Today’s college students have a lot to balance. My own students are routinely torn between the demands of part- or full-time jobs, multiple courses, extracurricular activities, internships, and personal obligations. All too often, something’s gotta give—and that usually turns out to be the quality of their school work. For many students, the option to take one or more of their courses online is a solution to the problem of overloaded schedules, because they have more control over when they participate in the course and can schedule their activity in ways that balance their other commitments.
By the end of 2011, over 6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course. Colleges have been scrambling to meet the demand, and that means that even students enrolled full-time at traditional campuses can combine face-to-face courses with online courses at their schools. It’s very easy to just add them to your regular schedule. Fully online college programs continue to increase, but today most colleges and universities also offer online courses, partly because they need to raise more revenue due to budget cuts in education funding, but also because there is student demand for them.
If you are interested in taking an online course, there are some things to keep in mind about how they differ from face-to-face courses:
1. You need more tech skills in an online course. Online courses are usually conducted within a web-based platform called a Learning Management System. An LMS is the framework in which the course takes place, a virtual version of the classroom. Common examples of this include Blackboard, eCollege, and Moodle. Most students are probably already using an LMS even in their face-to-face courses, where they can participate in discussion threads, chat sessions, and access course documents such as the syllabus or assigned readings.
2. Your interaction with your professors will be different. In many instances, students on traditional campuses can take online courses with faculty that also teach face-to-face courses on campus. This makes it easy to meet with them during office hours. But if you are taking an online course to cut down on your campus time, you need to take advantage of the LMS, e-mail, and other alternate forms of communication like social media outlets like Twitter to contact the instructor.
3. Netiquette is necessary. The reliance on alternate communication forms means that you need to pay attention to what you write much more than you pay attention to what you say out loud in a traditional classroom, when your tone and demeanor can clarify what your words cannot convey. This is called “netiquette” and is crucial to success in an online course.
4. Regular participation is required to fulfill the requirements of an online course. Online courses often require daily participation—something that traditional face-to-face courses do not usually require, because students can slink into the back of the classroom and hide behind their colleagues to avoid discussion. This is the trade-off for not having to travel to campus or leave your dorm: sure, you get to stay cozy in your jammies while taking an online course, but you have to check in to the class more than the two or three times a week you would have to show up in person.
If you can manage the different skills required in an online course, you may just have found the perfect solution to managing the multiple demands of college life. Talk to admissions counselors and your advisor, contact the professor of a course you are interested in and ask them how they manage the online course, and connect with someone who has already taken the course, to get an idea of what to expect and if it’s right for you.
Jill Rooney, Ph.D. is an Education Writer for OnlineColleges.net. She earned a Ph.D. in History from the University of New Hampshire and has taught History, Political Science, and Film Theory for over twenty years. Dr. Rooney’s work has been published by the Smithsonian Institution, Oxford University Press, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her teaching experience has taught her that all students really just want one thing: To learn. And that isn't always easy, so she's here to help!