Online classes are becoming more and more prevalent in every corner of higher education. Some colleges offer entire programs online and have no “bricks and mortar” campus. Well established traditional colleges and universities are offering more options for online courses or programs. There is a good chance that at some point in your student’s college career he will have the opportunity to take an online class. The question is, should he?
There are many appeals to online classes. Convenience may be one of the strongest of these appeals. Students can complete their entire class without having to go to a classroom or sit through a lecture, and very often, students can complete the work at their own pace and at whatever time of the day or night is convenient.
However, online classes may not be for everyone. If your student has the option of taking an online class, and is considering registering for one, here are a few questions you might ask him to consider before he makes his decision.
- Are you very good at time management? The flexibility that is built into many online classes also means that you need to discipline yourself to do the work and to stay on top of deadlines. It is easy to “forget to go to class” when class simply means spending some time working at the computer. If “procrastination” is your middle name, this may not be the best format for you.
- Are you relatively computer literate with a reliable computer and a good internet connection? In addition to having to master the subject matter, you do not want to be spending the majority of your time and effort struggling with technical issues.
- Are you prepared to spend more time than you might for a traditional class? In a traditional class, you might sit in class allow others to participate in the discussion but not contribute if you haven’t read the material. In an online class, each student is expected to write about each assignment, and then to comment on others’ comments. You will need to do all of the reading, post comments, and check frequently and comment on other students’ posts. The amount of time that this takes may be significant.
- Are you self-motivated and a self-learner? It is very likely that no one will be reminding you of assignments. You must be able to read the material or listen to online lectures and reach out to the professor or other students if you need help understanding the material. You will need to stay on top of all deadlines in the syllabus.
- Are you organized? You will need to keep track of deadlines, discussion boards, assignments and assessments. You should keep copies of everything that you submit.
- Do you have strong reading and writing skills? Most of the content for an online course may come from reading – a textbook, articles, journals. And all of your interaction will be through writing. If you are not comfortable learning through reading and you are not comfortable with careful writing, online may not be for you.
- Are you good at following written schedules and instructions? You will not have a professor in front of you in class explaining what to do, you will be expected to read and follow directions.
- Are you comfortable communicating with your instructors and letting them know what you need? Your primary way of connecting with your professor will probably be e-mail (although sometimes phone appointments are available). You will need to write to the professor if you have a problem, a question, or you need help. Be sure that you are comfortable advocating for what you need.
Online courses may take varying forms, but the above questions will help your student think carefully about whether or not this format is right for him.
If your student would like to try an online class but isn’t sure that it will work for him, suggest that he try a hybrid or blended course. This type of course mixes some seat time in a traditional classroom with some online elements. The web component is not an add-on to the class, but is an essential element. In this format, student can benefit from the best of both formats. This may be an excellent way for your student to experiment with a new class format.