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How Does Online Learning Compare to the Traditional Classroom?
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Is Online the Way to Go?

When preparing for college, there are multiple things to consider. Should you live on or off campus? Who will your advisor be? Should you enroll in morning or afternoon classes? But the most recent change to college campus life is the option of online learning.

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What is Online Learning?

Online learning is the option of taking a class online, from your home computer, and never needing to go to campus for the class. The majority of online classes are asynchronous, meaning you can log on at any time to do your coursework.

The courses are set up by the university in a virtual learning environment (VLE), like Blackboard or Canvas. The curriculum can be designed by either the university or the instructor. You log into the VLE to download your syllabus, check your course calendar for due dates, participate in online discussions with your classmates, watch videos uploaded by your instructor, view power point slideshows, download assignment requirement handouts, submit assignments, and check your submissions for instructor feedback.

To be successful, you must be disciplined. In an online learning situation, the student is responsible for meeting all of the assignment requirements and submitting their assignments on time. Each online instructor will grade the submitted assignments, and if they are good instructors, give you feedback on how to improve.

What to Expect from Online Learning

Before your first log in, make sure you have all the necessary textbooks, supplemental texts, or other materials required by the instructor. You don’t want to begin a course and find out you are missing materials.

The first time you log in to your VLE, you could see a variety of screens, including announcements, modules, group lists (a group you will work with throughout the course), this week’s work, when assignments are due, and links to videos or power points. Instructors expect you to log in on day one and download the syllabus and/or course schedule. You will have assignments every week, including week one.

Most instructors will make announcements regarding a variety of topics: changes in due dates, changes in assignments, changes in group assignments, reminders about upcoming projects, or new information not included in the materials online. If you are assigned to a group, reach out to everyone on day one. Introduce yourself and give your group members a sense of who you are and what strengths you bring to the group.

Log in to your VLE every day. It is important to keep up with assignments, announcements, and other forms of communication from your instructor. One of the perks of an online course (if your instructor has uploaded the entire course before day one) is the ability to work ahead. While this is a good option to have, make certain the course you are taking is flexible enough to allow that.

For example, if you are taking an online math course, and you understand and are comfortable with the material in Modules 2-3, but you are still in Module 1, it wouldn’t hurt to work ahead. However, when you work ahead, you could make mistakes that you cannot correct later, depending on the instructor’s policies.

Lastly, never be afraid to ask for clarification on an assignment. As thorough as most instructors are, they are still human, and they make mistakes. Don’t ever be afraid to send them a message and ask for clarification.

Maintaining the Work/Life/School Balance

While taking an online course does save you from driving or walking to campus for class, it is very easy to lose track if you don’t log on every day.

Being a student and working at the same time is a challenge. The best way to keep your focus is to create a schedule including days and times you work, when you’re in class, when you have extracurricular activities, and when you work on school (class time, homework, and studying).

Not only do you need to allow time to complete all your coursework, and work your necessary shifts, you have to allow time for homework, as well as some down time. When you are a busy college student, if you don’t allow for self-care, you will burn out quickly. Keeping a schedule helps you manage your time and prioritize your tasks.

If you are a parent on top of that, build a support system. Have multiple people lined up as babysitters who can be on call in case of emergencies; tell your family you need them to step up and help out when homework and work become frantic; ask your spouse or partner to pitch in with housework and the kids when you need to finish your homework.

Online learning is a great opportunity to continue your education without the burden of commuting to campus. It also allows for more flexibility in your schedule and an opportunity to explore a new way of learning.