

Expect instructor participation

Most college degree programs include instructor-led lessons and regular feedback from your professor—in the form of email, comments, and grades. Your professor should be able to get back to you regarding questions about assignments, course materials and scheduling within twenty-four hours, and be willing to give you feedback on your performance and understanding of the material—just like you could expect with a smaller traditional class.

Online education has come a long way. It’s no longer accurate to expect classes to be easy, assignments to be written, and complete separation from your peers. In addition, you should have regular access to a professor for feedback and questions. While online classes are quite different from traditional classroom programs, they are also very much the same—in terms of challenge, peer support, assignment variety, and instructor attention. Expect to work hard, manage your time effectively, and get familiar with a variety of different technologies to both take in lessons and deliver assignments—and you’re more likely to be prepared for your first online classes.



Kgerber4230 Over a year ago

Great Post.

Kathie Gerber Over a year ago

Great Post.

Great article and worthy of a share!

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