The University of Toronto continues to grow its fully online undergraduate course catalogue. To date there are some 25 courses available for students to choose from in any given academic year with each campus offering an online course option. Online learning offers students a chance to work on a course flexibly, at a place and at a pace that suits the student. For students who work abroad, study while working full time or commute into the city, online learning offers options to maximize their work/study/life balance and allows for a personalized approach to interacting with content and engaging with the course.
With help from several of our instructors we reached out to a few students to ask them about their experience with online studies to see how these learners – from various backgrounds – benefit from this mode of learning. We asked each student why they considered taking a web-based course as well as how the mode benefited their learning style. We also asked them to share any tips or strategies they had for someone considering online studies for the first time. It should be noted that each person interviewed was drawn to the subject matter first and foremost and it was an extra benefit that the course was offered online.
A U of T course is considered to be fully online if all of the instructional interaction occurs without the student and instructor being in the same physical location, though it may require attendance on campus once per term for an exam. This ability to take the course from anywhere was the big incentive for Dina who told us “I am currently working full time outside Canada and finishing my degree at the same time.” No other option would allow her to continue studies while working abroad. For her learning style she identified that “being able to view lectures and complete assignments at a pace and timing most convenient to my schedule was extremely helpful.”
This is often the most important draw for someone taking an online course. This flexibility directly appealed to Ron who works full time while completing an undergraduate degree. He notes, “I was able to watch the lectures when it was convenient for me. I was also taking another course during the day and would not have been able to fit another course into my daytime timetable. This online course allowed me to complete more than one course at a time that did not conflict with my other course or my full time working hours. It allowed me the flexibility to maximize my potential.”
In addition to the benefits he sees to other students who work full time and/or who must travel to and from campus for lectures, Ron appreciated that online lectures could be watched at any time over and over again. “So you don’t miss important lecture information. You simply rewind the lecture or pause it and then continue.”
Flexibility also appealed to Brendan, a student on St. George campus, who said “the idea of taking a course at my own pace and convenience was very appealing to me, especially as a commuter.” He believes that the format suited his learning style. “Ultimately, I was able to personalise my learning experience, which I found was very conducive to my success in the course.”
For learners interested in pursuing online studies, our interviewees were all in agreement about one major strategy for success. Summed up by Dina: “Manage your time well and don’t fall behind.” For all of the benefits that flexibility offers they all agreed that a learner new to it must be careful to keep on top of readings, lecture videos and assignments. Instructors will often have guidelines on how much interaction is expected in the course and provide a roadmap on what to watch, read and submit according to a calendar. It is important to not procrastinate and stay on top of each week.
Ron offered one final tip. It is important to remember that you are still part of a community. “Don’t forget to ask questions by email or drop in sessions with TAs or your Professor. Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions or visit them for clarification or extra help.” All online courses are designed to ensure a student feels welcome and engaged with their peers and instructors and we hope to see more students benefit from the community engagement in online studies.
If you’re interested in taking an online course, or want some more information, visit http://www.future.utoronto.ca/current-students/enhanced-learning-opportunities/online-learning
By Will Heikoop, Online Learning Coordinator, CTSI/ACT
Photo: tan aikhong, freeimages.com