Nitty Gritty English: Busting 2 of the Most Common Myths about Online College Courses

It happens every semester. Within the first week, I can tell which students are under-prepared for the online learning environment. It’s sad, but many students have bought into the myth that online college courses are an “Easy A.” Imagine their surprise when they learn that there is really more work to completing an online course successfully! Now, I’m not trying to scare you or make you believe that online classes are harder than in-person ones. But I am warning you that there are important skills necessary for surviving online college classes that many college students don’t realize when they enroll for their first one.


Larger Workload

Huh? I thought online courses would save me time, since I don’t have to go to class.

Well, you still have to “attend class” even though you can do it anywhere; just because you don’t attend a physical class doesn’t mean that you don’t have materials that must be read and understood. Students still need to spend time reading the “lectures” in online classes. And, since there’s no interaction or discussion during the lecture, many professors include supplemental materials in the course to offer students a fuller understanding of the topic. For example, in the online college courses I teach, I include lecture notes for each week, along with links to websites that spell out the material in unique ways. Sometimes there are 5 or more links that I require students to visit. There’s also the textbook reading. Since some students learn better by watching videos, I add those in too. This doesn’t even touch upon the fact that you may need to do some of your own research to find out more about a topic that you are having difficulty with. So rather than allowing more free time, depending on the class and professor, you may end up spending quite a bit more time “in class” than you would if you took a class on campus.

Another reason there is a larger workload is because there is a great deal more writing involved in online classes. Think about it: how are students and professors going to communicate if they are never face-to-face? Through the written word. Professors typically include discussion boards as part of the learning environment in an effort to mimic the discussions that would occur naturally in the classroom. But rather than wowing your peers and professors with witty retorts, you have to write out your responses. This takes more thought. You can’t just open your mouth and let your ideas pour out. Writing takes time. Good writing even more!

Formal Classes

The idea of writing leads into the second big myth about online college courses that I am here to bust…that they are informal.

Even though a good deal of the communication and assignments in online classes are through what students might see as informal communication tools, such as email and discussion boards, professors expect formal, standard writing practices to be used in all aspects of the class. What does mean to you, the student?

It means that:

  • You need to use complete sentences
  • You need to avoid “text-speak”
  • You need to use correct punctuation and capitalization
  • You need to use the appropriate tone and language for your (educated) audience
  • You need to revise, edit and proofread your writing
  • You need to use academic writing conventions (e.g., use 3rd person point of view)

Think of it this way: your writing is your identity in the online classroom. {Write that on a sticky note and put it on your computer screen.} Like I said, you can’t impress your peers and professors by being well-spoken in online college classes; instead, others determine your personality and intelligence by what you write in emails, chats and discussion board posts. Scary, huh?

Well, it doesn’t need to be. The first step in getting prepared to handle the online learning environment is being aware that just because you can “attend class” in your P.J.’s doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy A, an informal class where you can slap any ole’ stuff up to get through the class. The rest you can learn.

If you are interested in learning more about the strategies you need to succeed in your online college courses, check out Your Online College Course Survival Guide.

About the Author

  Jacqueline Myers has been improving writing skills since the 1990’s and is still hard at work, struggling to put an end to comma splices and stamp out accidental plagiarism. She is an online college English professor and a freelance writer & editor, as well as the owner & writing expert at Nitty-Gritty English, a site dedicated to providing academic writing tips to the reluctant college writer. Have questions about college writing or online courses? She’s all about answering them. Send them to her at jsm@nittygrittyenglish or post them on the Online College Course Survival Guide Facebook Page.

  • M + K

    That is such a big misconception about online courses! We definitely went in with that mindset, but taking an online unit really requires dedication because you have to push your self to listen to the lectures and do the work. LOving all your content!

    M + K /