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Taking a Course Online

Are you ready to get started on your future?

If you’re new to learning online, you might have certain questions such as how do I access my course? How do I contact my instructor? The tutorial below answers many of these questions and can be broken into the following categories:

The Online Classroom

When you walk into a classroom, sitting in one of the desks facing the board is obvious. You wait until the instructor arrives, sometimes chatting to other students. Occasionally, you may participate in group or class discussions by raising your hand; however, the constraints of space and time in addition to the instructor's presence at the front of the course neatly define the learning space.

Now, imagine that you can enter the classroom at any time day or night; however, there may be nobody else present the room and the only communication that occurs happens by writing on the board. When you enter the room, you can read messages that others have left on the board and leave your own messages. The course material exists in a pile for you to pick up and read.

This second scenario represents the online environment and it can be very confusing for learners who have only experienced the face-to-face classroom.

The following topics explore features of the online course environment and introduces you to some of the skills needed to succeed in that environment.

Online Expectations

Every student enters an online classroom with certain expectations. The information below explains some of the common expectations that students and instructors have about the online learning experience. It addresses some of the common questions that students have about learning online.

How much time should I expect to spend per week on my online course?

It is a common misperception that online courses take less time per week than face-to-face courses. In actuality, online courses often require a substantial time commitment. Although the amount of time required for an online course varies based on the length of each course, it's a good rule of thumb to allocate about 7 to 12 hours per week per each online course.

You should expect the following:

  • The amount of homework required in an online course will be roughly the same as that assigned in a face-to-face course.
  • In addition to the homework required for an online course your class time is also online.
  • Most online courses will ask that you spend time participating in discussions with the instructor and other learners. These discussions will play a central role in your learning experience.

Can I take the course at my own pace?

Some online courses are self-paced, meaning that you can complete the materials on your own schedule as long as you are finished by the conclusion of the semester.

However, most online courses will be facilitated by an instructor and require that learners adhere to a course schedule for readings, assignments, and discussions with other learners. It will be important for your success to adhere to this schedule so you can contribute to discussions and group projects in meaningful ways. Your presence in the course will only be apparent if you participate!

Do I need books for a distance education course?

Instructors generally require students to use textbooks for their distance education classes. Books can be easily purchased using our online bookstore.  The instructor will usually list the necessary textbook in the syllabus along with instructions on purchasing them.

How will I communicate with the instructor during the course?

Most instructors can be contacted through the inbox in the course and may even answer questions in the discussion forum. Your instructor will advise you about their preferred mode of communication in the course syllabus.

How will I turn in assignments and receive grades?

Your instructor will let you know how they expect you to turn in assignments and receive grades.  It is possible to perform both of these functions within the course.

Your instructor's policy for late work will appear in the syllabus; this should also outline the timeframe for when you can expect work to be graded or receive an email response from your instructor. For instance, your instructor may state that he or she will return email within 48 hours except on weekends and will grade assignments within seven business days.

The Successful Online Learner

Now that you have learned some of what you can expect during an online course, you might be wondering how you can succeed in the online course environment.

Much has been written about the characteristics that make some learners successful. The list below represents a compilation of the most common features of successful online learners and some of the best practices that can lead to success (Illinois Online Network, 2002).

The successful online learner should:

  • Possess self-motivation and self-discipline: Since the online environment lacks much of the structure present in the face-to-face classroom, you must exercise real commitment when adhering to deadlines.
  • Be proficient with time management: Frequently, learners decide to take online courses because they do not have the time to attend class in person. To be successful online, you must carve out time from family and work commitments to spend on their studies.
  • Meet technical requirements: Most programs list technical requirements for taking a course; these usually include modem and hardware requirements. Adhering to these requirements will prevent computer difficulties later in the course.
  • Be able to communicate through writing: Moving from the face-to-face classroom to the online environment involves a corresponding transition from the spoken to the written word. Online learners should be fairly comfortable expressing themselves in writing. Many online courses also require a great deal of reading in the course site.

System Requirements for Canvas

Student Guide to Canvas