You may be that prospective student who is afraid to acknowledge you’re not that familiar with online learning. Even though “everyone is doing it,” especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t mean that you have personally experienced virtual learning – at least not as an adult student. And, no, those Zoom classes for your kids don’t count! If you are finally thinking about going back to school and want the flexibility of learning online, it’s fair (and smart) to ask, “How do online classes work?”
We’ll answer that question by answering 10 others that will make you better informed about distance learning, provide tips for taking online classes, and give strategies for successful online learning.
1. Are online classes easier than traditional face-to-face classes?
The straightforward answer is, “No.” It’s true that classes moved online during COVID may not have the structure and rigor of a professional online college course, but courses designed specifically for distance learning as part of an accredited online degree program will require just as much effort and time as traditional courses. While the workload may vary somewhat based on the level of course you are taking (i.e. bachelor vs master’s), as well as the number of courses you are taking and the degree program itself, online learners can expect to spend between 12-20 or more hours per week on coursework. A good average is to allot four study hours for each credit hour you are taking, then adjust as you get a feel for the specific course.
2. Are all online classes structured the same?
Again, the simple answer is, “No.” One of the primary differences in course structure is asynchronous vs synchronous remote learning. Asynchronous learning is self-paced, with students completing coursework on their own time but submitting assignments on weekly deadlines. Some asynchronous courses allow you to view pre-recorded lectures at your convenience. This format requires a great deal of personal time management.
Synchronous learning, on the other hand, has students logging in at a specific time to view a live lecture and sometimes participate remotely in class discussion using videoconferencing technology such as Zoom. Some programs use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous; others are fully one or the other. Either way, you’ll want to know going in if your courses are part of an accredited online degree program.
There are similarities between online programs, as well. Most common is the fact that online degree programs utilize a learning management system (LMS), such as Blackboard used by Ottawa University. This is a virtual portal where students view the syllabus, course materials, and grades. The portal also serves as the platform for contacting classmates and professors, posting discussions, submitting assignments, and accessing support services. It is always a good idea to check if a school’s LMS is mobile-device friendly so coursework can be submitted when your laptop is unavailable. It is also helpful to get acquainted with the platform prior to enrolling in the course, if possible.
3. Will I ever have to attend classes on campus or do group projects?
While the majority of online programs do not require visits to campus, some may. Depending on the type of program you choose, there may be clinical portions that must be completed in person. Group projects and outside study groups are sometimes required in other degree programs also. The truth is, there are a variety of flexible learning options, so be sure to check each program’s format and requirements to find the one that matches your needs.
4. How long is each course, and how long will it take me to complete my degree?
Some universities still extend courses over an entire semester. However, many universities are now starting to break their courses into 8-week terms as Ottawa University has been doing. These 8 weeks terms cover the same material in a shorter time (thus accounting for the number of study hours required per course mentioned above).
Of course, how quickly you complete your degree will depend on your full or part-time status, as well as any credits you have applied towards your degree from a previous program or associates degree. Generally, if you stay on track, you can expect to complete your bachelor’s degree in 3-4 years, while it’s possible to earn a master’s degree in two years.
5. What do assignments and coursework look like in an online course?
In general, students should expect assignments similar to those in on-ground programs, especially when it comes to reading the textbook and assigned articles, conducting research, and writing research papers. Most online courses include questions posed by the professor in a discussion board that students must respond to using specific guidelines for class discussion.Students may also be required to submit recorded presentations.
6. How do I interact with my classmates and professor?
The discussion board is your primary source of contact for both professors and fellow students. However, many programs encourage additional forms of communication, depending on your comfort level. These can include email, FaceTime, social media, remote study groups, or even in-person meetings if you live close to campus. Any networking, support and insights you can garner from your professional peers is definitely worth the investment.
7. What technology do I need?
You will need a reliable computer on which to complete, store, and organize your work. You will also need reliable internet service; word processing software, and possibly presentation software (Microsoft Word/Office is the most widely used and compatible); a smart phone if doing schoolwork on the go; and access to free videoconferencing technology such as Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts. Software for formatting research papers in AP or other styles is handy but not required.
8. Is there anyone to help me if I need it?
One of the misconceptions of online learning is that, since you don’t see anyone face-to-face, you are on your own. Be assured, that is not the case. Ottawa University has admissions, academic, and financial advisors available to ensure your needs are met in each of those areas. Ottawa University has tutoring services available for additional academic assistance. Our professors are also more than happy to answer any questions you have and give you extra assistance if needed. The important thing is to ASK!
9. Is it feasible to work full-time and still take courses online?
Yes! More and more adults are finding that earning a degree online is the perfect solution to achieving their educational goals as working students. You can continue to earn a living while preparing for a better career, promotion, or pay raise. The key is to learn and practice strategies for successful online learning. Time management is a major component of that, of course, since you will have to fit coursework into your work, family and activity schedule to meet assignment deadlines. But doable? Absolutely!
10. What’s the best way to get started?
These 10 questions certainly aren’t the only ones you’ll have regarding online learning or starting back to school. The best place to start your online degree journey is to continue doing what you’re doing now – research the experience and your flexible learning options. Then look for schools that offer the programs and formats that fit your needs, interests, and lifestyle. Finally, set up an appointment with someone from the admissions department of your top 2-3 schools to get details and have your specific questions answered.
Now that you have these tips for taking online classes, you’re ready to make that call. An Ottawa University admissions expert is just waiting to get you started!