ION | Illinois Online Network

An Online Course in a Nutshell

Teaching online requires many of the same skills and techniques instructors use in traditional classes, but there are some differences. In an online course, students access the course materials over the Web at any time of day or night. Often much of the information students acquire in the course comes from the class textbook (if one is assigned) and other readings, along with what they get from library research, Internet resources, CD-ROMs, and other resources.

Most importantly, students in an online course depend on conferencing software, email, and other asynchronous modes of communication for the interaction they have with each other and with the instructor. This interaction is the core of the course. In an online course, students cannot simply raise their hand to ask a question as they would in a classroom. Email and conferencing software more than make up for this, since having to type out a question forces more reflection before posting it. In addition, thanks to the flexibility of the Web, students will never miss vital class discussions. They can log on and access class materials and discussions at virtually any time of day. Finally, the potential for collaborative work and small-group discussions among students who may never meet face-to-face is what makes Web-based courses so exciting and so powerful an educational format.

How does this all come together in practice? Here's a step by step example of what happens accompanied by a figure to illustrate the concepts being discussed:


model for instructional design 

  1. Students enroll in your online course(s) via your school's registration procedures.

  2. Students receive their usernames and passwords allowing them access to the course materials. They also purchase the textbook (if required) and other materials from the college bookstore or other source.

  3. Each week, for the duration of the course, the instructor assigns units and materials from the course Web site, readings from the textbook and other print materials, writing assignments, group projects, and other activities. Students work on their own time, going over the online course material from any personal computer with Web access, whether it's at school, at home, at work, or in the library. They submit completed assignments via email.

  4. Students communicate electronically with each other and the instructor several times a week. Of course, email, voicemail, fax, and telephone are also viable means of communication, but the heart of an asynchronous Web-based course will take place in the online discussion room. Instructors use  many strategies to promote communication online which help ensure student participation and achieve maximum effectiveness in online discussions.

  5. At appropriate times the instructor tests student retention of the material. Many Web-based courses have short online Self-Tests for each unit that students use to evaluate their own progress. Also, many textbook companies provide accompanying web quizzes as ancillary materials to the text. Usually an instructor will give mid-term and final exams and/or assign projects. Depending on the school's examination policies, the instructor may need to make suitable arrangements for issuing and proctoring these exams.

  6. Students are assessed and graded on a combination of factors – test/quiz scores, individual and group project grades, homework, participation in class discussions, etc.

... and that's how it works!