What is Online Learning, Anyway?

Distance education.  Distance learning.  Online learning. Virtual learning.  People use these terms interchangeably to mean a “mode of delivering education and instruction to students who are not physically present in a traditional setting, such as a classroom” (Wikipedia).

Distance education
Distance education. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

It may surprise you that the first distance education class in the U.S. took place about 300 years ago! In the 18th century, students could gain secretarial skills through mailed lessons (later called correspondence education).  Mailed lessons eventually evolved into televised courses: Schools recorded lectures on VHS tapes and made them available for students to check out and view in their homes.  Students would then send the completed lessons back to their instructors.

As the Internet became more prevalent, distance education offered the ability for “real time” interaction between instructor and students.  The Web brought about the opportunity for peer communication as well, much like students in a classroom, except for being in a virtual environment. Parkland College has offered this type of learning since the 1990s and is one of the top community colleges in the state of Illinois in online offerings.  We also believe that we have some of the best online faculty as well.

What does this mean for you? It means that, while its delivery systems are evolving, distance education is still serious business, and the rules for success at it remain the same:

Online learning is NOT always easy; it’s not just “browsing the Internet” or “chatting.”  You must research, write, and submit papers, just like in the traditional classroom.  You take quizzes, tests, and exams using a special software or learning management system (Cobra Learning at Parkland).  Faculty interact with you through topic boards  and class discussion, and they post grades of your online work.

Online learning takes discipline; there are generally no set hours to “attend” class or instructors in front of the room reminding you of due dates.  Faculty will give you the tools to help with your success, but it’s up to you to use them efficiently and effectively.

Not enrolled in online courses?  It is still a good idea to know how to use the Cobra Learning system for your classes. Many of our classroom faculty utilize Cobra  to distribute and receive materials as well as for testing.  So, log into the Cobra system and, along the right side below your profile settings, you will find a widget called Help for Students.  There you will find video tutorials to help you learn how to use Cobra.

Your success in all courses–classroom and online–is important to us.  Please take advantage of services we make available to ensure that success.  The STAR help desk, the Library, and CAS (Center for  Academic Success) are just a few of the services that we recommend, whether you’re taking an online class or not.

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