What Online Students Need from their Classes

What Online Students Need from their Classes

In 2009, there were approximately 12 million college students taking courses online and that number is expected to rise to 22 million by 2014, according Ambient Insight research projections. Clearly, the online classroom is attracting many new students because it offers flexibility and convenience. But what do students need from their online courses?

As an online student, you likely have a specific purpose, typically related to your career goals, and what you need is current knowledge – not just textbook theories. For many students, if they do not find the class interesting or relevant, they will drop out. As an online instructor, I will share my perspective of the knowledge you can acquire in a digital classroom environment, along with three strategies that will help you gain practical use of this knowledge so that your professional needs are met.

Knowledge to Go

Online students need knowledge to go, which means you have a need to acquire knowledge that can be transferred to your career. The online classroom provides a meaningful way to learn because your instructors are bringing real-world perspectives to the class. This places an emphasis on acquiring current knowledge, discussing relevant topics, and utilizing critical thought processes to complete written assignments. The use of real-world examples provides a context for learning because that way, you can easily discover how the course concepts translate into real-world settings.  

Get Involved

Class discussions provide an opportunity to work with course concepts because the two-way communication allows you to present your viewpoints and learn about the perspectives and experiences of other students, thereby enhancing your ability to interpret textbook theories. These interactions take place within the discussion board and become a form of collaborative learning because you are working with other students to process information received from the course materials. Through these digital discussions, you become engaged as an active participant in the process of knowledge acquisition. As you talk about current issues and problems related to the course content, your instructors will also ask you to develop and evaluate possible solutions. In addition, within the discussion board, you have an ability to ask questions, seek clarification, and receive guidance directly from your instructor. 

Expand Your View

Students typically begin an online class with a focus on their experiences and background, exploring theories and concepts in terms of “need to” and “should” statements. Here’s an example: if you learned about flexible scheduling, you may state that “all human resource managers should be required to implement this program,” without considering the implications of this statement. It is common for new students to believe that organizational issues are easily identified and corrected through the implementation of theories they read about.

If this is your view, it presents an opportunity for your instructor to guide you through the process of critical analysis and the development of well-informed and researched perspectives. Online instructors are typically working in an industry related to the class they teach.  They utilize their knowledge and experience to help you work through course concepts and expand your view of the workplace.

Make Connections

Students who participate in online learning can gain specialized knowledge and skills to enhance their careers. Additional benefits include the acquisition of relevant skills. Specialized knowledge is information you acquire related to a particular career field. For example, a personal selling class will provide information about value-added solutions and selling strategies that can be implemented by any student working in a sales capacity. But if you're not interested in a sales career, you may not think the class is relevant to your goals at first. However, indirect benefits gained throughout the class that can be utilized in most careers include well-developed negotiation, communication, research, writing, and presentation skills. In other words, try to find the things that can help you in every class you take, even if the class doesn't seem related to your career at first.

Online instructors are aware of the needs of their students and they will help bring the course topics to life by guiding them through the process of translating and applying theories to real-world settings, issues, applications, and organizations. Your role as a student is to be involved in this process by participating in the class discussions so that you can work with other students as you explore, evaluate, and translate the course concepts and theories. The knowledge and benefits gained will be immediately transferrable to your career and is likely to meet your professional goals.

Photo © Helen King/Corbis

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