Online courses offer the benefits of in-person learning while expanding flexibility in access and engagement. To achieve this, online courses often rely more on web-based technologies such as Canvas and Zoom for facilitation. While some class activities and assessments may be executed differently in the online modality, you will still complete course readings and assignments and get actively involved in all kinds of learning activities like you would in a face-to-face course. For example, instead of participating during a live lecture, you will instead be asked to spend more time participating in online discussions. And while some components of an online course may be different, many expectations remain the same. For example you will still be responsible for keeping up with the work and completing the learning tasks by specific deadlines as you would in-person.
It’s worth noting that the learning experience during the pandemic was remote learning and not online learning. Online courses are typically developed over the span of many months with careful consideration given to how to most effectively translate the in-person experience to fully online.
The Benefits of Online Learning
- Access and Opportunity: Online learners have new opportunities to enroll in courses that may not be available where they live and which allow them to manage work and family commitments.
- Flexibility: Online learners can access course materials anytime and anywhere.
- Economical: Online learners can save time and money by avoiding difficult commutes, which will allow them to spend more time learning and less time traveling.
- Self-directed Learning: Online education focuses on a learner-centered paradigm which can promote and enhance self-directed and self-oriented learning. This helps students develop a goal-oriented mindset and self-paced learning style which can benefit a learner’s career and personal life in the long run.
- Quality Education: You will be afforded the same opportunities to engage with your peers and instructors in online courses as you would with in-person courses.
Common Characteristics of Online Learners
- Drive to Achieve: Many online learners decide to pursue further education based upon their personal motivation to advance professionally.
- Balance Multiple Commitments: Many online learners are non-traditional students (Myers-Wylie, Mangieri, & Hardy, 2009). This includes people with full or part-time jobs, married or single parents, retirees or the unemployed looking for a new career or professional development.
- Awareness of Learning Styles and Preferences: Like all learners, online learners have different learning styles, such as auditory, visual, or kinesthetic (Myers-Wylie et al., 2009). They may have different technology preferences as well. For instance, while some people prefer to read books and articles on a computer screen, some still prefer to read printed material. Some students may benefit from using tools that support these preferences.
- Diverse Backgrounds: There are no geographical or time limitations for taking online courses. The cohort of online students is very diverse in age, ethnicity, profession, and language. This may include international students and students with disabilities. Successful online learners embrace this and enjoy being a part of a diverse learning community.
- Enjoy Learning Opportunities Relevant to Their Lives and Work: Online learners want to make sure that learning is meaningful to their personal and professional life (Myers-Wylie et al., 2009). Case studies, problem solving activities, simulations and other approaches that offer opportunities for students to connect learning to their own lives and work are most rewarding.
Online learning does not necessarily work for everyone
In order to be a successful online learner, several qualities and competencies are important to consider. You will also need to have access to a computer that meets the minimum online course requirements.
Please ask yourself these important questions before you decide to take an online course:
Online courses usually offer students flexibility in their schedule but as a result may have assignments that require you to work independently and as a part of virtual teams. No one will check your progress every day, so it’s important you are self-motivated and self-disciplined to succeed as an online student.
Comfort expressing your ideas in writing and interest in reading others’ ideas in writing is especially helpful for learning online. Most of your communication will be through the written word. Thus, it is important for you as an online learner to feel comfortable in communicating through reading and writing. Other courses may utilize tools which enable you to record video and audio responses to discussions or deliver virtual presentations in recorded or live formats.
Online learning requires you to be comfortable navigating Canvas (MSU’s learning management system) to access course content, submit work, communicate with peers and faculty, and more. Training is available to help you get you started and comfortable with using Canvas, though it is important you are comfortable navigating new tools and using basic applications such as web browsers and tools like Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Zoom, etc.
If you are still not sure, our Self Assessment for Online Learning Readiness Survey may help you determine whether online learning is a good choice for you.