Your Study Guides and Strategies starts here!

We may go to the moon,
but that's not very far.
The greatest distance
we have to cover
still lies within us.
Charles de Gaulle, 1890 - 1970
French president

The online learning series

Descriptions of online courses

"Distance education is based on the premise that students are at the center of the learning process, take responsibility for their own learning, and work at their own pace and in their own place. It is about ownership and autonomy." *

The good news: studies have shown that below grade students perform better in distance education courses if they finish them; and that at-grade or better students perform about the same.

The bad news: students tend to procrastinate and drop out at higher levels than in traditional courses, especially below grade students

There are many delivery methods of online courses in an institution's
"Virtual Learning Environment":

  • Via the Internet,
    conducted either synchronously or asynchronously
  • Telecourse/Broadcast
    where content is delivered via radio or television
  • CD-ROM
    where the student interacts with computer content stored on a CD-ROM,
    especially in locations without or unreliable Internet access
  • Pocket PC/Mobile Learning where the student accesses course content stored on a mobile device or through a wireless server (see M-learning guide)
  • Correspondence conducted through regular mail(!)
  • Required attendance at certain times during the semester or even class day/week, as for seminars or taking tests is considered to be a hybrid or blended course or program.
  • Electronic classrooms on campus as well as in satellite locations off campus
  • Levels of accreditation vary;
    (Some institutions offering distance education in the United States receive little outside oversight, and may be fraudulent diploma mills.)
  • Courses that meet in multiple locations at a specific time for lectures, course information delivery, and/or student interaction
  • Courses that do not meet at any specific time, in one or many locations

If you are taking distance learning courses as part of a formal degree program, before getting started:

  • Research why accreditation is important to higher education and online learning (see the government accreditation website)
  • Research the specific accreditation bodies for your area of study, as well as the accreditation requirements for practicing as a professional
  • Research whether the specific online degree programs that your course is part of has the appropriate accreditations at the school and program level (see database for searching online degree programs)
  • Call your department advisor to ensure that the online course actually counts toward your degree program

If you wish to succeed in an online course, here are some details to collect:

Course information:

  • Course website address
  • Instructor's name, office location and hours, telephone number, fax number, e-mail address
  • Teaching assistant name, office location and hours, telephone, fax, e-mail address
  • Tutor name, office location and hours, telephone, fax, e-mail address
  • Librarian/research assistant name, office location and hours, telephone, fax, e-mail address
  • Resource center (RC) location and hours, telephone number; RC manager with e-mail address

Logistics

  • Course materials you can expect
  • How you will receive the course materials
  • How you will be notified, or learn, of course announcements and class cancellations

Technical requirements:

  • computing and internet hardware, platform, and specifications
  • software type and version
  • multimedia accessibility

Schedule yourself, and stick to an assignment schedule, that

Schedule yourself daily/weekly for course communications for

  • peer learning/fellow student interaction via listservs, discussion groups, case studies, etc.
    Often you will be required to work on group projects or case studies, whether at one location or through the Internet. See the guides on group projects, or case studies.
  • feedback to the instructor
    In a face-to-face course, an instructor relies on feedback from students, whether with questions or facial/physical expressions. In a distance situation this is most difficult, and you carry the responsibility to inform the instructor how you are doing in the course, whether by appointment or through phone conversations or e-mail..
  • assignment progress and submission
  • progress reports: The instructor must provide feedback to you on your progress through the course. Request an evaluation schedule, conditions, and methods for your progress through the material. Methods include
    • tests reflecting knowledge acquisition or performance of tasks
    • reports, projects, case studies, course portfolio, etc.
    • qualitative and quantitative input into course discussions and projects
See also:

Learning to learn | Online learning: questions | Distance learning | Mobile learning (M-learning) | Taking online tests | Netiquette | Basics: Website development | Basics: Website design | Making your website popular |
Succeeding in continuing education |
Learning, studying, learning with others and online, classroom participation folder

Wheeler, Steve, "Convergent technologies in distance learning delivery", Tech Trends, Volume 43, Issue 5, November 1999, p. 19.