Engaging in the online classroom can initially seem like a peculiar process. After all, everyone understands the dynamics of a traditional university experience. Normally, students travel to campus, physically enter a classroom, and listen to a teacher impart knowledge for a designated class period each day. Online classrooms, however, exist in the digital sphere. Students attend lectures, read course materials, and interact with others at any time of day, all by way of an internet connection. This new model of education provides an exciting, convenient, and meaningful avenue towards earning your degree.
How do online classes work?
Technology is essential to online learner engagement. When you enroll in an online course, you’ll need certain technology and equipment to participate. Common requirements include high-speed internet access, speakers or headphones, an up-to-date computer operating system, word processing software, a CD or DVD drive, and a microphone.
More than ever, students are using the technology they interact with daily for educational purposes. In fact, 67% of online students use mobile devices to complete their coursework, such as phones and tablets. One of the many benefits of online learning is that the technology it requires is already built into the fabric of modern life.
How to take online classes
When you take a course online, it is usually connected to a larger academic institution that offers a traditional campus experience. Instead of visiting a school building, online students must log in to a learning management system (LMS). An LMS serves as a digital home base, where you can find your coursework, view calendars, turn in assignments, and interact with both your professor and your peers. Popular systems include Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas.
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Classes are formatted in two ways: synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous classes require all students to log on at a certain time each week to participate in real-time instruction. Asynchronous classes allow students to read course materials and turn in assignments whenever they wish within a certain time frame. Although they differ, both synchronous and asynchronous courses share certain elements. For example, both require you to complete coursework on time and participate in class discussions. Both also may make use of certain LMS elements, such as shared whiteboards, online slideshows, file attachments, virtual libraries, or blogs.
- Students must “attend” class at the same time as their peers and instructor
- Communication tools include: live chat, audio and video conferencing, telephone
- Advantages include: immediate feedback, a greater feeling of academic involvement, easier transition from traditional school learning format
- Students “attend” class at any point during the week
- Communication tools include: email, thread discussions, social networking
- Advantages include: convenient and flexible schedule, extended time for academic reflection
The Instructor’s Role: Engaging Online Learners
It’s important to understand engagement of online study beyond the practical aspects of course participation. Online degree programs allow you to find mentorship with your instructors and build professional networks with your peers. They allow you to grow as an academically minded person and as a professional. Therefore, your instructors should be excellent at encouraging and facilitating these aspects.
When you look for an online course, see what you can find out about your potential professors. A good online instructor should do the following:
Get to know you. Instructors should aim to make the environment feel comfortable for everyone. They should speak to all students respectfully and get to know their individual learning needs.
Understand the mechanics of online classes. Although it might sound strange, some online instructors may not understand how to interact with the platform they teach on. If you need technical help, make sure they can answer your question or direct you to someone else who can.
Be accessible. Whether they hold office hours, regularly check their email, or give out a private phone number, good instructors make an effort to stay available for their students and to engage in regular communication.
Care. Good instructors check up on their students every so often. They should know if you’re doing well or if you need some extra help.
Do the best they can to help their students thrive. Instructors should give you meaningful feedback and point out both what you’re doing right and what you need improvement on. They shouldn’t be rude or belittle you, and should be invested in your success.
Although instructors play a key role in your success, you are ultimately the one who will decide whether or not you will achieve your goals in online education.
Make the Most of Your Online Experience
To truly feel engaged in an online course is partially an inside job. Online degrees are largely self-directed, meaning that it’s up to you to get the most out of your time as student. Here are some tips you should know.
Online learning is a unique format with its own advantages, drawbacks, and challenges. Accept it for what it is. Becoming an online student is the opportunity to gain skills in time management, written communication, self-discipline, and fortitude. Enjoy the flexibility of the format and remind yourself of the benefits associated with an online degree when you get frustrated.
Online classes are convenient but not necessarily any easier than the traditional education route. Prepare to dedicate your time and attend class consistently. If you’re not comfortable with technology, work to improve your skills. Do research on the life of an online student to put yourself in the right mindset.
It’s hard to get somewhere when you don’t know where you’re going. Think about your objectives for your degree program. What are your objectives for the semester? A single course? Today’s class? Give yourself guideposts and change them if necessary. This will help you keep on track.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is a challenge for online classes. Because you’re not entering a physical classroom, it can be difficult to remember that online courses need to be a priority. They require just as much study, dedication, and academic caliber as traditional school. Make sure to finish your assignments, do the readings, and actively engage in discussions, even when you don’t want to. Remember that school is an investment you’ve made in yourself and in your future.
One of the worst feelings is realizing you have too much to do and too little time. Between balancing work, school, and life, it can be difficult to get it all done. Be sure to section off time to study every week, and to leave yourself enough room to finish assignments without rushing. Know your academic calendar and ask for time management tips if you need some.
To truly engage in the online classroom means just that — to engage. Connect with your instructor during their virtual office hours, contribute to discussion groups, and participate in any required blogs, social media, or other public communication. If you’re having difficulty understanding your coursework, let the professor know. If you want to start a study group, be the first to reach out to your fellow classmates. When it comes to online education, the more you give, the more you get.
Having reliable internet access might seem like a no-brainer, but something this basic is worth checking twice. You want to make sure you can actually “get to class.” Check your connection before your first day, and make sure you can access the internet on a regular basis through the duration of your program. If you encounter a glitch, tell your instructor. An online course is an irrelevant one if your internet connection is unreliable.
Moving Towards Your Future
Online degrees are proving to be not only a feasible alternative to traditional higher education, but a game-changing one. Students are able to earn degrees, increase their earning potential, and advance their career online with ultimate convenience and affordability. But online degree programs require work. The more you engage as an online student, the better situated you will be for positive professional outcomes and a better quality of life.