Inside the Online Classroom

Today the Internet is helping to increase the availability and popularity of distance learning programs. There are more than 2 million students enrolled in online programs and over 80% of all colleges offer some form of distance learning. More importantly, the USDLA cites that research studies have shown distance learning programs to be equally as effective as traditional learning, and that students' attitudes about their online experiences are typically positive.

While statistics about the popularity, growth, and effectiveness are important aspects to consider in your decision, you may also be curious about the specifics of the online classroom experience. In fact, online degree programs follow much the same routines as traditional learning, but with a few creative alterations. You will still have lectures (just not in person), assignments (but you won't hand them in to your instructor), and exams (just without the pencil and paper).

Typically class begins at a certain time, but you won't have to be there. You'll be able to communicate with your instructor by e-mail, chat rooms, bulletin boards, and instant messenger. Your classroom will reside in a special software program that utilizes text, chat, and bulletin boards, as well as streaming audio or recorded lectures. You may study in a virtual workgroup with other students and may also work, individually, on interactive puzzles and quizzes. This contact with other students and the instructor, which occurs in most online classrooms, is useful and oftentimes essential to your education.

Some online programs even encourage faculty to hold weekly real-time office hours and to monitor class and team bulletin board discussions. Most instructors will respond to e-mail on a regular basis (within 24 to 48 hours) and can offer either synchronous (live) or asynchronous (non-live) class sessions. Transcripts and notes from these lectures are archived for your convenience. You will always be able to access previous discussions, live or not. Assignments can be completed using these archives and, when returned to you, your instructor may even attach an audio clip to your assignment to let you hear his/her comments. To create and maintain this high-tech environment, instructors team up with web designers ad instructional designers to put together their courses. The result is, usually, an interactive and highly effective learning environment.


Schools to consider: