Q&A: How are Online Courses Reliable
A: To be honest, if you only take one class, especially if it is an introductory class, like Composition I, the differences aren't likely to be that visible. The differences tend to show up if you take more than one class at a school.
At a traditional school, instructors have a great deal of autonomy. They design their own courses, choose their own books, establish their own grading systems, and so on. If you have a good teacher, this can be great. You get ambitious teachers designing classes that are unique: Some are truly wonderful. Professors might build classes around rare phenomena or current events -- for example, analyzing the political rhetoric being used in a presidential race, in very close to real time.
This autonomy translates to unpredictability, for either in-person or Web-based studies, and many students taking online classes are living lives where they need predictability. Schools focused on virtual coursework recognize this, and they have instituted considerably more standardization, for example:
- Limiting the number of book choices available to teachers, or simply selecting a single textbook for all instructors.
- Providing instructional design support for course design.
- Offering guidelines on how much reading and writing students do for each level of a course.
- Using standard grading scales and even standard rubrics for grading papers.
Functionally, that means that you are less likely to experience spontaneity at one of these online schools; it takes time to change all courses in a system. On the other hand, it means you know how much work to expect, and other key details like how long an instructor can take to answer your email.