Who Takes Online Classes?

Who takes online courses?

  • Working professionals
  • Returning adults
  • Working students
  • Stay at home moms/dads
  • High School students getting a head start on college
  • Students looking for a cheaper general education class that will transfer to a 4 year university out of state/country/county
  • Think about others you may know who are taking or who have taken a class online before. Can you think of any others?


Factors to Consider

  • Students may find that an online class is not for them or not what they expected. Why?
  • Time Management
  • Suddenly students are not required to be in class physically.
  • This has different effects on different types of people.
  • Students must learn how to plan their life around their learning schedule or vice-versa.


Time Management Solutions

  • Recommend to your students to allocate a time in which they can work on their class. 2 hours a day-everyday, 4 hours a day- 3 times a week, etc.
  • Not all activities in online classes require the student to be online at all times. Students can print out lectures to read, or cover chapter readings without being online. Encourage them to take their work with them if they feel more comfortable that way.



  • Students become self-paced learners online so they have to be very motivated.
  • Falling behind can become an intimidating feat to overcome.
  • The online learner is a new breed… one that is self guided rather than constructed. You may need to nudge them in the right direction initally to get them rolling. If you haven’t heard from them or seen them online, a quick email usually will get them back on track.


Technology Skills

  • Online classes assume basic computer skills and system requirements.
  • Students who do not possess the technology skills to take an online class often times end up spending more time learning how to use the technology rather than learning the content.
  • Slow computers or connections can make a students’ online experience miserable.
  • Require a pre-requisite survey that demonstrates technology skills prior to entering the course
  • Explicitly state computer system requirements that students will need in order to access and be successful in your course.


Learning Styles

Your students learn in many different ways. As a general rule, the more “real” of an experience you can make it, the better.

Instructor Competencies for Teaching Online

Issues of Technology for Instructors and Development Time of an Online Course
Instructors who have never taught online find it to be new and often times challenging for the first go around. If they choose to use their own materials (rather than publisher content which we will discuss later), they have to convert their existing materials into a way that is suitable for online learning. Converting existing materials could involve creating (HTML) web pages, scanning images, digital video, discussion boards, multimedia, and email.  What do you need to know?
Baseline Technology Skills (Required Skills)

  1. Ability to operate a computer operating system to launch applications, perform tasks, save, close, copy, paste and rename files.
  2. Ability to use a word processor to save in native format and HTML.
  3. Ability to send and receive email and email with attachments.
  4. Ability to use a web browser to view and search the Internet.
  5. Ability to navigate and effectively design, develop, and deliver instruction via an LMS.

Additional/Advanced Skills (Optional Skills)

  1. Ability to scan images for use on the web.
  2. Ability to work with digital video and/or audio.
  3. Ability to use multimedia authoring tools.
  4. Web Design skills.
  5. Keep up with latest learning technology trends to enhance the learning process for students.

Instructor Interaction
Online classes aim to simulate the traditional classroom in many aspects including communication. Although the class is online, students need that “human touch.” Students will often complain that their instructor was never there or took a week to answer an email. This can put the student back a week if the instructor is not prompt so it is good practice to check in with your class often.  Insufficient interaction with the instructor is often the biggest complaint of students who had a bad online class experience.  Staying up with emails, or simply stating in your syllabus that you will answer emails once a day, or once every 2 days at a certain time will help set your students at ease.
Time Management
Instructors often ask about the development time for an online course. This all depends on the technological competency of the person developing the course and it also depends on whether they develop their course from scratch, if the materials already exist, or they use publisher content.

Online classes are known for taking up instructor time when teaching them because answering emails and discussion boards often requires a lot of reading and typing. You should be prepared to set aside a time(s) where you will check your course email and discussion areas.
Custom Courses
Some instructors choose to create their own content. The reason for this may be because the Course Pack content was not to their liking, they choose to develop their own content, the content is already developed from their traditional course, or they simply would rather take more ownership of their course. The time it takes to develop a course from scratch is probably a considerable amount of time when compared with Course Packs, but the advantage is that the content is laid out the way you wanted it.

Characteristics of an Online Course

What are they?

When referring to online classes, these are what you probably think of first. This is where the student and instructor never see each other- except through writing and exchanging pictures.

Through robust instructional design, the instructor sets up activities to aid in the learning of material online. Students usually attend online classes because they are more convenient for them and their schedule. Learning online has proven to be just as- if not more effective than the traditional classroom.

Characteristics of an Online Class

  • Student logs on to perform class activities when they have time- 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
  • Students perform assignments both online and/or offline (depending on how the instructor has it set up)
  • Students take quizzes/exams online or through a proctored exam site such a library.
  • Activities are student centered rather than instructor centered.
  • Group projects aid in student collaboration.
  • Discussion boards add peer and instructor feedback capabilities.
  • Writing is often intensive.
  • Instructor is no longer the focus of attention- many times, they act as a facilitator of instruction.

Hybrid Courses – What Are They?

What are they?

When referring to Hybrid courses, generally it is a class that is 80% online and 20% in the classroom.  This can vary though depending on the subject matter. For example, in a chemistry course, you might have 50% of the activities such as reading, writing, and quizzes take place online while the other 50% is reserved for in-class hands on lab exercises.


Characteristics of a Hybrid Course

  • Remedial materials, lectures, articles, etc. can be put online.
  • In class discussions can continue in online discussion boards.
  • Online interactions improve writing skills, critical thinking, and research skills.
  • Less controversial for faculty than an all online class.
  • Students have to commute less and can go online/class at their convenience.
  • Students who missed a class period may be able to catch up online.
  • Saves classroom space.


Ideas for Hybrid Courses

  • Have your in-class traditional course lectures on-campus and discussions and readings/activities online.
  • You could alternate class sessions.
    • Week 1 – traditional class lecture
    • Week 2 – online class discussion and extended readings to be ready to discuss by week 3.
    • Week 3 – discuss readings from Week 2 and begin new traditional class lecture.
    • Week 4 – Have students research a topic using World Wide Web resources/Library resources and write a paper to be submitted for (peer review or instructor review)
  • Have your course lectures/readings online and your lab sessions on-campus.
  • You could alternate class sessions.
    • Week 1 – Meet online and read/discuss readings.
    • Week 2 – Meet on-campus to perform the lab.
    • Repeat the above steps but include resources such as learning objects, remedial materials, extended readings, discussions, and group projects all in the online portion of the class.
  • Split up the semester by having either the first 8 weeks online or traditional, then the second 8 weeks either online or traditional.
    • You could save classroom space this way, as two hybrids can be running at the same time using the same room.

Web-Enhanced Classes

What are they?

When referring to a Web-enhanced course, it is simply a traditional face to face course that has supplemental materials online. They are essentially technology enhanced traditional courses.

So for example, it could be a website that includes your syllabus, PowerPoint Presentations from class, other links, student grades, and class materials. Many instructors will use a Learning Management System (LMS) to web-enhance their face to face courses.



  • Allows students to download the class presentations online. (You can have them print out the materials before class which can save you time at the copy machine).
  • If the student lost the syllabus, they can pick it up online.
  • You can make class announcements outside of the regular class period.
  • Allows you to include supplemental exercises or downloadable assignments.
  • Allows you to post student grades online so the students can check their grade at any time.
  • Saves time, paper, and student frustration



  • Keep in mind that the student signed up for your course knowing that it was a traditional face-to-face class.
  • Offer the web-enhancement simply as a supplement to your face to face instruction.
  • Try not to require students to complete online activities unless you complete those activities during the regular class hours, or you know that everyone has internet access at home- after all, they didn’t sign up for an online class.

Teaching online for the first time

If you’ve been selected to teach online for the first time, here are some practical tips to keep in mind.

Factors to consider when designing/teaching a class online:
The transition from the traditional classroom to the online arena can be managed effectively with a few pointers:

Grey areas in your instructions are black holes for your students online.

  • Students do not have the luxury of talking face to face with the instructor.
  • Every question, problem or snag a student has results in a delay. The student will lose that time that they set aside for their class because they will be problem solving the instructions, figuring out a technical problem, or questioning the assignment expectations.


Keep your instructions clear and easy to understand. When creating your instructions for an assignment or activity, put yourself in the place of the student who is taking the class online. Did you leave anything out? Are there any details that you need to fill in?


Instructors are taken out of the role as a lecturer (primary focus) and are put into a facilitator role.


  • Course materials shift from instructor dependent to learner driven.
  • Course materials such as the syllabus, rules, content, quizzes, etc. have to be converted to digital format or redone altogether to fit the online forum. In some cases, simply converting the material to a web page will not work. The instructor may have to re-think their instructional design to fit the online environment.
  • Traditional stand up lectures give way to learner-centered activities such as discussions, group activities, learning simulations, written critiques, etc.
  • Traditional courses require the student to be present whereas the online class requires students to be self motivated, driven, responsible, and efficient time managers.
  • Online courses allow the student to work ahead whereas the traditional course requires the student to follow a more modular lesson plan week by week.


Develop activities that shift the focus back to the learners. Develop group or collaborative activities that encourage communication and require the students to seek out more information on their own. The World Wide Web has tons of resources that students can guide their own learning by researching. Have them make connections with the book, the WWW, experiences, and other students. Be there for the students as a coach, subject matter expert, mentor, and ultimately the facilitator.

Asynchronous Communication


In an online class, the main disadvantage is that students cannot ask questions and get a response right away unless of course you have a chat room. They may have to wait a couple of hours, or days to get feedback. This is why in an online class it is so important that the instructions and activities you create are as detailed as possible- that way the student can begin to work on their class at their convenience. You must keep in mind that online learning caters to those with alternative schedules who might not be able to take the class otherwise because of work, kids, travel, etc. This is why it is important in online classes to be very thorough in your instructions, assignments, and activities. Whenever there is a delay in communication it is usually an asynchronous medium.


Some examples of asynchronous communication are:

  • Email
  • Text messaging
  • Discussion Boards
  • Post Office Mail
  • Correspondence courses


Characteristics of asynchronous communication

  • Response time is delayed due to one-way communication.
  • Communication is usually archived – ie. discussion boards, email, listservs.
  • Interactions are usually written or typed. This is why it is VERY important that instructions for assignments and exercises are clear and concise.
  • Well thought-out responses.


Advantages to asynchronous communication

  • Students have a copy of a communication transcript between themselves and the instructor or fellow students.
  • Students/Instructors can respond when they want to.
  • More time is allowed for responses which often-times results in enriched critical thinking and quality responses.
  • Content can be accessed at any time within the context that comfortably suits them.


Disadvantages to asynchronous communication

  • Student may be a better oral communicator than a writer resulting in vague responses or frustration.
  • Delay time – Answers to questions in a an asynchronous format can hold a student back from moving on to a new lesson or understanding current concepts.
  • Student may be technologically challenged.
  • This is always not the case with asynchronous learning because of mail correspondence courses.
  • Students must be motivated to stay on task.

Synchronous Communication

The main difference between teaching online and teaching in the traditional classroom are the forms of communication. In the traditional classroom, you can see facial expressions, student reactions, get immediate feedback, and talk in real time. This is known as synchronous (live, real-time) communication. Although it is live, synchronous communication can also take place in the online class.


Some examples of synchronous communication are:

  • Face to face talking or sign language
  • Telephones, cell phones
  • Compressed video teleconferences
  • Chat rooms
  • Instant Messengers


Characteristics of synchronous communication

  • Instantaneous, immediate response
  • Feedback can be negotiated in real-time
  • Many times, the instructor can adjust or revise the content in real-time according to how the students are reacting to the material.


Advantages of synchronous communication

  • Students are accustomed to the real-time interaction and lecture type learning format. They grew up learning in this type of environment.
  • Feedback is immediate- Students can get answers immediately and continue to move on in their learning.
  • Students can interact and exchange ideas in real-time small groups to enhance the creative process.
  • Hands on exercises amplifies the learning process.


In this respect, synchronous learning is a huge advantage for learners in a traditional class because students can “pick the brains” of their instructor and also interact with their fellow classmates -all in real time. The instructor can leave details out of activities and lectures because they can simply explain it during class. Not the case in an online class.


Disadvantages to Synchronous Communication

  • Students may feel intimidated or embarrassed to truly express their thoughts or questions in the classroom among other students or in the presence of the instructor.
  • Conflicting schedules- Requires students to be somewhere at a certain time. This is true for both a traditional course setting and even a chat room.
  • Lectures lend themselves to note-taking in which the student can miss key points trying to keep up.
  • Students are traditionally in the context of a classroom which could be too hot, too cold, too nice outside, bad weather, etc. All effecting students willingness to learn.

How Do Online Classes Work?

The process is fairly simple.

  • You develop the course using your existing, publisher, and/or new materials in conjunction with your faculty trainer or experienced online faculty peers.
  • The class is put through a review process for quality control prior to launch date.
  • Students register online or through the admissions office.
  • At the beginning of the semester, you send an initial email to all of your online students telling them how to get into your class, what to expect, and where to begin.
  • Students begin work in your class according to your instructional design. Students can take quizzes, tests, perform exercises, hand in papers, participate in group projects, participate in discussions, etc.
  • You communicate with them via email and discussion boards online to facilitate learning and answer any questions they have.
  • At the end of the semester, you assign each student a grade just like you would in any other class.
  • So, you can see that the process is very similar to your traditional class. However, instead of answering student questions face to face, you will have to answer them through the use of email, discussion boards, chats, etc. You may find that it takes more time, but you can always revise your instruction to combat frequently asked questions or gaps in instruction. As you continue to grow as an online instructor, you will see what works, what doesn’t and you can make revisions-just like in your traditional class.