Once upon a time, online education was new. Like any other innovation, there were detractors who said that it was not rigorous and that the quality of online instruction could never equal face-to-face instruction. How wrong they were! In fact, while you can sit in a face-to-face lecture, “zone out”, and miss a great deal of information, online courses are designed to be highly interactive, so that you can obtain the information in a variety of ways, and even go back and review them at your convenience. You certainly cannot do that with the traditional classroom lecture.
Since online courses are developed with student interactivity, interest, and engagement in mind, there are many activities you are likely to encounter in online learning. College faculty members who develop online classes are keenly aware of two things. First, we learn in a variety of ways. Some of us are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others are tactile learners. So, during course development, faculty members are careful to include a variety of learning activities that can meet the needs of a different types of learners. Second, with popularity of social media, many students are blogging and using sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube. Faculty members develop their courses with these sites in mind so you can interact with today’s social technologies.
Most online courses have four main types of activities: study activities, discussion boards, assignments, and tests. Often, courses are divided into units or modules, with a collection of some or all of these activities contained within them. A combination of these learning activities makes for an effective, meaningful, high-quality learning experience.
This category can encompass a wide variety of things. In short, study activities are things that you will read or watch that will help you prepare for upcoming assignments or tests. One common study activity is video clips. Instructors often include video clips from sources like PBS and other television networks, cable television shows, or YouTube. They might also place video clips that were developed by the publisher of the textbook for your course. These are supplements to the textbook reading for that unit, and the clips often illustrate the most important concepts you need to know. Additionally, the school may develop other media clips for you to view that relate directly to the course content.
A second common study activity is course readings. Most of the time, this will include chapters from the course textbook that you will need to purchase. Some universities are even moving to using electronic textbooks in their online programs. Instructors may also include articles from scholarly journals as part of the study activities for a unit. These articles are typically written by experts in the field, and provide current, high-quality information to supplement the course text. These are usually easily accessible through either a PDF of the article right on the course page, a link to an external source, or a search for the article in the school online library.
Students in face-to-face courses often report that they learn a great deal by talking with their peers before and after class, along with the interaction with their professor. Since students in online programs may be participating from any corner of the world where there is internet access, this type of engagement may seem impossible. Not so! Discussion boards provide just such an avenue for interactions among students and the teacher.
Online courses typically include an initial “Introduce Yourself” discussion forum, which you will complete during the first week. These allow students to tell a little about themselves, and to “meet and greet” other students. Often, instructors will ask you to include something like what you expect to gain from the course, initial questions that you have, or how this course will help you meet your educational goals.
Discussion forums within the units of the course are typically focused specifically on the content of that unit. Often, the discussion posts require you to reflect on the course readings, or to respond to one of the video clips you viewed. Sometimes, you may be asked to consider your own experiences and discuss them.
Assignments are what students are always very concerned about, and they typically make up the bulk of the course grade. Course assignments can vary considerably, and usually include a good bit of writing. Often, online course requirements include research papers of some kind, reviews of articles or books, or weekly journal entries. Sometimes, your instructor might ask for you to produce something else – like a powerpoint presentation or a portfolio of some sort. Whatever the case, a wide variety of assignments in a course adds to its quality, so instructors usually try to include work that will appeal to many different types of learners and learning styles.
Exams or quizzes are also often included in online classes. Just as with traditional college courses, these are designed to see whether you have read, understood, and can apply the information from the study activities. It is very important that you read the information and understand it completely before taking an exam or quiz. Often, they are timed, so you need to be able to quickly locate the answer in the course readings.
Online degree programs and courses have evolved over the last decade so that they are now high-quality, technologically-driven, information-saturated educational creations. Instructors and course developers are focused on incorporating a variety of learning activities so that you leave the course having mastered the objectives and having the ability to apply the new knowledge to your career path.
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