The Online Classroom

We all have ways we prefer to learn, from reading to watching to listening to doing. The key is to know which work best for you. The good news is that online courses can be presented using different media.

Online course content can be shared through video, audio, and graphics as well as traditional text. Online assignments can range from traditional papers and tests to interactive case studies and homemade videos. And communicating with your class is a bit different than raising your hand or turning to the classmate next to you. Online, you will communicate through technology like email, instant messaging, discussion boards, and other group communication tools.

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Learning Styles

People learn differently. One person may prefer to hear an instructor deliver a lecture via podcast while another student may prefer working with other students on a group project. The differences in the ways people prefer to learn are called learning styles. Below are the seven most common learning styles (

  1. Visual. Prefer using pictures, images, and diagrams.
  2. Tactile. Prefer using body, hands, and sense of touch to draw diagrams, manipulate physical objects, or role play.
  3. Auditory. Prefer using sound, rhythms, music, and recordings.
  4. Verbal. Prefer using words, both in speech and in writing to assist in their learning.
  5. Logical. Prefer using logic, reasoning, and systems to explain or understand concepts, and have a good ability to understand the bigger picture.
  6. Social. Prefer learning in groups or with other people, and aim to work with others as much as possible.
  7. Solitary. Prefers to learn alone and through self-study.

As you consider taking online courses it’s helpful to identify and understand your personal learning style. Since not all online courses will cater to your learning style, before enrolling you should research to make sure the online course or program you want provides the experience you need.

Activity: Learning Style Inventory

Take a moment and complete one or more of the following learning style inventories to find out how you learn best.


When communicating online, you need to know how to express your thoughts and ideas clearly in writing, how to use formal grammar and spelling, and how to use the various online communication tools. You’ll also need to be aware of how often you’re expected to communicate in class. Decide which communication tool to use for different tasks, e.g., asking general questions versus ones about your own work. Be aware of your instructor’s preferences. For example, when using the discussion board read your syllabus first, then ask your instructor how often you should reply, how long posts and replies should be, and what the criteria are for a good post.

Expressing Yourself

Whether you’re writing a post for a discussion forum, an essay, or a quick email to your instructor, it’s important that you avoid Twitterspeak and texting lingo. Do not abbreviate words, use phrases such as LOL and BRB, or use emoji and emoticons. Be sure you use proper grammar and spelling, write in complete sentences, put borrowed sentences in quotation marks, and cite your sources. All class communication, even instant messaging (IM), should be regarded as formal—correct spelling and punctuation apply. If you’re not confident in your writing abilities, be sure to utilize on-campus resources like the Writing Center, or ask capable friends and family to look over your work.

In an online classroom you’ll need to speak up, ask questions, and share your thoughts. If you’re thinking, “Eh, not me,” think again. Some instructors make communication a requirement; your skills and frequency of interaction may form a portion of your overall grade.

Communication Tools

Generally speaking, if you have a question that the whole class needs an answer to, use a group communication tool like a discussion board dedicated to whole class discussion or send a group email. If it’s personal–about your own work or grades, for example–send a one-on-one email to your instructor.

Email. This is the most common way to communicate with your online instructor and classmates. Check your email regularly, or you may miss something. For each of your classes, be sure to ask your instructor how quickly they respond to emails. Is it within the day? Two days? Three days? Otherwise? Sometimes instructors post this in the syllabus. Be advised—your instructor may expect the same response time from you. Make sure you respond as soon as your instructor expects.

Phone. Yes, it’s old school. But if your instructor posts a phone number and you have a complicated question about your own work or grades, a phone conversation may be the way to go. Just be sure that if you call your instructor you do so according to the times posted in their syllabus. Upside: phone calls may be the most efficient way to talk through a complicated issue. Downside: there’s no permanent record. If you want to be sure you get an instructor’s answer in writing, use a method that gets it in writing.

Instant Message (IM). This is a type of online chat with one or more people that takes place at the same time (or as some say “synchronously” or “in real time”). From Google Hangouts to AOL’s AIM to Yahoo Messenger there are plenty of clients to choose from for your desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. At UNCG we use Google Apps for Education, which comes with Google Hangouts.

Skype, Google Hangouts, and WebEx. Occasionally you may need to meet synchronously with your entire class, a small group of your peers, or just with your instructor. Depending on the requirements of the meeting you’ll most likely use Skype, Google Hangouts, or WebEx. Whether you’re meeting with your instructor or with your classmates, be sure that everyone knows what time a meeting is taking place and factor in any time zone differences.

Discussion Board. At UNCG we use the Canvas Learning Management System. Each course in Canvas employs a discussion board where instructors and students can start and contribute to discussion topics. To learn more about how discussions work in Canvas visit:


Activity: Communicating with your instructor and peers in Canvas

Visit the Canvas Student Tour course and watch the video titled view communication options or just watch the video below.

211 – Communication from Canvas LMS on Vimeo.

Online Classwork

Online classwork isn’t all that different from face-to-face classwork. The biggest difference is that the work is completed and submitted online. For example:

  • Instead of listening to a lecture in class and taking a pencil and paper quiz, you may be watching a video of the lecture and taking an online quiz afterwards.
  • Instead of handing a paper in to your instructor in person, you may be emailing a copy of your paper, typing an answer, or recording a video of your response.
  • Instead of raising your hand to ask a question, you may be emailing your instructor the question or posting a question on the discussion board.

Below are a few of examples of online classwork. The first is a quiz that you’ll be able to complete, the next is an instructional video provided by Canvas on submitting assignments, and the last is an example of a case study that is more interactive than words on a piece of paper.

Activity: Quizzes and Exams
Quizzes and exams are a common way for instructors to assess your understanding of course materials. The format of these online tests can include various types of questions including multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, matching, and essay questions. If you’d like to have a first-hand look at a quiz in Canvas head over to the Canvas Student Tour course and take the Practice Quiz accessible from the left-hand navigation item titled “Quizzes”, or you can just click the following button:Take the Practice QuizNOTE: On occasion, your instructor may ask you to take a proctored, or supervised, exam. A proctored exam is given in person by a qualified proctor at a secure location, but there are online proctoring services that your instructor may deem acceptable to use. If you do find yourself in need of a proctor visit the UNC Online Proctoring Network at:
Activity: Submit an Assignment

When you complete assignments for your online course your instructor may ask you to email the assignment to them, or you may need to upload the file to Canvas.  Thankfully, Canvas makes this process incredibly easy. Don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself. Visit the Canvas Student Tour course and watch the video titled “Submit Your Assignments” or  just watch the video below.

214 – Assignment Submissions from Canvas LMS on Vimeo.

Activity: Online Case Study

Case studies are one way instructors will teach you concepts and assess your understanding of those concepts. In a face-to-face classroom, an instructor might hand out a piece of paper with a few paragraphs for you to read along with instructions for an assignment. In the online classroom, case studies can leverage technology to make your learning experience more interactive. Click the button below to work through a case study example.

View an Online Case Study