How Online Classes Work
The Internet has allowed for drastic changes in the way people watch movies, buy music, and even go to school. But while most people are familiar with media-oriented sites like YouTube or Amazon, the ins and outs of online education are still a mystery to some. People know that online education exists, but often not how to access it, or even how it works.
The short answer is: online classes work the way you want them to work. By offering degree programs online, universities allow students to dictate their own work schedule within a given set of parameters. For instance, the University of Phoenix (which also has more than 200 physical locations) offers several degrees that can be completed exclusively online. Its Axia College requires students to log in to class forums four days a week, but the dates and times are left to the student’s discretion.
Additionally, you don’t attend classes in a regular manner, but make your presence known to your instructor and fellow classmates by logging in to the system. Your syllabus and relevant study material are often distributed online, right to your computer, and exams are taken by logging in, filling out the test, and submitting it electronically. The benefits of online technology also allow for video presentations from instructors and live, interactive chatting with others in the program. It’s what places like Westwood College refer to as a "virtual community experience."
Because there isn’t a typical classroom set-up when it comes to getting a degree online, most classes and degree programs place a heavy emphasis on reading and writing. It’s also important to know before signing up for an online class whether it will allow you to complete the work at your own pace or require you to login at the same time every day. Many classes split the difference, calling occasionally for scheudled logins but often letting you dictate when the work gets done.
Virtual discussions are also a big part of taking a class online, and they’re just like the instant-messaging programs or chat rooms you’ve used. Online classrooms have discussion boards that function like brick-and-mortar lecture halls, allowing students to post comments, ask questions, and engage with each other and the instructor about a variety of topics relating to their coursework.
Ultimately, online classes work just like physical ones. You still take directions from an instructor, complete coursework like research papers, take quizzes and tests, work for grades, and interact with classmates. The only change is that everything’s done from the convenience of your own home.