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Everything You Need to Know Before Enrolling in an Online Program

As an educated professional, you want solid information before deciding to enroll in USF’s online learning programs. It’s easy to do research on what a program is about and what a university has to offer, but it can be more difficult to find out what an online class is really like.

Even after you find a program with the curriculum you’re looking for and a university you trust, it can be difficult to invest in an online education if you don’t know what to expect once you begin class.

Online programs can differ from one to the next, but there are common elements that you can expect to see once you enroll. Here are the facts you need to know and the questions you should ask when considering an online program:

What is the online classroom like?

Discussion boards, syllabi pages and weekly overview pages are the core components of many online programs. Online classrooms are not “one size fits all” setups, so it is important for students to immerse themselves in the class’s structure to learn where to find each part of the classroom experience.

Explanation for the organization of a program should be included in the syllabus or in an introduction from the professor. Make sure you know the following information before the class begins:

  • Where the assignments are listed.
  • Where to turn assignments in (may differ from above).
  • What the deadlines are for all tests, assignments and discussion topics.
  • When the professor’s virtual office hours are and the best way to contact him or her.

Though some people think of online education as a solitary learning environment, online classrooms can be more interactive than traditional classrooms. Many online classes incorporate participating in discussions as part of the grade. Some even have a minimum number of posts for students to make per week and a minimum number of a classmate’s posts that a student needs to respond to.

Having particular discussion goals leads you to interact with your classmates and professor in a thoughtful way. Because you aren’t put on the spot, you can take the time to consider your points and share meaningful ideas with the right resources to back them up.

Time management is essential.

Flexible scheduling is a major part of the appeal of online programs, especially for people trying to balance getting an education with busy careers and family life. However, schedule flexibility should not be mistaken for total freedom.

Like any traditional program, online classes have specific due dates for classroom activities. Though you won’t have to report to class at a particular time, you will still be expected to turn in your work on-time if you want a good grade.

If you are considering an online program, you need to understand that time management is essential to classroom success. Putting off your assignments until the last minute can backfire, as a lot can happen on the discussion board in a short period of time.

Make sure that your computer is working properly and that you have the self-motivation to log in and get your work done on time.

If you struggle with time management, you can still succeed in an online learning environment with the right preparation. Use Google Calendar or any online project management tool to set up a schedule for your classwork.

You can set up reminders to help you successfully move through the class. Don’t just set your reminders for due dates, but schedule which days to start and finish the assignments.

The professor/student relationship is different.

Look for an online program with the same quality of professors for their online courses as they have for their on-campus classes. Researching the professors of a program can help you decide if the program is right for you.

Make use of your professor’s virtual office hours. If he or she doesn’t have office hours listed, send an email once after class begins and find out the best time to reach him or her and the best method of communication.

Not having in-person contact with your professor makes communication even more important. In a traditional classroom, a professor might be able to tell if a student is confused based on body language or facial expressions. During an online class, it will be up to you to let the professor know if you are having any trouble.

Online doesn’t mean “easy.”

Though online courses are convenient, they still require effort on your part. Like any traditional program, your grade and education experience will be shaped by how hard you work.

Some online programs can be completed in shorter durations than traditional programs. Students can potentially receive their certificates or degrees faster, but it means much of the cirriculum can be covered over a shorter amount of time.

Being organized and communicative can help you choose an online program and succeed in it. Knowing what to expect in an online program allows you to make an informed decision and get organized before you begin.

Take the Next Steps

Get our free Online Program Guide or visit the program pages.

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