FAQ About Taking Continuing Education Courses Online

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If you’re thinking about taking continuing education courses online, you may be worried that the online learning environment will lack the “human touch” you became accustomed to in lecture halls and labs during your undergrad.

However, online learning has come a long way over the last few years and it’s probably not what you imagine – instructors don’t just toss all the regular course materials online and leave it at that.

At Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, for example, there is a whole department dedicated to making online learning not only educational but also dynamic, engaging and interactive. Digital Education Strategies (DES) produces and manages online and hybrid courses for The Chang School, Canada’s foremost provider of university-based adult education.

They also create innovative digital learning tools that enhance the learning experience for The Chang School’s students.

Nadia Bhawanie, an Instructional Designer in The Chang School’s DES department, says DES has been supporting the school’s program areas and online instructors in the development of online courses for over 10 years. “We have almost 400 courses developed and are creating more all the time.”

Below, Nadia answers some of your frequently asked questions about taking continuing education courses online and also discusses some of the innovative ways The Chang School approaches online learning.

Nadia Bhawanie, Instructional Designer, Digital Education Strategies, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University
Nadia Bhawanie, Instructional Designer, Digital Education Strategies, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University

Q. What is it like to take an online course at The Chang School?

A. No two online course experiences are ever the same at The Chang School, or anywhere else for that matter. The dynamic of every online course, just like with a classroom, rests with the experience of the instructor, the materials of the course, and the interaction or exchanges that take place within. However, we strive to apply certain best practices for course design so that the user experience is relatively consistent across all courses and all disciplines. Course outlines follow a template and actual courses themselves follow a similar structure so the learning curve for those who have never taken an online course is less steep.

Q. Why should students consider taking classes online versus in a classroom?

A. The option to learn (from) anywhere, anytime – even while being in the comfort of pajamas – speaks for itself! The instructional planning and careful design of online courses takes into consideration the various learning styles and characteristics of online learners. Taking an online course creates an opportunity for those who value work-life balance, are self-directed and motivated, and are at varying stages in their professional development to improve their skills and network with others in the industry.

Accessibility of courses from a distance also opens the possibility of meeting classmates who bring a more global perspective to a course.

TalentEgg TipTalentEgg Tip: Check out our recent article featuring a recent grad who is taking a combination of evening, weekend and online courses at The Chang School to complete a Certificate in Project Management while she works full-time!

Q. Are there any resources available for students who are taking online courses?

A. The Chang School is committed to providing students with the resources they need in order to be successful when taking online courses. Such resources include:

Student Support Services – an online site and a group of professionals providing assistance on how to use/navigate the Learning Management System known as Blackboard.

Computing and Communications Services – a site that provides students with Ryerson-related account information; including lab, borrowing equipment and various other services.

The Library – provides students with a catalogue of online resources, electronic resources, e-books, inter-library loan and access to subject librarians.

The Access Centre – instructors are responsible for ensuring materials are compliant with Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation, but for those requiring additional support, this centre provides services to students with visual, hearing or physical barriers.

Interactive learning objects
Examples of interactive learning objects in Chang School online courses

Q. Do students who take online courses teach themselves, or do they watch or listen to lectures?

A. Both. We recognize that students should be engaged beyond the level of watching and/or listening to pre-recorded “talking-heads.” (When we think of online education, we might imagine watching or listening to a lecture.)

While this is a common method for imparting knowledge to self-directed students who can navigate the learning in a linear fashion, it’s not the only way, and it does not represent the design of most Chang School online courses.

In the online environment, the opportunities are endless. From interactive learning objects, where students can manipulate data to produce a desired result; to online role play and case study applications, where students create an avatar and play out a case-based scenario.

All of these strategies support multiple learning approaches, ranging from passive to problem-based learning that allows students to be active contributors to their own learning and learn from one another through the exchange of ideas to promote a higher level of thinking.

Q. How are group assignments completed in online courses?

A. Groups for an assignment or project can be formed within the Learning Management System (Blackboard) either by the instructor or by the learners themselves. Peer-to-peer collaboration can take place within a smaller work group, via chat room or discussion board, and can allow for peers to learn from one another through the exchange of ideas, while gaining exposure to the technology. Group assignments can either be submitted to the instructor or to the rest of the class for peer review and feedback. Students can be encouraged to ‘take on’ a specific role when evaluating another piece of work, so responses are well-thought out.

Q. How can students ensure they are successful in online courses?

A. Student success in online courses rests largely in the way core materials and learning activities are designed and organized. At The Chang School, every new online instructor is paired with an expert in online course design. Together, they work to create a rich and engaging online learning environment which maximizes a positive student learning experience. Instructors are encouraged to think of ways to keep the course current and relevant to industry standards, as well as student-centered and interactive, allowing for opportunities for active learning and applied practice.

Students themselves can ensure they are successful by remembering that even though they need not report to a physical classroom, they must participate and be truly present in the “virtual classroom” to get the most out of a course. A regular routine of logging in to review the course materials and post to the discussion board will provide the best online experience.

Ryerson’s Chang School offers over 350 online courses and 15 professional certificate programs that can be completed entirely at a distance, as well as evening, weekend, and intensive courses at their downtown Toronto campus. Learn more.

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About the author

Cassandra Jowett is TalentEgg's Content Manager. She joined the team as a student intern in the summer of 2008, and since then her heart has never really left the Egg Carton. Cassandra is a recent graduate of the Ryerson University School of Journalism, where she earned a Bachelor of Journalism with a focus in writing and editing for newspapers. She has also written and edited for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, t.o.night newspaper and other publications.