If you are considering applying to an online study programme, you probably want to know how the whole system works, to see if it’s really a good fit for you. And that’s a wise thing to do because there are several key differences between distance learning and traditional on-campus studies.
Your distance studies are usually divided into four main parts: forum discussions, maintaining a personal portfolio, writing assignments, preparing for exams, taking exams. Some examples of universities that have online programmes following this structure are:
- RMIT University
- Nottingham Trent University Online
- Walden University
- The Open University UK
- University of Birmingham Online
You’ll need to go through each of these sections in order to pass your course. A final mark is usually calculated at the end of the term over your performance. An example would be 20% on your performance in the discussions, 30% for your assignment, 30% for your portfolio and 20% for the final exam (MCQ).
Okay, but what do all of these parts of an online degree really entail? Worry not, our friend we have some clarifying examples on how distance learning assessment works in practice.
How forum discussions work in distance learning
The main subject is split into various topics. For example, if the main subject is Creative Writing, this is split up into plot, structure, narrative techniques, language etc. Similarly, the subject chosen by you will also be divided into other smaller discussion topics.
To be able to make high-quality contributions to the discussions, you have to go through various websites and online journals to get relevant information which others have not discovered, which you should present in your own words.
Your supervisor will be following your comments every 2 or 3 days and he or she will point out your mistakes. This will be visible to all the students of your group. So, write your text, save it and check for mistakes before submitting your discussion.
The marks are given for the total number and quality of discussions you had during the course. That means the more active you are the better your score will be. Discussions can be a bit time consuming, but, you will notice that the new information you are gaining through the forum is enormous.
How to maintain a portfolio
When you discuss a topic in the forum, you can enter your key learning points in your personal portfolio. Such a portfolio represents your personal reflections on what you learnt in the discussion.
It shows the examiner how much knowledge you have gained and how you will use it in your daily practice. You can always organize it as a diary. Typically, your supervisor will check your entries every week and will comment on the material.
How assignments are given in online learning
For each online course, you need to complete one assignment on a topic which will be given to you by the supervisor. Usually, you can choose from several topics provided, e.g. a choice of 3 or 4 topics. As opposed to your portfolio, in most cases, you will receive feedback only at the end of the term, when results are announced.
What’s always a good idea is to start working on an assignment as soon as possible. You can do this by adding to it every day until you complete the subject. That way you’ll always include info that’s fresh in your mind.
Taking the exams online
Studying an online programme doesn't mean you won't have to take semester exams and/or final exams. These are sometimes referred to as MCQ (computer-administered multi-choice question examination). The exam dates will be announced some time before and you usually get a 48 hours window to sit for the exam.
The great side of online studies is that you’ll have open book exams, meaning you may use any material you have available. Of course, using your own notes is a huge advantage, but you might want to quickly google some additional facts. The questions will cover the same topics discussed in the forum.
In general, MCQs will be a score of correct answers out of 20 in total. For example, you may be expected to get 12 out of 20 to pass. Of course, each university will set its own passing grades and rules.
Now it's your turn!
So now you know what to expect when studying for an online degree. If you feel this approach to studies is what you are looking for, here are more examples of universities where you can study an online Bachelor's or Master's degree: