How Do Online Classes Work?

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With today’s technology, students can now “go to class” and earn a degree without leaving the comfort of their own home. How, you might ask? Online classes and universities. The idea of online classes is accessibility to higher education for anyone, anytime, and anywhere. Whether you are a traveler and can’t carve out enough time in one place for school, or you’re a full-time parent and can’t make it to a college campus, distance learning might be a good choice. The classes are actually rather simple to participate in, and they rely on this ease of use to continue in their success. Here is a general overview of how an web-enabled course might work in your life.


Just like with a traditional university, you will need to apply to the school
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offering the online courses. Some schools will accept applications year-round, while others are based on a semester schedule. This might be a distance learning university, or a campus university with distance degree options. Research different schools to find the best fit for your situation. Considerations might include price of tuition, in-state and out-of-state fees, and the necessity to visit a campus or testing center regularly.

Just as traditional college applications vary, applications for distance education courses and school will differ as well. Some will be very basic, simply asking for information such as name, social security number, and billing information. Others might include an essay, transcripts, or additional qualifications.

Access and Materials

All you need to access your classes is a computer, internet access, and usually a word processor. If you do not have a computer of your own, you can often use computers at a public library; however, it is suggested that you have your own computer for ease of coursework. You simply access your coursework through the internet, via the school’s website. Through the course “portal,” all of the syllabus, assignments, notes, lectures, and discussions will be available for your use.

In most e-courses, standard textbooks are used in conjunction with online materials. These can usually be bought from any textbook provider, in a store or online. Professors then upload their own content onto the portal. This might include a video or transcript of a lecture, a slideshow, or supplemental readings.

Assignments and Tests

Depending on the course, your assignments and lectures may be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous means that all students must log onto the course at the same time for a lecture or discussion, like attending a scheduled class, only remotely. Asynchronous means that you are free to log onto the class, participate in discussions, and accomplish assignments on your own time (as long as you complete items before specified deadlines). It is extremely important to know the difference between these two formats, since it can drastically alter your schedule and availability to complete the course.

Assignments will usually be all electronic: sent or assigned via the portal, completed through a website, then submitted. Others might require uploading hand-written work or word-processed essays, the submitting them through the portal. Tests and exams will fall into one of two categories: open book, online assessments; or traditional examinations in a testing center. The first is self-explanatory—the test is administered online, and you can take it on your computer, with your notes and textbook for reference. The second type means that you must travel to the university testing center or another designated facility to take a hand-written test.

Communication and Tools

Communication with the professor and other students in your course is simple to do and is highly encouraged! You can chat, email, instant message, or discuss topics in forums all through the course portal. Online courses provide an instant channel of communication between students and professors, so you don’t have to hesitate to ask questions or address concerns. You can also form relationships with the other students taking the same course. This is especially helpful if you want to ask for help or clarification, and you don’t want to ask the professor.

Many universities offer other helpful tools along with the course portal, such as tutoring. Live tutoring over chat can be a very effective tool for e-learners that don’t have access to traditional campus resources.Professors are also able to receive more immediate feedback from students, so they can adjust lessons or provide additional lectures for clarification. There might also be the option for networking and professional events with alumni to help further your future goals.

Online courses and universities are a wonderful option for those that can’t commit to the traditional, 4-year college plan. These students have jobs, families, or other commitments, but that doesn’t have to stand in the way of their goals for higher education. A variety of degrees in areas such as information technology, business, computer science, and psychology are being made available to many more people with online courses.

Georgiah Cook is passionate about subjects related to education, finance and accounting. Over the years, she has become an expert writer on topics like higher education and personal growth. She loves helping students to pick the right career path through distance learning programs like Alberta Business & Educational service. Georgiah also enjoys hiking, biking, and hanging out at the beach.

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