Getting Ready for Online Courses

What to Expect

Online education provides a flexible structure for students to complete a degree or certificate program from any location with a reliable internet connection. In fully online courses, students do not need to travel to campus and can complete courses through participating in activities and submitting assignments in a Learning Management System (LMS).  This allows students with careers or other daytime obligations the opportunity to complete coursework during off hours.  Online courses provide a flexible, alternative learning environment, which yields the same course quality, credits and learning outcomes as traditional courses.

Some advantages of online education include:

  • Convenience - complete coursework at your own pace, during your preferred time of day, and from any location with Internet access
  • Collaboration - learn through dynamic interactions with peers and instructors
  • Connection - grow your network of professional contacts through developing relationships with instructors and other students

Your courses will contain a variety of activities related to your particular coursework. Some of these assignments may include reading articles, watching videos, participating in virtual classrooms, contributing to discussions, writing papers, and collaborating with peers for group projects. You will have frequent interactions with the instructor and your peers while discussing topics related to the course content, your personal experience, and real world applications. You will also receive detailed feedback from your instructors to help guide and refine your learning.

As in a traditional class, the instructor will provide a syllabus, course schedule and any additional information you'll need to complete the course. Online instructors must provide you with clear expectations and detailed instructions for participation in course activities and submission of assignments. You are expected to adhere to the policies outlined in the syllabus. Stay on course - submit assignments by the due dates given on the schedule.

Online courses are designed to provide the same rigor and learning outcomes as traditional courses. Many students feel that online courses can be more challenging and yield greater levels of learning due to their distinctive features. Here are a few main ways that online learning is unique compared to traditional face-to-face courses:

I. Communication
Online courses generally involve little to no face-to-face contact with your instructor or classmates. Communication is largely written and conducted through electronic means such as email, chats and discussion boards. Web conferencing technology, like Zoom, is sometimes used but is not always the primary form of communication. With this is mind, it will be important for you to become comfortable communicating with others using technology.

You may find that a familiarity with social media can help you to conduct successful interactions in your online course. Interaction is required and often graded in online courses. You should expect to actively participate in the activities by asking questions, forming and supporting arguments, and coordinating group assignments. Engaging regularly in the course activities is expected and will help you stay on track with your learning.

Some individuals see online learning as impersonal and are skeptical about establishing personal connections. Many students find that frequent and rich exchanges in course discussions make online learning experiences more meaningful. Relationships formed through these online interactions often become stronger than in traditional courses.

II. Independent Learning
Due to the flexible nature of online courses, you will not have immediate access to your instructor at all times. Feedback is not instantaneous and questions may not be answered right away. You will need to be self-motivated and self-reliant in order to move ahead with assignments and activities based on the given instructions.

Use your problem-solving abilities, study skills, and available resources to help you progress without instructor input. Developing these important skills and characteristics will help you to be successful within online courses and degree programs.

III. Use of Technology
Since online courses are conducted through the internet, it is important that you are familiar with how to use common technology tools such as a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Online courses require a desktop or laptop, but many activities can be completed using a mobile device. Basic computer functions such as file management, browsing the web, word processing, creating presentation slides, and working in spreadsheets will often be part of completing assignments.

You should also be comfortable communicating with the instructor and classmates via email and various social media tools. These unique features of online learning can be challenging but also provide the opportunity to hone your abilities in these areas. Developing your written communication and self-motivation skills as well as becoming tech-savvy are beneficial aspects of online education that will serve you in the future as a working professional.



Before starting online classes, you should ensure that you have the appropriate hardware and software specifications to participate in your courses. You will need a laptop or desktop computer to complete all online activities. Mobile devices such as phones and tablets are not enough to complete all online coursework

  • Personal computer with at least 1gb of RAM and less that 5 years old
  • Web browser that is compatible with Canvas
  • Microsoft Office (available for free to enrolled students)
  • Campus email access
  • Strong high-speed internet connection and Internet cable 
  • Printer
  • Headset with microphone for Zoom meetings and office hours
  • Webcam (optional for some classes)

You will also need basic computer skills such as:

  • File management (opening, saving, organizing files)
  • Email (open, send, attach and send files)
  • Word processing skills
  • Searching, browsing, and using appropriate internet resources


Take our readiness quiz to determine how well-prepared you are for taking online courses.

Please click HERE to take the self-assessment!

Resources that can help you improve your preparedness for online learning are below:

View articles on the characteristics of a successful online student from the following institutions (click the hyperlinked text):

See a list of resources for general studying help from Portland State University by clicking HERE.