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About Online and Blended Learning

What is Online and Blended Learning?
Benefits of Online and Blended Learning
Are Online and Blended Courses for Me?
Tips for Success?

What is Online and Blended Learning?

Online courses and programs are taught entirely over the internet, allowing you the freedom to learn when and where you choose.

In an online course you will work both independently and with others, as you interact in the "online classroom." You will be working closely with the instructor and the students in your class, just as you would in a traditional classroom. In addition, you will also learn to work online, both independently and with others. Depending upon the course, you may interact in an online classroom and develop new skills such as participating in the class through online discussions or forums, collaborating through online group work, and working and taking responsibility in a team for class projects. You will not be entirely on your own, but you will need to learn good organizational and time-management skills to be successful as an online student.

Fully online courses are designed for students who:

  • are interested in active and participatory learning, in an online format.
  • are busy with work or family and want to replace travel and on-campus time with online study.
  • value the freedom of ‘anytime, any place’ learning.

Blended courses and programs combine online and in-person courses for a flexible, student-centered experience.

"Blended" or "Hybrid" are names commonly used to describe courses that combine face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning. A significant portion of the learning activities take place online, and time spent on instruction that traditionally occurs in the classroom is reduced but not eliminated. This allows the student much more flexible scheduling, while maintaining the face-to-face contact with the instructor and classmates that is typical of a more traditional course.The division of online and classroom instruction for each blended course will vary depending on the course content and the instructor preference.

Your instructor will provide details regarding what class work will be required in class and what work will be required when online. Online course materials and learning activities vary from class to class. However, typical Web-based activities include online discussions, small group work, games, simulations, self-testing exercises, audio- or video-lectures, and tutorials. Blended courses are designed for students who:

  • are interested in active and participatory learning, both in the classroom and online.
  • are busy with work or family and want to replace some travel and on-campus time with online study.
  • wish to retain the value of personal contact with the instructor and other students, instead of undertaking a solely distance education experience.
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Benefits of Online and Blended Learning

The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and other universities have asked students what they thought about online and blended courses. Students overwhelmingly have reported positive experiences, citing the following reasons:

  • Students have greater time flexibility, freedom, and convenience by working part of the time or all of the time online from home due to decreased commuting and parking hassles.
  • Students often develop or enhance skills in time management, critical thinking, and problem solving.
  • Students have more time to reflect and refer to relevant course and other research materials when working and writing online than when responding in class.
  • Students typically have 24/7 access to online course materials.
  • Students usually receive more feedback, and more frequent feedback, from their instructors.

Students in blended courses also described these benefits:

  • Students are likely to interact more with the instructor and fellow students since there are numerous opportunities to do so both in class and online.
  • Students can participate more in class discussions since they can choose environment — online or face-to-face — in which they feel more comfortable.
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Are Online and Blended Courses for Me?

Most students who take online or blended courses report that they enjoy the format more than a traditional face-to-face course that emphasizes lectures and testing. Almost all students who take online and blended courses appreciate the convenience and flexibility to adapt to individual work and family schedules.

We've identified four questions that you should ask yourself before you enroll in an online or blended course. Be honest with yourself and answer "yes" or "no" to the following questions to find out if blended courses are for really for you.

Do you express yourself well in writing and have good reading skills? Reading and writing are more important than in a traditional face-to-face course.

·         You must be able to read others' writing — both your instructor's and your fellow students' — and understand what they mean.

·         You also have to be able to write clearly and concisely, with few grammatical or spelling errors.

·         You must be able to follow written directions to complete an assignment, and willing to ask questions when you don't understand what to do.

In other words, if you are not a good writer, or if you don't read well, you may not be a good candidate as a student in an online or blended course.

Are you comfortable working with computers and using the Internet? Being willing and able to work online, and to use computers in your work, is critical.

  • You should own a relatively recent computer, or be willing to use a computer workstation in the University computer laboratories or in the Public Library.
  • You should have a fast (broadband) connection, either through a cable modem, a DSL, or a "hardwired" campus or Public Library computer.
  • You should know enough about computers to be able to upload and download files to your course Web site, search and browse the Web, use email, and interact on a discussion forum or bulletin board.
  • You should be able to type (or keyboard) well, and be able to use basic programs such as a word processor. Some courses will require you to know how to use other computer programs such as Excel, PowerPoint, or Photoshop, so you should check out the course syllabus as early as possible to find out whether you will be able to meet the computer requirements.

Are you good at managing and scheduling your time? You will do at least as much work in an online or blended course as in a regular traditional face-to-face course.

  • You must be prepared to schedule some time online several days each week. You should expect to login to the course Web site at least three times a week, and spend at least two to three hours doing online work. If your other responsibilities make this schedule impossible, you probably should not take an online or blended course.

Are you willing to take responsibility for your own learning as well as work collaboratively with your classmates and instructor? Online and blended courses typically place significantly less emphasis on lecturing and exams.

  • This means that you must be prepared to do different kinds of work than you would do in a traditional face-to-face course. The work required may be more creative, may require more thought than simply memorizing material for testing purposes, and may ask you to demonstrate your understanding of the course ideas and concepts by applying them to real-world situations.
  • You may expect to be involved in small group collaborative work online. Teamwork is common in blended courses, and if you feel that you work better in isolation from others, you may not find the blended format suitable.

Results to Your Answers. If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, then the online/blended style of learning is a real possibility for you. If answered "no" to any of the questions, online/blended courses may work for you, but you may need to make a few adjustments in your schedule and study habits to succeed. Your instructor or advisor may be able to suggest means to improve your ability to succeed in online and blended learning.

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Tips for Success

Most online and blended courses use discussion forums to engage and sustain a community of active learners outside of the classroom. These tips focus on best practices when contributing to discussion forums.

Time Management

  • Check the discussion on a regular basis. You should plan to login to your course Web site several times a week, not just once or twice.
  • It's recommended that you schedule your time in advance each week to login and do course work for at least 2-3 hours. This will help keep you from falling behind.

Assignments

  • Make sure that you read and reread your assignment — print it out for safety's sake — to ensure that you have completed all aspects of the assignment. It's very easy to overlook something in an online assignment.

Communicating

  • If you are posting to a discussion forum, read any earlier postings first to find out if you are on track, and to find out what others have said. It's not cheating to learn from others' insights!
  • If you are responding to someone else's posting, make sure that you hit the "Reply" button so that the response will be linked by discussion thread to the original posting. Also make sure that the "Subject" header of your posting is the same as the actual content of your response. If it isn't, the discussion may have wandered off topic or your response may be inappropriate.

Netiquette

  • It's typically a good idea to address the person you're responding to by name, just as if you were speaking to them face-to-face. It's also a good idea to sign your posting. This will make your online discussion more personal, and remind you to be polite!
  • It's ok to disagree with someone, as long as you give good reasons for doing so. Remember that people are perfectly entitled to debate both sides of a course idea or topic, and that reasoned argument is an important part of a university education. Your response should never ever attack someone personally. You can disagree with someone, and they with you, while still remaining respectful.
  • Use care when interacting online, since you don't have the ability to gauge a person's reaction or feelings as you do in a face-to-face conversation. In particular, humor should always be used very carefully and where needed, labeled as such.

Backups

  • When you post, it's always safer to write your posting first using your local word processor, and save it as a separate file to your local computer. That way you can never lose your work if you are posting directly to the course Web site and your connection fails for some reason.

Writing Style

  • When you post online, you should always use relatively short paragraphs, each one two or three sentences only. This will make your writing much easier to read.
  • No SHOUTING! Capitalize words only to highlight a point or for titles.

Citations & Formats

  • Identify your sources if you use quotes, references, or resources. Your work must always be distinctively your own writing, unless you have indicated otherwise.
  • Most online discussion forums now have the ability to allow you to post while retaining formatting such as bullets, italics, bold text, etc. Ask your instructor or your Help desk how to do this, since the more professional your work appears, the more highly it will be regarded (and graded).
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