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Orientation: Getting Started with Online Learning

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What Do I Need To Know About Online Learning?

What is Online Learning?

The Extended Learning Institute (ELI) at Northern Virginia Community College provides students with the opportunity to take the same courses offered on campus in an online learning format. ELI courses may be completed at home, while stationed abroad, or on the road, if traveling. Students who are unable to commit to a specific classroom schedule because of work, travel, or other extenuating circumstances may find online learning convenient for them. Online learning courses have course material such as textbooks or online resources, assignments, exams, and interaction with faculty and/or other students. Students have the flexibility of selecting between 6, 8, 12, and 16 week sessions. Most classes have no class meetings, but students go to campus to take exams in the campus testing centers. If you are out of the area, you may arrange to have an exam proctored. Communication with the instructor and classmates is usually electronic via email or online discussion forums. Some courses also use Blackboard Collaborate, a real-time two-way audio and application sharing software.

How is Online Learning Different from On-Campus Courses?
  • Format
  • Technology
  • Time Required

Although online learning and on-campus courses cover the same content, the format is different. With online learning, you see the entire course from the beginning. For most courses, within the enrollment period there are flexible due dates, and testing occurs at your convenience within certain guidelines. Some courses may also be accelerated with the instructor’s permission.

Technology provides content and interaction. ELI courses use Blackboard as the course management system to communicate and facilitate class discussions. Students are required to use their VCCS student email account to communicate with the instructor.

Online learning courses usually require at least as much time as you would spend taking a campus-based course. You should plan to study at least 2-3 hours a week for each credit. In other words, for each three-credit course, you would study 6-9 hours per week. When you compare this time with what you spend in class and studying outside of class, it is about the same.

Here is a chart that illustrates the general amount of time per week you should expect to study per credit hour based on the course length. For example, if you enroll in an 8-week, 3-credit class, you can expect to spend 12-18 hours per week studying for this class. In general, the shorter the class length (6-, 8-, 12-, or 16-week), the more hours of study time you can expect to spend per week per credit.

Course Length 1 Credit 2 Credits 3 Credits 4 Credits 5 Credits
6-week 5-8
8-week 4-6
12-week 3-4
16-week 2-3
Student's Role in Online Learning

You, the student, must take an active approach to your learning. The instructor has structured the course for you and will give you feedback, but you are responsible for learning the material. Not only will you read the material and complete assignments, but you will also interpret important issues and ask questions when you need clarification. You are also responsible for keeping motivated and engaged with the course content. "You get out what you put in."

Faculty's Role in Online Learning

Faculty members serve as mentors, guides, or facilitators for your learning. They will encourage further thought in particular areas, initiate discussion topics, grade assignments, provide feedback on assignments, and answer any questions you have concerning the course content.

What are the Obstacles to Online Learning?

You must take the initiative to learn the course content. Planning a specific study schedule and sticking to it is imperative. Keeping track of enrollment time and completing assignments within that time frame is a major stumbling block for some online learning students.

Many students, already committed to work, family, and other activities, think that online learning is the answer to their lack of time. Conversely, if you have difficulty scheduling your time to accomplish all you need to do, adding online learning, which does not require a specific time and place, can be overwhelming.

If you enjoy or need face-to-face contact with your instructor and other students, online learning may not satisfy that need. There is electronic contact with faculty and other students in most courses, but face-to-face contact is rare.

Is Online Learning for Me?

Besides completing this orientation module, there are several ways that you can find out whether online learning is for you.

  • Complete the Smarter Measure Assessment. SmarterMeasure is an assessment that measures learner readiness for Northern Virginia Community College's Extended Learning Institute.
  • Log into your Student Success Planner and start building your academic plan. Whether you are taking a few classes, or completing a degree or certificate, the Student Success Planner will help you stay on track and reach your goals.
  • You can preview some of the courses on the ELI Web site for information about textbooks, assignments, and grading. Choose semester, the discipline, and the course.
  • You can attend a webinar about Furthering your Education with ELI. Click here for more information and to register for webinars.
  • You can work with an ELI Counselor to discuss your academic plan.
  • And lastly, evaluate exactly how much time you have and how motivated you are to learn online.
Post Test

Take this post-test to see how much you know about online learning

1. Online learning courses:

    are easier than on-campus courses

    require less time than on-campus courses

    cover the same content as on-campus courses

2. How are online learning courses different from on-campus courses?

    the format is different

    the content is different

    the enrollment length is different

3. Why does online learning use technology?

    to make a course more interesting

    to provide content and interaction

    to make it more confusing

4. How much study time is recommended for each 3-credit online-learning course?

    2-3 hours per week

    4-5 hours per week

    6-9 hours per week

5. The student role in online learning:

    is less important than in on-campus classes

    requires taking the initiative for learning

    expects other students to lead discussions

6. The instructor in a online learning course:

    serves as a lecturer

    serves as a facilitator

    there is no instructor

7. How can you decide if you are a good candidate for online learning?

    take the SmarterMeasure Assessment

    talk to the ELI counselor

    preview some of the courses on the ELI web site

    all of the above