One of the greatest benefits of going to college online is that learning can happen at any time and from any place with a connection to the Internet.
Consider for a moment the way a student interacts with the instructor, other students, learns, and submits assignments in an online class environment. Is it all through email? Some sort of virtual interface? What kinds of technology are used by colleges providing online degree programs?
Online Learning Management Systems
There are several popular online learning management systems used by colleges throughout the US. When selecting an online program you should research the system and its requirements and be prepared to upgrade home computers so they can support the online college technology being utilized.
A few of the most common systems are Blackboard, eCollege or Pearson LearningStudio and Moodle. These types of software are specifically designed to be easy to use for students and instructors alike, and become virtual classrooms where documents, audio files, and links to videos or podcasts can be posted and shared. Linfield College uses Blackboard and we have written extensively about the experience of using Blackboard, along with screenshots of the software, in our Online College Guide under the Chapter, What to Expect from Online Courses.
From the student perspective, systems serve not only as the course delivery method, but they also enable a community platform, allowing conversations to take place as though students are in a traditional classroom. For the faculty, the open source platform of these software programs allows for design flexibility and they can monitor each student’s participation, administer the course, and utilize the cohesive properties to assess assignments and overall grades. For the school administrator, it enables ways to measure academic success on all the levels, from the student, instructor, and topic, to overall school’s performance.
Some educators are using Second Life, the 3D virtual world, to engage their online students. The Open University (UK), Harvard, Texas State, and Stanford are just a few of the many universities with virtual campuses where students can meet, attend classes, and create content together. Open University psychology students, for instance, tour the “Virtual Hallucinations Island” in Open University’s virtual campus, where they can experience firsthand the phenomena of mental illness described by patients. Open University hosts over 200 events and conferences in Second Life each year. And their virtual campus program also offers virtual student housing.
One piece of the traditional college model that often carries over to online programs is the use of textbooks. Many students report that they feel grounded in the course through the use of their textbook, They are able to study and to learn without having to be logged into the virtual classroom. Some instructors and colleges utilize supplemental materials that are available online., such as sample quizzes and optional readings. They enable participants to either download or login and view the materials for the specific course, without additional charges.. Many college courses in the fields of history, literature, sociology, and business will utilize books that are available in electronic form for users of the Kindle or other electronic reading devices or through one’s public library.
For students with low vision, or other challenges having to do with reading printed materials, with advanced planning, alternatives may be provided, through the schools’ Learning Support services, such as audio recordings of textbooks, and Braille editions of books.
Audio and Video
Increased internet speeds have enabled the use of streamed audio and video files, which is helpful because some online instructors find that certain lessons have to be taught with physical and oral explanations. To accomplish this they can utilize a video camera to record a lecture then post it on the learning management system. The benefits of this process are that a student can go back again and again to view the same lecture if there is a portion they need more time with or in review for an exam, and it can be watched at the student’s leisure when their schedule allows. A traditional classroom lecture is available only once, and if the student is unable to attend because he or she is sick, for example, great lengths must be taken to recover the notes from a fellow student to prevent falling behind.
Online Tutorials for Students
Some prospective students may feel intimidated by the learning management systems and other online college technology. However, most schools offer tutorial demonstrations for students new to online learning. The systems are designed to enable the best interactive experience possible, with many opportunities for interaction with fellow students and teachers, enriching the online learning experience for all.