Formats of Courses
Choices. And more choices. If college success is about anything, it’s about the choices you need to make in order to succeed. What do you want to learn? How do you want to learn it? Who do you want to learn it with and where? When do you learn best?
As part of the many choices you will make in college, you will often be able to select the format in which your college classes are offered. The list below illustrates some of the main formats you may choose. Some formats lend themselves more readily to certain subjects. Others are based on how instructors believe the content can most effectively be delivered. Knowing a bit about your options can help you select your best environments for learning.
Lecture-style courses are likely the most common course format, at least historically. In lecture courses, the professor’s main goal is to share a large amount of information, ideas, principles, and/or resources. Lecture-style courses often include discussions and other interaction with your fellow students.
Lab courses take place in a controlled environment with specialized equipment, typically in a special facility. Students participating in labs can expect to engage fully with the material—to learn by doing. In a lab you get first-hand experience in developing, practicing, translating, testing, and applying principles.
Seminar-style courses are geared toward a small group of students who have achieved an advanced level of knowledge or skill in a certain area or subject. In a seminar, you will likely do a good deal of reading, writing, and discussing. You might also conduct original research. You will invariably explore a topic in great depth. The course may involve a final project such as a presentation, term paper, or demonstration.
Studio-style courses, similar to seminars, are also very active, but emphasis is placed mainly on developing concrete skills, such as fine arts or theater arts. Studio courses generally require you to use specific materials, instruments, equipment, and/or tools. Your course may culminate in a public display or performance.
Workshop-style courses are generally short in length but intensive in scope and interaction. Workshops generally have a lower student-to-teacher ratio than other courses. Often the goal of a workshop is the acquisition of information and/or skills that you can immediately apply.
Independent-study courses may be less common than other course formats. They allow you to pursue special interests not met in your formal curriculum and often involve working closely with a particular faculty person or adviser. Independent studies usually involve significant reading and writing and often end in a research project or paper. Your special, perhaps unique area of interest will be studied thoroughly.
Study-abroad courses and programs give students opportunities to learn certain subjects in a country other than their own. For most U.S. students, a typical time frame for studying abroad is one or two academic terms. For many students, study-abroad experiences are life changing.
Tip: To succeed in studying abroad, it may be most important to communicate openly before, during, and after your experience. Learn as much about the culture in advance as possible. Keep up with studies, but take advantage of opportunities to socialize. Use social networking to connect with others who have traveled where you plan to go.
The following video is one student’s account of why and how traveling abroad changed his life. You can download a transcript of the video here.
Most, if not all, college course formats can be delivered with technology enhancements. For example, lecture-style courses are often delivered fully online, and lab courses often have Web enhancements. Online teaching and learning is commonplace at most colleges and universities. In fact, the most recent data (2012) about the number of students taking online courses shows that roughly one out of every three U.S. college students takes at least one online course.
Technology-enhanced delivery methods may be synchronous (meaning in real time, through some kind of live-interaction tool) as well as asynchronous (meaning in delayed time; they may include online discussion boards that students visit at different times within a certain time frame).
The following table describes the attributes of four main “modes” of delivery relative to the technology enhancements involved.
|CONTENT DELIVERED ONLINE||FORMAT||DESCRIPTION|
|0%||Face-to-Face / Traditional||A face-to-face course is delivered fully on-site with real-time, face-to-face interaction between the instructor and student. A face-to-face course may make use of computers, the Internet, or other electronic media in the classroom, but it does not use the institution’s learning management system for instruction. A learning management system, like Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, or others, is an online teaching and learning environment that allows students and teachers to engage with one another and with course content.|
|1% to 29%||Web Enhanced||A Web-enhanced course takes place primarily in a traditional, face-to-face classroom, with some course materials being accessible online (generally in the learning management system), like digital readings to support learning objectives. All Web-enhanced classes regularly meet face-to-face.|
|30% to 79%||Hybrid/ Blended||Hybrid courses (also called blended courses) strategically blend online and face-to-face delivery. “Flipped classrooms” are an example of hybrid delivery. In a flipped classroom, your instructor reverses the traditional order of in-class and out-of-class activity, such that you may be asked to view lectures at home before coming to class. You may then be asked to use class time for activities that enable you to engage dynamically with your instructor and fellow students. Blended courses have fewer in-person sessions than face-to-face or Web-enhanced courses.|
|80+%||Online||An online course is delivered almost entirely through the institution’s learning management system or other online means, such as synchronous conferencing. Generally, very few or no on-site face-to-face class meetings are required.|