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How Do Online Classes Work?

Students unfamiliar with distance education may be asking themselves “How do online classes work?” The reality is that classes are laid out online much the same way they would be in a classroom, it’s just that students don’t have to travel to that classroom to take part. Here is a general overview of what students can expect when taking an online class, from getting started to the basics of completing assignments online.

Logging On. To get started with an online class, students will need a newer computer, a reliable internet connection and the software required by the school (usually just a word processor and internet browser.) Once these requirements have been met, students can start completing coursework. First, students will need to find the school’s main website and log on. This should take them to a place where they can see all the courses they’ve signed up for and allow them to view material related to each. Colleges will use different types of course management software (though Blackboard may be a popular choice), so each school’s format may differ. If you need any help navigating, contact your professor or technical support.

Listening to and Reading Lecture Material. Just as if you were in a regular classroom, your course will begin by listening to or reading  lectures from your professor, which is usually recorded and uploaded onto the main site or presented as a text or slideshow document. Depending on the course, students may need to listen to or read lectures every day or just once or twice a week. Just like in any other class, students should be taking notes as they go.

Completing Assignments. Some assignments for class may need to be completed online. Students will usually be able to find a section on their course management software where these assignments can be found. Some will need to be completed online and some off. All will come with deadlines and students will need to make sure to upload or complete the work before the deadline if they want to get credit. Most courses will combine shorter assignments with a larger long-term assignment that will be due at the end of the semester, sometimes taking the place of a final exam. Students can also expect to be assigned reading material which they will find online or will need to purchase.

Engaging in Discussion. Nearly all online colleges will require students to engage in weekly discussions with the rest of the class, the professor or both. This may mean posting to a discussion board or participating in group chats held at a specific date and time. There may be a prompt for students to respond to or students may be asked to come up with their own discussion topics. It will vary by class and the preference of the professor.

Listening to and reading lectures, doing homework, handing in papers and talking with your peers– it doesn’t sound so different than any traditional class. In reality, the experience most students have with online education is very similar to attending courses on campus. If you have any questions about how your online school holds courses, ask administrators or check out their website to get a preview and familiarize yourself before you start taking classes.

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