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Expectations for an Online College Course

written by: Elizabeth Porter•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 6/29/2011

There are many things to consider when applying for registering for an online college course. Do you know what the expectations are for an online course? Let's discover the some of these expectations to prepare for an online education.

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    Preparing for Success

    There is no "face time" with the professor when in an online college course, so learning expectations and receiving necessary answers may not be prompt or clear. In a "live" classroom setting professors are able to hand out a syllabus or assignment directions and students receive immediate feedback as to whether they understand an assignment or not. Professors work to make their assignments as clear as possible, but despite how hard they work there is always some piece that gets lost in translation when there is no intonation of voice or live discussion to "read". If you feel comfortable enough, then give your professor feedback about what works best for you. There is no guarantee the professor will change the course style, but they will be aware of your needs and might take it into consideration for future online courses.

    Students have to be advocates for themselves with their professors. Many people in online courses that I have taken feel nervous about “bugging” the professor. What they fail to realize is that it is the professor’s job to be available to answer questions along the way. It’s always better to ask and feel confident that you are doing the right thing and ultimately get a better grade than it is to be passive and risk a chance of receiving a lower grade. Ask for some "chat-time" or online hours from the professor.

    However, there are professors that are harder to read and do not appear to be helpful. In that case, students can reach out to each other when in need. Many online courses have a discussion area as well as places where you can email/send messages to one another. Chances are, if you are confused about an assignment, then someone else is going through the same thing! Peer discussion is not cheating and often times will better both students' assignments and overall understanding of the course. Plus, if you are enrolled in an online degree program, then chances are you will take many courses with the same people, so you might as well establish a rapport right away!

    When all else fails, however, you may need to make decisions about an assignment. Professors and peers cannot always respond to questions in a timely fashion. If you don’t hear back from either one, then you will have to be comfortable that you are capable of completing the assignment yourself.

    Key Takeaways:

    1. Talk to your professor! Do not worry about burdening him/her. Professors are there to help.

    2. Chat with your classmates! They may experience similar problems and may have great insight to share.

    3. Trust yourself! You probably know what to do, but you need to have faith that you can do a great job.

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    Organization Is Crucial

    Organization is the most difficult aspect of studying online. In-person courses force you, as a student, to stay on top of assignments by the nature that you know once or twice a week you have to be there and see the professor face-to-face. Staying organized without having a professor in person to hold you accountable will be one of the qualities you need to be a successful online student. Many people taking online courses are doing so because they have full or part-time jobs and/or have families. It’s for this reason that staying organized is so important for the online learner. Quickly there becomes a tendency to procrastinate on assignments because you’re exhausted from work, your favorite TV show is on, or your child is calling for you.

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    Just like with a live class, you have to set a schedule early on of when you will work on your assignments and online discussions. The key is to stick to this schedule no matter what. Having a great support system at home (whether it be spouse, children, or parents) makes a large difference. Your family has to know that between certain times you are unavailable to them.

    Another tough aspect to staying organized is keeping up with assignments, especially if you are taking more than one course online at a time. Often, online courses are a mixture of discussions and assignments. Remembering when you are supposed to be responding to discussion questions and when you are supposed to be working on an assignment can get confusing. My suggestion is to do something similar to what I did to organize myself. Post a calendar devoted only to online course work. Do not combine this with your family calendar because it will become crowded and impossible to read. Then take the syllabus the professor has outlined and plug in the dates. Instead of writing each thing out I chose to color code discussions and assignments. Do whatever works best for you. Keep this calendar very close to your computer so that it does not get lost and is easily available when you are working.

    Key Takeaways:

    1. Don't procrastinate! There will always be distractions.

    2. Set a schedule and stick to it! Let family members know you are unavailable and get family members to help around the house.

    3. Keep a calendar with assignments on it! Keep this schedule visible and easily accessible.