The Online Curriculum

While campus programs deliver instruction through traditional listen-and-learn methods, programs at accredited online universities take a more technological route, utilizing a variety of online tools, programs, and systems to facilitate learning. But just like in a traditional program, courses in an online program follow a syllabus that lays out the specific materials used, topics addressed, and objectives that should be achieved. Sometimes, the course syllabus for the on-campus program is adapted for the online learning environment, so students can rest assured that they are receiving the same education as traditional students. While aspects of online courses, like learning material and assignments, will differ by school and instructor preference, here’s a general overview of what you can expect from an online curriculum.

Course Materials

With no lectures to attend, reading materials, modules, and course activities take the place of class time. Just like any other type of educational course, those conducted online may use textbooks and other types of reading materials. Some programs at universities offering online degrees may include all course reading materials within the learning management system, while others may require students to purchase a textbook or workbook. Reading assignments might also include articles that can be accessed through a link or downloadable PDF file.

Often taking the place of class time, modules are lessons consisting of educational resources and activities, which will help students achieve a specific course objective. To aid the visual learner, modules may include streaming videos, interactive webinars, and educational tutorials. Specific supportive software may have to be downloaded to view these types of materials.

Activities and Exercises

Since classrooms at online accredited universities don’t make it practical for instructors to take attendance traditionally, call on those with raised hands, or lead discussions on concepts or theories, course activities are often necessary to keep students engaged. These types of activities may include discussion boards, course blogs, learning games, and virtual labs, just to name a few. Even though they may be hundreds of miles away, students are still able to interact with and learn from one another by replying to posts on class discussion boards. It is common for instructors to require students to submit a certain number of discussion responses each week as a part of their class participation grade. Other interactive learning activities, like simulations or virtual labs, also help students obtain and apply their new knowledge of particular concepts, as do fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice exercises.

Assignments and Projects

A lack of physical presence limits an instructor’s ability to observe student learning in the online classroom. Therefore, assignments and projects become an effective way to measure whether or not course material is reaching and leaving a mark on its intended audience. What online students lack in time spent in the classroom, they may make up for in homework, as online programs are generally more reading- and writing-intensive than traditional ones. Reading assignments often take the place of lectures, as do scholarly essays and articles. Students are usually required to submit thoroughly researched answers to questions regarding these assigned readings. Other types of writing assignments, like literature reviews, short essays, and research papers, may also be a major part of an online course curriculum.

Projects are also conducted a little differently in an online environment. While you might not be able to give an oral presentation in front of the class, you may be asked to submit a PowerPoint presentation, create a video, or design a digital poster. Some group projects may require you to work with other students across the country, using tools that allow for real-time collaboration, like instant message, Skype, or chat rooms. Along with these types of traditional assignments, more specialized programs may require students to turn in homework that is more industry-specific. For example, in online business degree programs, students may be assigned to write business proposals or reports.

Quizzes and Exams

Students at online colleges and universities are tested on their knowledge just like everyone else. They have to take quizzes over reading assignments and exams to ensure they master learning objectives. The only difference is the testing environment. Online students don’t have to worry about scantrons, No. 2 pencils, or making sure that all of their course materials are out of sight. Tests are taken online through the learning management system usually consist of multiple choice, short answer, or essay questions. As no instructor is present to supervise online test takers, they are usually timed so students who know the material will fare far better than those who rely on “looking up the answers.” However, some online degree programs may require students to take proctored exams, meaning they have to travel to an approved testing center to take it in a supervised environment.

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