Understanding & Navigating The Online Course

Before you sign up for an online course, understand the program outline and structure.


  Daryl had the excitement reminiscent of a major event – a birthday or family holiday – when he received his user ID and password for his first college course: “Building Construction for the Fire Service. Taught entirely online.” What a time saver, he thought. Now college courses he...


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“The syllabus is the first indicator that the online course is solid,” Gorbett says. “If an instructor communicates their requirements clearly and in a detailed manner, it is a good indicator that this instructor and online program truly cares about ensuring student success. However, the syllabus by itself is not enough. The instructional design and the effective use of the available technology must be integrated to establish a solid online course. Technology ensures that communication between the instructor and students flows easily and reliably, as well as promoting peer interaction. Much of the learning that takes place in the classroom (regardless of delivery method) is based on the sharing of knowledge and life experiences of not only the instructor but also the other students in the class. Therefore, an online program that does not promote this interaction is a disservice to the student. Some programs are no more than a correspondence course with limited interaction with their peers and in my opinion does not constitute a good learning environment.”

Daryl took his academic advisor’s suggestion and attempted “Building Construction” with an open mind. He did not arrive at the class with a toolbox full of hammers, which would have led him to see each challenge as a nail. He was flexible and open-minded, and he allocated the necessary time to learn. He began by introducing himself to classmates, sending his instructor an email when he felt confused or was having problems, and completing assignments on time. He found the course rewarding.

“The class was fast-paced and by throwing myself into it I learned a lot,” he says. “I got a B, but I knew exactly how that happened. I saw that my initial concerns with my first course were exaggerated. I learned right away that spending the time, and not being reluctant to get involved with discussions, was the only way to make this happen.”

Will Daryl continue with his online education?

“At first, I didn’t think I could learn much this way…without sitting at a desk in the classroom,” Daryl says. “But I’ve already signed up for another course.”

PAUL SNODGRASS, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a firefighter with the Sarasota County, FL, Fire Department and a former fire chief. He is on the faculty at the University of Florida and an adjunct fire science instructor at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, FL, and Cogswell Polytechnical College in Sunnyvale, CA. Snodgrass holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Augsburg College and a master’s degree in education from the University of Phoenix. He has been writing about, designing and teaching online courses since 2005. He can be reached at e.educational@gmail.com