Are Online English Courses Right for You?

A Brief Guide to Choosing Wisely

Purpose of This Guide

Students often enroll in online classes with little prior knowledge of this special instructional methodology, lacking experience with its unique format and its demand on their time, need for self-sufficiency and proactive attitude in order to succeed in online environment.  When students take English courses online, the mismatch between their perception of an online learning environment and the demands of a writing- or literature-based course becomes often even more pronounced.

This guide is intended to explain and illustrate the general expectations of taking English courses online and the specific requirements of individual instructors to help students make informed decisions about which format is most suitable to their learning styles.  It is important that each student selects courses in the format that matches best with his/her learning style, be it a traditional or online class.


General Expectations for English Online Courses

All of our online English courses are reading-based.  Unlike an on-campus class, where the instructor goes over these types of materials, students in an online course must spend a considerable amount of time on their own reading the introductory material to the course, the instructor’s lectures, assignment directions, and other students’ discussion responses.  All this is in addition to the normal, assigned content readings of the course, such as essays, poetry, novels, etc.  Therefore, students must be strong readers and independent workers. Students must realize that an online course requires 7-10 hours a week; this is not an exaggeration.

Students should also consider that

  • Online courses begin a week before on-campus classes.  English instructors expect the introductory readings and exercises to be done during that week.
  • Online courses are set up according to modules or units of instruction, each lasting 1-3 weeks. Students work together on one module at a time. Each module has an overview document, informational lectures by the instructor, discussion questions to be answered, and major assignments, such as tests or essays.  In addition, students may be required to complete exercises, quizzes, summaries, and group work projects.  All of these items have specific due dates!
  • Online courses have attendance and participation requirements!
  • Students must plan ahead, ask questions, and then wait for the instructor’s response.  This is very different from a classroom setting where a student can raise his or her hand and have the question answered immediately.  Our English faculty prides itself on responding to students’ questions within 12-24 hours or sooner, but that’s still not the same as an immediate answer in a classroom.
  • All writing courses require research and documentation using MLA style format.  Students must become proficient in asking worthwhile research questions, locating and evaluating sources, reading and paraphrasing information from their sources, and integrating different types of evidence from diverse sources into their papers.


Myths about Online English Courses

Students often are confused or have the wrong idea about online English courses. The following are some of the most common misconceptions.

Myth:     Online English courses are easier (or harder) than on-campus classes.

Fact:      Rarely is an online English course easier than an on-campus class; always, though, these courses are different.


Myth:     All online English 101 (or 218) courses are the same.

Fact:      Each course is different, depending on the instructor—just as on campus.


Myth:     Students can’t talk on the telephone or in person to the instructor.

Fact:      Instructors welcome the opportunity to talk with online students and help them in person when possible.


Myth:     These online courses are like independent study courses.

Fact:      No.  All online English courses have regular units of instruction, called modules, which all students work on at the same time.  All online English courses have specific due dates for assignments, discussions, exams, etc.


Myth:     Students can save all their work for online courses on the weekends.

Fact:      Not so!  Students who leave their online course work for the weekends find themselves overwhelmed with reading and writing, nor can they complete their attendance or participation requirements all in two days.   If students take on-campus classes, those classes require homework on the weekend as well.  Family and jobs also take up time on the weekend.

Advantages to Online English Courses

For many students, the advantages of an online English course outweigh the disadvantages!  For example,

  • There are no transportation costs; there are no childcare costs.
  • When a module opens, students can see all the work that’s due for the time frame.  Within the guidelines and due dates of the module, students can then work at their own pace.
  • Students can do their work any time during the day or night.
  • Online English courses have no dress code; students can work in their pajamas or in their bathing suit.
  • Students meet and interact with classmates from all over the world.
  • Students learn time-management skills and self-discipline; students become better and more independent learners.
  • Students participate more actively and produce better-quality contributions to the discussions as they become reflective thinkers.
  • Students actually have more personal and frequent contact with their instructors; classes are smaller.
  • Online English instructors log on over the weekends and on holidays; students do not have to wait until the traditional school week to have questions answered, etc.
  • Students are welcome to come to campus and talk with the instructors in person or call.