What to Consider Before Taking a Course Online

With second semester starting, you might be considering taking a course online! These tips will ensure your online learning experience is both successful and enjoyable.

Distance learning has become popular, whether it is for a course you need to complete for high school or a way to learn something outside of your school’s curriculum. There are a variety of reasons to opt for online learning; maybe you want a spare during school, the course isn’t substantially important, or working in a school environment isn’t optimal for your learning. There are several decisions to make before taking a course online, and it can be overwhelming! Here are some personal tips of mine for taking a course online.

First of all, what are some differences between online learning and in-school learning?

I would say the biggest difference between online learning and classroom learning is its flexibility — and a shift in responsibility towards YOU. School classes are very structured and strict in terms of scheduling, but typically your online learning course is fitted into your schedule however you choose– albeit a rare scheduled chatroom. Without the face-to-face dynamic, your online course teacher will probably not hound you for handing in assignments late; especially in large class sizes nearing the hundreds (which is a possible scenario for online courses), the teacher simply won’t have time to chastise each student, and instead there are set rules to discourage certain behaviour (for example, handing in three assignments late will get you expelled from the course). This is where you need to take initiative when contacting the teacher, because they most likely won’t be able to tell if you’re struggling to understand the material for a certain lesson, or you have some other obligations that prevent you from handing an assignment in on time. You won’t be unnecessarily losing marks and your time taking the course will feel more worthwhile.

What courses should I take online?

You can take whatever is offered in the school you sign up for. The largest online learning schools in Calgary –such as CBE-Learn or Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC)— offer a plethora of courses ranging from your cores to less-commonly seen option cores (like fashion studies, legal studies and workplace safety). However, before you enroll in these courses, be sure to…

Do your research.

There are a few factors that you should be taking into account when choosing between taking a course in-class or online, or deciding between online learning schools:

  • Reliability.

    Make sure that you sign up at a school that will give you the credits for the course and add your final mark to your official high school transcript. You can always consult your school’s guidance counselor for this, but your best bet is signing up at a school located within Alberta (it IS called distance learning, but you don’t want to stray too far from home!). It would be terrible to dedicate all that work for a semester and not have the proof that you completed the course.

  • Cost.

    Schools also have varying amounts of tuition fees for the courses that you take. For instance, when I enrolled in Social 20-1 with ADLC last September, my tuition was free and there were optional fees for materials like online textbooks. CBE-learn also offers free courses for students registered in another CBE school but if you wanted to take a course online over the summer, a course is $65. Another option that some students take is learning at a local post-secondary institution; the fees for these courses are a bit more pricey, some ranging from $200-$500 (here are Bow Valley College’s tuition fees for the 2016-17 year). Make sure to do some digging if money is a potential constraint!

  • Logistics.

    Logistics refers to how a school organizes their online courses. This includes prerequisites, number of assignments/exams, weighting distribution of your grade and the deadline to finish the course. Going back to my previous examples, CBE-Learn has a prerequisite course called Pre-Learn that is taken along with your regular course. The course content might also be an important factor in your decision (i.e. if there’s a midterm, the assignments are test-heavy, etc.) Also, the biggest difference between CBE-Learn and ADLC is their deadlines: ADLC gives you a year to finish the course, whereas CBE-Learn gives deadlines for assignments in increments and you have to finish the course by the end of the semester. Carefully consider which school will be optimal for your work habits– whether you need strict deadlines to keep yourself on top of things or a more flexible schedule to give yourself time for other courses.

Ultimately, online learning is a test of self-discipline and independence.

Finishing an online course in a timely manner comes down to organization and motivation in your own learning. You have to feel that taking this course will be worthwhile to you because you will be dedicating at least a semester of your time outside of regular school. And a large aspect of your enjoyment will come from making careful decisions before enrolling to ensure your success.

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