In the last several weeks I've received two questions from readers related to the topic of locating and enrolling in online courses that would count as part of a traditional degree program. One of the potential benefits of online education is being able to take advantage of not only the convenience of any time, any place delivery, and there are multiple scenarios in which taking an online course could be a huge benefit to the traditional student.
Online course completion could help you get ahead with your courses, especially if taken during summer. An online course could help lighten your load in a future semester. It could also help you meet a course requirement that has limited availability at your school – a class that fills quickly or is offered infrequently.
If your school doesn't offer online courses this may still be an option for you through another institution, but finding just the right class to take can present challenges.
Identifying Your Options
Finding online courses isn't difficult. A simple Google search returns countless websites offering lists of online courses, as well as colleges and universities providing instructions on how to search their catalogs for online offerings. But these search results can add to the confusion related to finding a course that will both meet the needs of your existing degree plan and be accepted by your school in fulfillment of those needs.
To the best of my knowledge there isn't a central database of online courses from all colleges. While a comprehensive list would certainly be helpful, this kind of thing would be next to impossible to maintain as universities all over the country (and world, really) are adding new courses and programs with online delivery options every term. Courses are also removed from the schedule occasionally making the list a moving target. Maintaining an accurate course catalog is an ongoing effort at each institution.
Your initial research should begin with your academic and faculty advisors in your major. Advisors are skilled in interpreting program requirements and may even be able to recommend specific schools or courses you should consider in your search. The goal is to find something that may be accepted by your school, and give you the experience you need to take more advanced courses in your program. Here are some of the issues advisors can help you clarify before you enroll in a course offered by another school:
- Topic and scope: What will an online course need to cover in order to potentially replace one of the courses in your degree plan? Your advisor may be able to help you identify the best courses to consider taking online and guide you in weighing the options. This can include reviewing course syllabi and course descriptions available online or acquired by requesting copies from the school that offers the courses you are considering. It is also helpful to have a discussion about exactly how a specific online course would apply to your degree plan (i.e., as part of a requirement or elective).
- Transferability: Taking a class at another institution means you'll have to transfer the course to your primary program. Have you already been awarded transfer credits? If so, make sure that you haven't already reached a maximum number of transfer credits allowed by your school. Will your school accept the online courses you are considering? There are several issues to investigate as part of this process including accreditation of the schools offering the online courses. Check with your advisor and the registrar's office for guidance with the transfer process.
- Registration requirements: What will you need to do in order to enroll in an online course at another school? Some institutions will require you to apply to become a student, but many offer options for taking courses for credit as a part-time student without having to apply to the school. Take a look at the information provided by the University of North Carolina's Carolina Courses Online system as an example. You may also find for-credit options listed in continuing education and professional development programs on school websites.
There are also several practical considerations that will help you avoid any surprises. What is the cost of the online course? Calculate tuition plus any applicable fees and required textbooks or other materials. Add these to your budget and make sure the course meets your financial needs as well. Do you have a working computer and Internet access? This may sound simplistic, but not having the technology tools you need to be an active participant in an online course can make a huge difference in your online learning experience.
Making It Count
If you are new to online learning adding a course, especially one from a different institution, may present unexpected challenges. Get familiar with the learning environment through any available tutorials, samples, and orientations, and assess your readiness for online learning in terms of communication, time management, and study skills.
The onus is on you, the student, to connect the dots, ensuring that all necessary administrative steps are completed. Doing the necessary research and asking questions in advance will help you make the best possible decision so that you avoid the extra expense of time and money spent completing a course that won't help you reach your goals. Remember that you are not alone in this process. Your advisors are available to make sure you understand the policies and procedures of your program, but you may need to take the initiative and contact them for more information.
Have you added an online course to your traditional schedule? Tell us about your experience here. What is your advice for students considering online options?