Get the most out of your online class discussion

A report from the 2013 College Explorer found that online learning has jumped 96 percent over the last five years. Currently, about 45 percent of college students are taking at least one online course.

Online courses can be just as challenging, if not more challenging, than traditional brick-and-mortar classes.

With online, the professors are encouraged to give students the same experience they would get by attending an actual class. One way to help with this is by having online class discussions in each course.

I took a few courses online a few years back. Class discussions were required – in fact, they were where you received the majority of your “points” for the class.

There were two discussions per week, and we were responsible for responding to each discussion, plus responding to someone else’s response (got all that?).

While at first it seemed quite daunting, I grew to look forward to the discussions. Not only did I use my critical thinking abilities, I also was challenged regularly by my classmates and professor.

Of course, you will run into students who are simply looking to “get by.”

While this may work for some courses, it’s always in your best interest to get the maximum experience out of each course. After all, you are paying for the course with your own hard-earned dollars.

Know the expectations

According to the article “4 Keys to a Productive Online Class Discussion,” you’ll want to learn the instructor’s expectations immediately (do they want you posting once a week or four times a week, how long should the responses be, etc.), plan your discussion replies and make sure they’re meaningful and thought out, use proper grammar and be aware of netiquette (don’t use all caps, keep emoticons in check, etc.).

Other tips on getting the most out of your online class discussion include:

  • Be friendly – You and all of your peers have at least one thing in common – you’ve all made the decision to attend school online and are looking to improve your skills and enhance your knowledge. Get to know a few classmates on a more personal level. It’s even totally acceptable to exchange personal email addresses or phone numbers with other classmates. Make the most of the class by building relationships with your peers.
  • Ask questions – When responding to class discussions, ask a few thought-provoking questions to get the conversation going. Don’t take the easy way out and answer as briefly as possible. Your answers should get your peers (and even your professor) thinking. Challenge yourself by having thought-out answers, and challenge your peers as well by asking questions for them to respond to.
  • Go above and beyond – If the professor expects you to post a minimum of two times per week, post three or four times a week when you can. Though there’s never a need to over-post, if a certain discussion is a topic you’re passionate about, feel free to express that. Sharing your point of view and seeing others’ point of view is the whole purpose of an online class discussion. Make the most of it!

About the Author: Sarah Brooks is a freelance writer living in Glendale, AZ. She writes on education, online courses and small businesses. When not working, she spends time traveling with her family.

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