In today’s highly technological society, online college courses are becoming the norm for a wide spread population of students. Individuals who are considering enrolling in these courses may wonder about the components that are included in this type of learning. Even though online courses differ by institution, they typically involve similar aspects.

Online Learning Platform

Most online courses are presented via an online learning platform. Some institutions create their own platform, but majority use a common system like Moodle, Blackboard, and edX. The platform houses the course syllabus, course materials, contact information for instructors, discussion boards, and additional resources. Some platforms enable students to email and instant message with instructors and fellow classmates. Typically everything takes place within the learning platform for easier navigation and organization of online courses.

Course Content

The course content is presented in the online learning platform. The instructor selects the reading materials, traditional textbooks or links to e-books. Online lectures of course content are presented in a variety of ways including PowerPoint presentations, webcasts, and podcasts. Some courses feature live video conferencing where students are able to interact with instructors and even fellow classmates in real-time. Many online courses enable students to read, listen, or watch lectures on their own time, but some may require some real-time interaction. Online courses typically have a designated area for assignments and other requirements and students must submit their work by the deadline. Some platforms feature an assignment drop box, while others require students to email their work directly to the instructor.

Discussion

Most online courses include a participation component where students are required to stay active in discussions with the instruction and other students. Usually discussions takes place via a threaded discussion board where students are able to post comments under certain questions or subjects. Instructors often check the discussion boards to make sure all students are actively responding to course discussions, and some even make students reach a certain word count for replies. Most instructors are looking for substantive responses, not just one word answers as the goal is expand the discussion and leave a starting point for the next student to reply. Some courses feature other types of discussion, such as chat and live messaging.

Assessments and Grading

Since all of the learning takes place in a virtual environment, majority of quizzes and tests are presented online as well. The assessments are usually timed and may include multiple-choice, short answer, or essay questions. The computer grades some quizzes and tests automatically, while the instructor grades others. Some programs require students to visit a proctored location in their area to take major examinations, and others require students to use a webcam so they can be monitored. In online courses, students are usually graded based on a variety of factors, including assessments, papers, projects, and discussion.

While enrolling in an online course may be overwhelming at the beginning, majority of students easily adapt to virtual learning environments and reap many of the benefits. With technology advancing at an extravagant rate, online courses will likely increase and become a part of nearly all college programs.

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