Online Degree Program Virtual Orientation: What to Expect

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Online degree programs may require new students to attend orientation to acclimate them to the virtual classroom.

One orientation format is asynchronous, meaning students read text or watch videos and complete the requirements whenever it’s convenient for them within a certain time frame; they don’t, for instance, need to participate in sessions in person or through videoconferencing at a specific time.

Online orientation introduces prospective students to the course material and also provides a sense of what professors expect in different online courses and programs. Below are some topics you may learn about during your asynchronous orientation to an online degree program and ways to take full advantage of these opportunities.

• Overview of online learning: Prospective students need to understand how online courses work and how the experience differs from being in a traditional classroom.

Pay close attention to this information during orientation, especially if you have never completed an online program. Some courses are fully asynchronous; others have an online, real-time component where students need to be present for live videoconferencing sessions.

[Learn answers to key questions about online education.]

• Navigating the learning management system: The learning management system, or LMS, essentially serves as the online classroom or campus. Students need to master navigating the platform and using the features it offers.

During virtual orientation, prospective students should gather information about how to access their course materials, assignments, outlines and grading rubrics, as well as how to post to a class discussion board, for example.

• Finding support for academics and enrollment: Orientation should inform prospective students on when key student services staff – such as a bursar, registrar or financial aid counselor – are available and how to contact them and also when students can reach their academic or enrollment advisers. New students should pay close attention to how to access the virtual library and whether tech support is offered around the clock.

Orientation will also let incoming students know about other available support, including career services and tutoring.

[Ask five questions about student services in online programs.]

• Course assignment requirements: Faculty in online courses may foster a sense of community in their courses so students feel like part of a class rather than learning the material in isolation. Asynchronous orientation will likely outline the types of group and individual assessments in the course, which may include participating in discussion boards in the LMS, completing team projects and journaling.

Once you enroll in and start a specific class, the professor will introduce you to the unique course requirements.

• Online learning tips: Some virtual orientations for online students provide tutorials to help them develop skills needed for success in an online program. For instance, while time management is critical for all students, it’s especially important for online students who do much of their coursework on their own schedule.

Students should also look for tutorials during orientation that will teach them to work collaboratively with others in a virtual setting.

The takeaway: Prospective online students should expect asynchronous orientation to provide the knowledge and information they need to succeed in their online courses before they begin their degree, so that they can spend more time on their coursework and less on learning how to navigate the class portal.