By Marc Larrivee, The Berkshire Center
“Should I take this online course?”
Frequently a student will drop by and ask that question. With the great variety of online classes, our students consider online classes more often than ever. Here at Berkshire Center, students have enrolled in English, History, Math, Early Childhood, Technology and other classes.
I like learning online. In fact, I like taking classes in any medium. However, online classes present their own advantages and challenges. Whenever a student asks me about taking an online class, I often help them consider their own readiness for online learning and for the particular class.
Usually, a person that thinks that an online course might be suitable already has some comfort in an online environment. They keyboard fairly well and feel comfortable navigating websites and through web pages. They can also work with files and use email.
One needs to consider the tools for the course. A specific course might have specific software requirements. Some courses require software such as the Microsoft Office Suite 2007 or Adobe Photoshop. A Fine Arts course might require a specific platform, such as Mac only.
Since the web browser provides the interface for the course, one needs to check out the specific requirements for their browser. Some courses require Internet Explorer, Safari, or Firefox, and be of a specific version, such as Firefox 3.6. This becomes important when the courseware that an institution uses, such as Blackboard, Scholar360, or Moodle works with specific browsers and versions. The browsers might also need the latest Flash Player version, or Real Player plug-in.
A student also has to consider current commitments to see if the course will fit in one’s schedule. While a lot of courses allow one to access the course information at one’s convenience, many are designed to be synchronous, that is require one’s presence online at the same time that the course is being taught live, so that one may participate in the course.
In addition, some students may be working, or at an internship, or taking other courses, and need to determine if one has the time available.
One also has to consider whether they can master the course on their own. Where synchronous courses allow one to participate in a live session class, asynchronous courses don’t have comparable live sessions. One has to be able to read the text and master key information and skills by oneself. One has to be able to figure out when to do assignments, and how to complete them.
This usually demands the following:
- Solid foundation of study skills
- A quiet place to work uninterruptedly when the work needs to be done
- Self motivation to set aside time for the work
- Planning out and completing the assignments and tests
- Taking notes, writing papers, or practicing the skills as the course requires
Finally, just as with on campus courses, one ought to check out what others have said about the course. Does the course fulfill a requirement for graduation? Does the course have prerequisites? How have other students evaluated the course or the instructor?
Online courses aren’t for everyone. However, for those who are comfortable in an online environment, and can master learning on their own, they offer a great alternative. They can be as rewarding as those on campus.