The definition of online courses varies, depending on the education level you’re at and the type of course you’re taking. Obviously, at all levels, e-learning involves taking a course via a computer. An official definition would be a “network-enabled transfer of skills and knowledge using a computer.” In reality, this is accomplished in a few different ways.
Master’s degree courses, particularly business and nursing programs are often set up in “cohorts.” This means that you’re assigned to a team of students, who work together on papers or projects.
Webinars or webcasts form the definition of online courses at some schools. On a webinar, you generally watch a presentation by the teacher (or sometimes a group of teachers) in your computer browser. The sound may come either through your computer or through a phone line. Webinars are the preferred technology in most cases, because they allow students to interact with professors by typing in questions. Webcasts are a simpler type of presentation, where you watch and hear a class without the ability to respond while it’s in progress.
“Synchronous” courses are the closest thing online to traditional classes. They require students and teachers to go online together at specific times. But because teachers must keep in touch with all students via email, an online synchronous course will usually accept fewer students than a class at a bricks and mortar school.
Some schools, by the way, are not offering “blended” courses, which allow you to take some of your classes online and go to the school for others. (read more about synchronous and asynchronous class formats)
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