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5 Questions to Ask About Online Courses

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4. Can I see a sample syllabus?
When inquiring about a course's structure, also inquire to see a sample syllabus. Reviewing a syllabus before enrolling in a class will show you exactly what is expected from you during each part of the course. A syllabus will outline the assignments, the required readings and any large-scale projects. Many syllabi also explain the amount of time needed to complete online assignments. You may be surprised to know that students spend more time completing assignments in an online course compared to a face-to-face class because learning online typically requires more information to be read. Course directions, weekly outlines, assignment criteria and discussions online are more text-based in comparison to a traditional classroom, thus consuming more time in assignment preparation.

5. How often will I work with my peers?
Lastly, once you know the amount and types of assignments, determine what level of interaction will take place between you and the other students in the class. Some courses may require group work through a collaborative project or routine discussions with peers. Understanding how you work best as a student (i.e. do you like to talk things out or do you prefer to work alone?) will assist you in determining if the online course environment is appropriate for your learning style. Interactive online courses can often be very engaging and fun while eliminating some of the pressure that correlates to a face-to-face discussion. You have time to think, analyze and craft your response in a discussion online and many students find this aspect very valuable. However, interacting with peers online can become troublesome if a group project is required and you must coordinate meeting times (either online or face-to-face) with other group members. While group projects don't always lead to frustration among students in online courses, knowing what the level of interaction is ahead of time and how it fits into your schedule will help you decide if taking an online course is appropriate for you.

There are many elements to consider when getting your education online. Think about who you are as a student and what helps you learn best. Knowing your preferences for communication and assignments, in addition to the technology available to you at home, will all play a role in how successful you will be in an online course. Asking questions before enrolling in a class is the best way to determine if distance education will work for you.

Lisa Mulka is the owner of Juniper Shore Publications, a custom freelance writing and editing firm based in Michigan. Lisa holds a Master of Arts in Written Communication and a Master of Arts in Educational Technology. In addition to freelancing full-time, Lisa is also a college English instructor.

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