Online Classes: Structure and Technology Requirements

Online Class Structure and Technology

When considering online classes, many students wonder how the courses are structured and whether they will need any special equipment. As you may be happy to learn, those who develop and use technology to deliver online education and distance learning courses typically do not want to replace geographical limitations with technical limitations.

Though there are many cutting-edge technologies to facilitate online teaching, educators do tend to use familiar technology in online college classes so that no special training is necessary. In most cases, online degree programs have tutorials and telephone support for students, and the structure of online classes is generally not all that different from in-person classes.

Equipment for Online College Classes

For most online classes, you equipment list will likely be short and may just include the three items listed below:

  • Computer (preferably one made in the last five years)
  • Internet connection (preferably high-speed)
  • Microphone (for some online college classes)

Ray Schroeder from the University of Illinois comments about the equipment required for online classes, “Most computers purchased in the last five years have the speed and memory to support online learning. Some classes require a microphone to be plugged into the computer. Students are given a website to go to and the instructor goes there as well. Students see and hear the instructor and can press a button to indicate they want to speak. All students hear the instructor and each other as if they were in the same room. This uses as little as a dial-up connection and a $400 computer, which is generally within reach of most people who are paying college tuition.”

Aside from requiring an up-to-date computer, one common technical obstacle to successful online learning is low bandwidth. If you need to download graphs or photos that take hours, because of a slow dial-up connection, it can get frustrating, and so you may want to consider a cable or DSL connection to ensure strong connectivity.

Structure of Online Classes

Online education and earning an online degree is not as different from learning in a traditional classroom as you may think. Just about every facet of a traditional classroom can be found in online college classes, except the physical presence of students and teachers.

Students are often already comfortable with many of the elements and tools used in online education. Through communicating via email, many students have learned how to exchange thoughts in writing, rather than verbally. Additionally, virtual meetings, similar to what takes place in online classes, are common in business settings, with people in distant offices participating through a speakerphone or online conferencing.

Often online classes are taught in three different ways:

  • Instructor-led
  • Instructor-facilitated
  • Independent/self-paced learning

Students in online classes that are instructor-led have the least control over what is learned and when homework is turned in. In contrast, independent/self-paced classes are just what they sound like—students have the most control and can independently determine when they will complete assignments. Instructor-facilitated courses meet somewhere in the middle, where some parts of the class are led by the instructor, while other assignments are independent.

Students’ success with any of the above formats will depend on their individual learning style and comfort level. There are pros and cons of each, so it is to your advantage to be familiar with the different online teaching methods when you are researching online degree programs and individual classes.

Similarity Between Campus and Online Classes

Online learning offers great flexibility in how online classes are administered. For example, online students can be admitted in cohorts (cohorts are students going through a series of classes together as a group, unlike the “regular” college class situation in which students take classes as individuals) and move from one class to another in groups of ten to twenty until the entire program is completed. Online master’s degree, nursing, and business classes are often arranged with this method.

Of course, there is also a traditional class structure for online college classes, where students sign-up for a course and when it has filled, the class closes. However, synchronous online classes tend to be smaller than the traditional undergraduate core classes where 200–300 students could fill a lecture hall. Although administered over the Internet, online classes are often more personal than large lectures delivered in-person.