About Online Courses
- What is an Online Course?
- Is Online Learning for You?
What is an Online Course?
At the University of Illinois, some courses and program may require predetermined trips to campus, which you should plan for before registering. Depending on the course design, you may take your tests or exams online or come to a testing room on campus or at a local community college.
Online courses can be quite varied in their overall approach to the teaching and learning process, but they often have certain characteristics in common. In most online courses, students use a computer to connect to a course site on the internet. Standard classroom books and printed materials are typically used in combination with online lectures, assignments, and supplementary course materials. Some courses have formal lectures, similar in length and content to lectures given in face-to-face classes. Online lectures may be entirely text-based or consist of some combination of text, graphics, sound and video. Other courses break the content up into smaller units or abandon the lecture entirely, instead relying on group discussion and other types of learning activities.
You will communicate with your professor and other students via e-mail and electronic submissions. The course is designed so that you receive course assignments, complete them on your own time, and then return them as electronic documents. Your instructor will evaluate them and provide feedback. Many courses will also use, as an integral part of the course, a threaded discussion forum which you can use to share information, collaborate, and interact with other members of your class.
You should expect to spend as much time for study, or perhaps more, as you would spend in a classroom course since you are managing your own learning using the online information and materials. This requires that you be self-disciplined, motivated, and have some skills using a networked computer and a Web browser. The content and rigor of the online courses offered by the University of Illinois is generally equivalent to the on-campus version of the same course. In fact, in some cases, on-campus and off-campus students are combined into the same online course section.
Is Online Learning for You?
Online classes are often very different than traditional face-to-face classes in terms of how the material is presented, the nature of the interaction among class members, and the overall learning experience. Many students report that they actually learn more in online classes than in face-to-face classes and find the experience more rewarding. But online classes aren't right for everyone. Even if you are an excellent student, you may find that online classes are not compatible with your learning style. So, before enrolling in your first online class, give some thought to whether online learning is right for you. Answering the following questions may help you with this process:
Do you have self-discipline and motivation?
Unlike traditional courses in which the students and instructor meet face-to-face once or several times a week, most of the learning activities and communication in an online course are asynchronous, meaning that class members participate and complete their assignments at different times throughout the day and week. This arrangement can make it possible for you to do your class work when it's most convenient for you. However, with this increased freedom and flexibility comes responsibility. Without the structure of regular class meetings, it will be up to you to pace yourself and keep up with assignments.
Are you able to commit time each day or week to your online course(s)?
Online courses often require at least as much, if not more, time and commitment than traditional courses. Completing course assignments and other learning activities can take from five to fifteen hours or more per week. You may find that you need to be online almost every day. So before enrolling, be sure you can set aside enough time to keep up with your daily or weekly assignments.
Do you have good communication skills and enjoy expressing your ideas in writing?
In online courses, nearly all communication is written, so it is critical that you feel comfortable expressing yourself in writing. If you feel that you are weak in this area, try to improve your writing skills and find out how much writing is required for the course before enrolling.
Do you feel comfortable discussing problems with your instructors?
If you are having problems with the technology or the course content, you should let your instructor know as soon as possible. Without this feedback, your instructor will never know what is wrong. Remember that many of the nonverbal cues that you use in the classroom to show frustration, boredom, or confusion (such as a yawn or a look of bewilderment) are not possible in an online class.
Will you miss the experience of sitting in a classroom?
While the level of interaction can be very high in online courses, it is not the same as face-to-face interaction. Some online students miss having the opportunity to see and listen to their instructor and classmates. If you feel that a traditional classroom is essential for learning, or you want to experience campus and dorm life, online classes may not be right for you.
Are you comfortable using computers?
The computer (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile) is the primary learning and communication tool in most online courses. You don't need to be a computer guru or a geek to succeed, but you do need to have some basic technology skills, such as word processing and using a Web browser. Needless to say, you will also need regular access to a computer with an Internet connection. If you find computers scary or intimidating, you may want to get some computer training at a local community college before taking an online course
While there are many points to consider when making a decision about online learning, ultimately you are in the best position to know whether it fits your personal learning style and life style. If you have the right qualities to be a successful online student, you will probably find it to be a very convenient and rewarding alternative to traditional classroom learning. For more help with deciding whether or not to become an online student, investigate the links below:
- Distance Learning Calculator
SUNY's tool for determining how much money is saved by taking a course from home.
- What Every Student Should Know about Online Learning
An article by John E. Reid Jr., available on the Illinois Online Network Web site.
- Tips for Online Success
Tips from the Illinois Online Network.