A Beginner's Guide to Online Classes

The concept of online classes can raise a lot of questions for someone who has never been enrolled in one. If you're considering taking online courses, you may be wondering how you will participate in the class, how you will check your grades and how to turn in assignments, for example. This article will serve as a guide to the uninitiated, and will help clarify some of the common questions beginners have about online courses.

How does an instructor take attendance for online classes?

The big draw for online classes is the flexibility it offers to students who – for example – might have work or other responsibilities that make it difficult to attend a traditional class several times a week. Credit for attendance in online classes is usually tied to completing weekly assignments and writing assigned online discussion posts. This allows you to log on from home a couple of times per week instead of traveling to a classroom.

Is an online class just reading and answering questions?

While online coursework will certainly involve some reading, it’s not the only way you’ll be learning. In addition to reading materials, instructors regularly post videos of lectures or demonstrations. If you’ve ever had a class where a teacher tends to say a lot of information in a short period of time, nothing beats having a pause button for note taking purposes.
beginners guide online learning lecture video

What’s the best way to ask questions in an online class?

As hard as instructors work to cover subjects thoroughly and in an easy to follow manner, there are always going to be times when questions or clarification is needed. Unfortunately, perplexed facial expressions won’t be immediately picked up by your instructors, so you’ll have to put your questions in writing via a discussion board or an email to the instructor. Choosing when to email vs. when to post on a discussion board can be tricky – a rule of thumb to keep in mind is if you wouldn’t be comfortable asking your question in front of your class in a traditional classroom setting, you’re probably better off with a direct email to the instructor.

Why do online instructors expect students to participate in discussion posts?

In order to make up for some of the student discussion that naturally occurs in traditional courses, weekly discussion posts about a topic are typically required for online classes. The topics tend to be closely related to the lessons covered that week. Participating in a discussion post gives you a chance to share what you’ve learned, as well as ask questions about portions of the lesson you might be struggling with. The best discussion posts not only answer the questions provided by the instructor but also lend your viewpoint to other students; sometimes it just takes seeing a concept explained in someone else’s words to help make sense of a challenging subject.

Where do I find what I need to do for the week?

Typically, classes are broken down into weekly modules. For online classes at Rasmussen College, each module is broken down into objectives, lessons for the week and pages for each assignment. Also found in the module breakdown are topics for required discussion posts. If you’re enrolled in more than one online class at Rasmussen College you will find all of your classes listed on your student home page; there is also a calendar that will show when all of your class assignments are due to help you plan for the week.

beginners guide online learning home

How are assignments formatted and how do I turn them in?

Another seemingly simple task that may be confusing to first-time online students is the process of turning in an assignment and what format an assignment will be in. For larger assignments in online classes, a virtual drop box for files replaces the tried and true bin on the teacher’s desk. The process is fairly simple, simply select the file or document associated with your assignment and upload it to the virtual drop box. One very important thing to remember is it can take a little time to upload a file (especially if it’s large and your internet connection isn’t the fastest); be sure to give yourself some leeway and not upload the assignment right before the deadline. You might find some lenience from instructors if a technological issue comes up, but don’t always count on it

How do I check on my grades?

With online classes, you don’t need to ask your instructor after class how well you’re doing in the course. Fortunately, your grades for the class will be accessible any time from the main course page. For courses at Rasmussen College, grades are broken down by module and also have a comments box for instructors to provide feedback.
beginners guide online learning grades

You’re not alone

A big part of learning is trying (and possibly struggling) with something you’ve never done before. While that struggle may be frustrating initially, you can always seek out help. If you take online classes at Rasmussen College, the SUPPORT+ team is available to walk you through any issues or questions you may have. Don’t let technological apprehension get in the way of you earning your degree.

Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen College. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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