Learning Online

Learn by doing. In a classroom-based class, you often learn by listening. Online courses are different. Instead of learning by listening, you will learn by doing- by reading, writing, and other learning activities designed by your instructor. If most of your other classes are lecture-based, this will be a big change for you! Are you ready for this new kind of learning experience? It's a good idea to be prepared for this basic difference between the online course "classroom" and the usual university lecture hall. It may take some getting used to at first, but for many students, this "active learning" can actually be much more effective than the passive learning that happens when you just sit and listen to a lecture.

Start off strong! It's a great idea to get off to a strong start in your online course. You might have less work in your other classes at the beginning of the semester, so use that bit of extra time to explore your online course. Read through all the online materials that your instructor has made available, and browse through future readings and assignments. Start to get to know the instructor and the other students in the class, and this will make the whole course go more smoothly for you.

Connect to your life experiences! If you can relate the readings and course activities to issues and questions in your own life, you are more likely to remember what you are reading. So take a few minutes to think about those connections: how does what you are studying in class right now relate to your own life experiences? And don't be shy to share those experiences with other students in the class as part of the online class discussion. Online courses usually provide many more opportunities for you to share your life experiences than in the traditional classroom, where the clock is ticking and there is not time for everyone to have a chance to speak up. If you can find a way to share your experiences with other students in the class, the class will be a richer learning experience for everyone involved.

Learn by example. It comes as a big surprise to many online students that they actually have more contact with their fellow students online than they would in the regular classroom. This is because there are all kinds of ways for students to interact online: discussion board, email, group activities, etc. It can be fun to meet your students - and it can also be a great way to broaden your learning experience. Observe the other students in class and see how you can learn from what they are doing. In what ways are the other students doing really good work that you would like to emulate? What specific styles and qualities can you find in their work that make a big impression on you? In every class there are usually some really exceptional students you can learn from, and you will probably have more of a chance to observe and interact with those students online than you ever do in the regular classroom.

Accept and value feedback and criticism. Many online courses give many more opportunities for personal feedback than you would receive in a traditional classroom. You will receive grades in your online course, but you might also encounter other kinds of feedback that might be new to you. For example, your fellow students might be reading and responding to your work. You might receive more comments than usual (both formal and informal) from your instructor. There might be non-credit quizzes and exercises decided to help you test your knowledge of the subject, without being part of your actual grade. Any kind of feedback you receive can help you assess how much you are learning - take advantage of all of these opportunities to help you monitor your progress!

Be aware of deadlines. Make sure you understand the deadline for your course assignments. Check the course syllabus to find the instructor's policy about late work: are there any circumstances under which late work is allowed? If your instructor has a strict policy about deadlines (and that is the case with most online instructors), you need to be fully aware of this from the beginning of the semester.

Don't procrastinate! While there is a deadline for every assignment, this does not mean that you should wait until the day of the deadline to begin working on the assignment. There are no advantages to waiting until just before the deadline, but there are many advantages to working in advance. By working in advance you have plenty of time to accommodate unexpected problems, like trouble with your computer, needing help with the assignment, change in your work schedule, etc. If you wait until the last minute, and then some kind of problem comes up, you might end up missing out on the assignment entirely.

Online Courses FAQ

How do online classes compare to on-campus classes?
Online classes developed and offered by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater are fully accredited, count toward degree requirements, and are academically equivalent to the same class offered on-campus.

How are online classes similar to on-campus classes?
Online classes are similar to on-campus classes in the following ways:

  • The calendar for registering, adding, dropping and withdrawing from an online class is the same as an on-campus class.
  • Whitewater instructors teach all of our classes, online and on-campus.
  • Like an on-campus class, an online class will have a syllabus, identifying the resources and requirements for completing the course. In both formats you are expected to complete the assignments by the deadlines established by your instructor.
  • Interaction between students and faculty is an important part of the learning experience.  In both online and on-campus classes you will have the opportunity to communicate with your instructor and participate in class activities with your fellow students.
  • Reading typically plays an important role in the learning process in traditional classrooms.  It is also important in online classes.  In most cases online students will need required textbooks.

How are online classes different from on-campus classes?
Online classes are different from on-campus classes in the following ways:

  • Online classes do not meet on campus unless noted on individual course pages.  Instead, a virtual classroom space has been created for each class in D2L, the campus course management system.
  • Communication in online classes occurs through electronic means such as email, discussion forums, and chat rooms.
  • Online classes require the student to assume a higher degree of responsibility in the learning process.  Because online students do not sit in classes to hear lectures, they must acquire basic course concepts in other ways. In the virtual classroom, faculty will identify readings, research activities, quizzes, and projects which assist the student in grasping course concepts.  It is each student's responsibility to plan sufficient time during the week to devote to virtual classroom activities.

How does an online class work?
In many ways, online classes work the same way as on-campus classes.  First, students must be admitted to UW-Whitewater. You then can register online during open registration. Classes begin the first day of the semester or academic period.  Students are expected to log into the virtual classroom at the beginning of the first week of classes to begin their online orientation and course work..

How do I communicate with my online instructor?
You will probably use a variety of ways to communicate with your instructor, including email, online discussion forums, and chat rooms. Students may make appointments for a face-to-face appointment with their instructor.  Your instructor's contact information can be found in the course syllabus, and the instructor will explain to the class what the preferred modes of communication will be.

How do I communicate with other students in my online course?
Depending on what your instructor prefers, you may communicate with your fellow students with the same methods that you use to communicate with your instructor, i.e., email, online discussion forums, and chat rooms.

How is my progress in an online course evaluated?
Your instructor will use many of the same evaluation strategies that are used in on-campus classes. You will be able to submit written papers and assignments online, and you may also take quizzes and exams online. Your participation in discussion forums and other class activities may be recorded and might form part of your grade. Check with your instructor to find out exactly how grades will be assigned for your online course.

Do I have to come to campus for exams?
Maybe. Most faculty evaluate student work through a variety of other means.  However, there may be some cases when an online class requires that you take a proctored or supervised exam.  If there is any required on-campus participation for your online course, this will be noted in your course information.

This document was modified from materials created by the University of Oklahoma.