By Brandy Chandler

Online learning is a wonderful way for children and adults to continue their education. As an online educator for the past nine years, I have worked with a number of students, ranging from middle school all the way up to graduate school, who have utilized the expanding technologies to take classes. I have observed many benefits of an online course, which offers the student an opportunity to gain wonderful skills that go well beyond just the subject area of the class. It is exciting to see how this newest generation is embracing the technological tools that allow online learning to even be possible.

Numerous class formats are available to students who wish to take a class online. With home education, a student can take a class through an online program or can complete an entire curriculum using an online format. It does allow somewhat for a self-paced approach to the learning, but in most cases there are set deadlines that a student will need to follow.     

Online Course Components

While each program is unique, online courses share similar components, including these:

1. Email

The email tool allows students to communicate with their instructor to ask questions, possibly submit assignments, and receive additional information from the instructor. Most of the online programs provide an email address that is associated with a course so that all communication can be maintained in one location. Email is a great way to reach out to the instructor and to document instructions, feedback, etc.

2. Discussion

Many classes implement a discussion forum where students can post responses to class questions and interact with other students in the course. This is a great way to build learning in the online environment as students comment on various discussion prompts. A student might work with others to solve a problem, to create a project, or just to share what he has learned about the topic. This is the primary way that students will engage in the learning process with other students.

Discussion forums are wonderful because they allow students to think through their responses before posting their ideas. I can think of many times when I, as a student, didn’t have the opportunity to respond to a question or maybe was too shy to ask a question in class. Online forums equip all students with an excellent means of participation.

3. Lessons

Lessons will greatly vary according to the program the student uses and the course being taken. The student might have information to read, assignments to complete, virtual field trips, interactive activities, and so much more. This is where the bulk of the learning will occur. With expanded technologies, students often can download related videos and/or audio lessons to supplement each lesson as well.

4. Assessments

The type of assessment may vary from an online quiz or test to a required project related to course objectives. Quizzes and tests often provide immediate feedback to the learner to assess what was learned in a given lesson.

Typically a course will be divided into a variety of units or weeks. Students may access a particular week’s agenda and find all the information they need housed within that one folder.

How to Be Successful in an Online Course

An online course requires different strategies than those required in a typical classroom situation. The following seven strategies will help an online student get off to a great start.

1. Begin the course on time. That step seems obvious, but it is essential that the student log into the course on the very first day that it is available. Some instructors may have requirements early on in a class. Getting started early will help the student learn to be prepared and to stay organized.

2. Read all course start-up information. Use of a syllabus is common in online classes, whether in K–12 education or higher education. A syllabus provides a clear picture of what is expected in the course, deadlines for assignments, materials needed, etc. Reading through this information and any other course start-up information is essential for a student’s success.

If the student does not understand an assignment or a course expectation, he should contact the instructor. Communication is a critical element of success! Most instructors welcome questions and want to help their students succeed.

3. Early in the course, prepare a binder that can hold pertinent information such as a syllabus, class schedule, instructor contact information, graded assignments, etc.

4. Each course will be different, with different deadlines and requirements. Therefore, a student should devise a basic schedule to follow throughout the course. If a student is taking more than one class, he may or may not have the same schedules in those classes.

Use Microsoft Outlook, a planner, or another calendar tool to print out weekly calendars. Then take a look at the class schedule and make a note of major deadlines, discussion deadlines, etc. This will be a tremendous help throughout the course and especially at the beginning of the course. I often encourage my students to print out a schedule for the entire semester (or quarterly if that is more manageable). Then, literally record every deadline on that calendar. This will help a student see the big picture of what he or she will need to complete throughout the course.

5. While online learning does provide flexibility in regard to time and space, it still requires good organization and regular participation. Therefore, a student should work on the course daily. Unless the student is on a scheduled break, it is essential that he or she log into the course daily during the school week. Encourage your student to check for any emails that the instructor might have sent, new information about upcoming assignments that have been posted, new grades that have been posted, and additional announcements from the instructor.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The instructor is there to help the student through the learning process. When a student is struggling in an area, online learning provides an excellent opportunity for a student to reach out to the educator. Encourage communication.

Communication via email and phone is a regular part of the role of an online educator. Don’t hesitate to contact an instructor if your child does not understand an assignment or the information being studied.

7. Enjoy the process! Online learning can be intimidating at first. This new generation has adapted so well to this type of technology, and it is a great way to learn!

Brandy Chandler is a homeschool mom of two, with more than nine years of experience as an online educator. In addition to teaching online, she enjoys spending time with her family, writing, and jogging.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

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