How Do Online Schools Work?

College Resources

If you are considering taking college classes online, your biggest question is probably whether you will learn more in a real classroom or in a virtual setting. Although some people benefit more from the classroom experience, many people find online schools better for several reasons. For example, you have a more flexible schedule and can do your work on your own time. If you have a family, a full-time job or other commitments, online classes may be right for you. These are some of the most important things to know about how online colleges work.

Classroom Structure

Although the structure can vary somewhat from one institution to another, most schools use a digital learning management system. It is a virtual portal that gives you access to each of your classes. For each class, you have access to a syllabus, weekly assignment folders, related resources, and course materials. At some schools, instructors may offer live-streaming options for viewing on-campus class lectures. With some types of projects, you may be assigned to a group. This is usually also a test to see who demonstrates leadership and problem-solving skills. If you find yourself in a group assignment setting, do not be afraid to be the one to initiate online conversations and make suggestions for distributing research or writing assignments.

Deadlines

Most colleges have a day of the week for deadlines. However, some have multiple deadline days each week. For example, some schools require students to post a thread on a discussion board each week on Thursday night and turn in all other assignments by Sunday night. While the time deadline is usually midnight for most schools, others may have varying time deadlines. For each class, the professor will usually specify what you need to do or how far in advance you need to make contact to receive a deadline extension. An extension may be granted if you get sick, are hospitalized, must attend a funeral or have another verifiable emergency.

Textbooks

Today, most online colleges use digital textbooks that are purchased or rented online for a lower cost than a printed equivalent. Some institutions give you the option to purchase or rent a printed textbook through an online bookstore from the college. If the school provides an ISBN, you can search for it online and may find the same book as a used item for a lower price. Some schools or instructors may provide you with a link to an open-source version of a textbook, which means that it is free to read. Alternately, some math and science classes require exclusive access codes to complete online lab modules. If you use financial aid, you can usually use some of it when you need to order your books or electronic resources before your courses start.

Tests and Assignments

Testing policies vary based on the school or even the instructor. For example, you may see that a nursing school degree class one semester offers exams with no time limits and with unlimited attempts. During the next semester, you may have a similar seeming class, but with one-hour time limits on tests and a limit of two attempts per test. Assignments and tests are usually structured in a weekly order. In most LMS platforms, you have a digital folder with prompts, assignments and supplemental resources for each week. Once you submit a written assignment to your professor, it will usually be graded within the week. Digital LMS platforms have a feedback feature. With this, you can see any advice or corrections from your instructor. If you have a big project that is divided into weekly milestones, this is especially helpful for optimizing your final submission.

Communication

This is one of the biggest issues with online schools. You must be proactive about communicating with your instructor if you have questions or concerns. Most instructors respond to email questions or office calls within 24 hours. Also, most instructors provide a cell phone number for you to contact them by texting or calling. If you review your assignments early in the week and try to stay ahead, you can usually solve any issues ahead of time. Also, most online college classes have late policies that allow you to turn in assignments late for legitimate reasons. Most of the dialogue that you have between yourself and other students will be on a forum-like discussion board. Part of your weekly assignments may include posting a discussion topic, responding to several peers’ posts and responding to questions or comments that peers leave on your posts.

Capabilities

The final consideration is your ability to meet the requirements. You must have a computer or another device that allows you to access the materials and complete your assignments. Most schools will provide you with necessary software programs, such as Word, Excel, and others. Aside from the technological requirements, you must know how to manage your time, stay motivated and be disciplined. One of the reasons why some people are unable to do well with their online classes is because they lack the motivation to stay ahead. There are apps that you can use to arrange your schedule and manage your time wisely. Find what inspires you to develop your own self-motivation program. The same applies to developing and maintaining discipline. Perhaps you have financial or family goals that motivate you and help you maintain your self-discipline.

Before you enroll in any degree program, verify that the online school is accredited. If money is one of your concerns, you will be glad to know that many colleges offer financial aid to online students. There are scholarships that you can apply for on your own. You can fill out a FAFSA and add multiple school codes. You may qualify for a federal grant, which is a free sum from the government. Also, you may qualify for federal loans. Some online schools have lower tuition costs than major universities for out-of-state students.

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