How Do Online Classes Work?

college student completing online classwork

Learning takes many different forms. Recently, many colleges and universities have had to shift into offering more classes online. Some of these online classes are synchronous, meaning that the class accesses the learning management system at the same time to engage in learning together. Most online classes, though, are asynchronous. This means that the content is not being delivered live and the work can be completed on the students’ own time.

If you have never enrolled in an online class before, it can seem like a bit of a challenge getting started. You probably wonder how the classes are structured and what you need to accomplish to earn your credit. So let's start at the beginning to help you navigate your first online class.

Before Class Begins

Some online courses require you to meet live via video chat to watch a lecture from the professor or participate in group work. Other online courses will be done on your own time. So, before your online class begins, it is important to make sure you have set aside time to complete your readings and assignments each week.

You also need to be sure that you have the right technology to get online. Technology requirements will vary by program. In general, be sure to own or have access to a laptop or a desktop computer with the right amount of memory to view or download the course materials. You may be watching videos or reading online textbooks, so be sure that the screen that you use is large enough for you to notice details and read comfortably.

You will also need a reliable internet connection. If any special software is required for the course, your professor will let you know where to download it or how to purchase it. Check the requirements for your particular program and ensure that any software is downloaded and installed before class begins.

Logging Into Your Online Class

Once the start date for your online class arrives, you will need to log in. You will likely log in by going to your school's main website and signing into the student portal area. You should then be able to see the courses you have signed up for. Once you have clicked into your online course, you should be able to see the structure.

Many colleges use course management systems such as Canvas and Blackboard. These systems help professors structure the course by week or by unit. The links within each week or unit will take you to the readings and assignments you need to complete. These course management systems may also include discussion boards and ways for you to interact with your peers and professor.

If you need help managing the online course structure or the course management system, make sure you let your professor know right away. They may be able to walk you through what you need to know, or they could recommend that you contact IT for more help.

Attending Online Classes

Once you have logged into your class, you will complete the work assigned. If you are enrolled in a synchronous course, you will listen to the lectures and participate in discussions. If you are in an asynchronous online class, you will do the reading, watch the lecture videos or listen to audio recordings of your professor on your own time. All of these resources are recorded and uploaded into the course management system so that you can access them easily. They generally show up as texts or slideshows with links that will open new tabs in your browser for you to access the material.

Depending on the class you take, you may need to listen to or read through information several times a week. In other courses, you may be able to complete all of the reading and lectures at once and spend the rest of your week working on other assignments. Overall, the workload will vary by course.

Completing Assignments in Online Classes

In order for you to earn credit for your online class, you will need to submit assignments, the majority of which will be completed online. Most course management systems have a tab that lists the assignments so you can see what they are as soon as the course begins. This is a great feature to use so you can work towards your assignments throughout the course rather than waiting until the last minute.

All of your assignments will come with deadlines you need to upload the work by, just like in a traditional course. Short-term assignments might include replying to class discussions or reflecting on the week's learning. Long-term assignments might be projects or papers that are due at set intervals throughout the course. In addition, like most in-person courses, online classes will probably have some type of final exam.

Working With Others in Online Classes

Many professors who teach online classes seek to curate an experience that is engaging and worthwhile for all students. This means that most online classes will include weekly discussions to respond to. Students can use discussion boards to comment on the learning process, direct questions toward their classmates and reply to other students. Other synchronous learning tools include video conferencing platforms like Zoom or instant messaging applications. When working with others, be aware of any differences in time zone that could affect what time your classmates will be logging on. Since students from all over the country could be enrolled in an online degree program at your university, your peers may be working on the curriculum at different times. This knowledge will come in handy for group projects as well.

Online Classes at GCU

At Grand Canyon University, we are on the leading edge of online learning. With fully trained faculty and technical support available to all students, there are plenty of resources to help ensure success in online learning. Our interactive online courses are designed to foster connection and communication through discussion boards and projects. General technical requirements include a desktop or laptop with Windows 7 or Mac OS X 10.9 and an internet browser equivalent or greater than Internet Explorer 11, Google Chrome 48, Apple Safari 9, Microsoft Edge 13 or Mozilla Firefox 43. Using our Learning Management System, students also have access to a variety of web-enhancing learning tools such as eBooks, forums and calendar reminders that help keep learners on track.

Grand Canyon University offers online classes and full online degree programs in many subjects. If you are new to online classes, join us at GCU to see how online learning can make a difference in your academic journey. Learn more by clicking the Request Info button on this page or visiting our website.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.