The Online Course Experience

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.

Set goals for your online course. There are some basic goals that are the same for most college courses: you probably want to get a good grade, and to make progress in the courses required for you to get your diploma. But if you have some more specific goals for your course, you are more likely to be able to focus and make steady progress during the semester. Online courses sometimes present new opportunities and challenges than you would find in a traditional classroom-based course - you are probably using the computer more than you did before, you are probably doing more work on the Internet, and you might also be doing a lot more writing than in your usual courses. Are there some specific goals you can set for what you would like to achieve as you do this new work? Some computer application that you want to master? Some areas of the Internet you would like to explore? Some writing skills you would like to improve? If you can make specific goals in these areas, you will be able to get a sense of accomplishment from all the work you will be doing this semester in your online course.

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!

Know how to work online and offline. One of the decisions you will need to make in doing the work for your online course is what work you want to do online, sitting at the computer connected to the Internet; what work you want to do online at the computer, but not connected to the Internet (this is an issue if you use a dial-up connection that is not always on). Some things you will want to do while sitting at your computer, but other tasks may be comfortable for you while sitting in your living room, in a cafe, etc. Just because it is an online course does not mean you have to work online all the time! You should think about your own learning style and decide what kind of environment works best for you, based on the specific tasks and activities required by your course.

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