How Does Online Education Work?

If this is your first time taking an online college course, we’re sure you have some questions about how it all works.

  • Do I need to be at my computer on a specific day and time?
  • Do I ever have to go to campus?
  • Are there still opportunities for discussion and interaction?
  • Are online courses easier than traditional classes?

We can answer all of your questions and explain why online education at North Park is a flexible and rewarding option for adult learners.

Online Education Basics

At North Park, all online courses are taught by the same professors who teach the traditional face-to-face classes. Likewise, the content of online courses — lectures, readings, assignments, class discussions, group projects, papers, and tests — is the same as the traditional classroom version.

The main difference is how the content is delivered. Instead of attending class on campus, you use a password-protected website to access lectures and readings, interact with classmates, complete assignments, and take tests. Another important difference is that online courses are asynchronous, meaning you don’t have to be at your computer every week at a set time. You can access course materials and participate in discussions when you want and where you want. As for workload, expect to spend 11 to 13 hours each week per online course.

The Course Website

At North Park, we use an online education tool called Moodle. When you register for an online course at North Park, you’ll be able to log in to Moodle with your North Park account username and password, and all your course communication will go to the email address you set as your preferred account with North Park. You don’t need to buy or download any additional software to use Moodle. All you need is a computer with high-speed Internet access and a Web browser like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari.

Coursework and Assignments

Everything you need for your online course is right there in Moodle. When you log into your account, you will see a list of your registered courses. Click on a course, and you will see links to the course syllabus, assignments, and a discussion board. The syllabus outlines the course week by week, including all readings, assignments, and tests. In the “assignments” section, you will receive a weekly message from your instructor that introduces the subject of that week’s class, provide links to all reading assignments, and may include other content like videos or PowerPoint presentations. Most importantly, your instructor will post a number of questions for you and your classmates to discuss on the discussion board.

Discussion and Interaction

Participating in online discussions is a critical component of online learning. In fact, participation makes up a large part of your grade in an online course, because it’s the best way for the instructor to gauge your engagement with weekly assignments. Discussions occur on a dedicated Moodle discussion board, not a chat room. The difference is that a chat room requires students to be online at the same time. With a discussion board, North Park students can post a message or respond to a classmate’s post whenever they want.

To successfully pass an online course, you are required to actively participate in class discussions. That usually means logging into the discussion board every day to see what your classmates and instructor are saying and add your voice to the conversation.

Is Online Education Right for You?

That’s a fair question. Online education has some terrific advantages, namely the ability to earn a valuable degree on your own schedule from any location. But online education may not be for everyone. Online courses require a significant amount of self-motivation. To keep up with online class discussions, you need to visit the discussion boards every day and put your thoughts into writing. Online classes are not correspondence courses, where you complete assignments at your own pace. Online students are expected to complete each week’s assignment on schedule and be a regular presence on the discussion boards.

Some people prefer not to take online courses because they feel that they express themselves better in a real-time, face-to-face context. On the other hand, many people enjoy online discussion boards better than classroom interaction, because online courses require everyone to voice an opinion.  This ensures a diversity of perspectives that could get lost in a classroom setting, where it’s easier to “hide in the back.” Also, written opinions often elicit a deeper level of thought than live discussions.

Don’t assume that online courses are somehow easier than face-to-face classes. In fact, the workload for online courses is often greater than traditional classes, because you have to read the equivalent of an in-class lecture on top of the normal reading assignments. The rest of the assignments are the same and are graded with the same expectations of quality, thoughtfulness, and full effort.

Still Have Questions? Contact Us

We’re happy to answer your questions about online learning at North Park. Contact admissions and we can help you decide if online education is a good fit for your schedule, your learning style, and your goals.