Online Course Culture Shock

When deciding to complete an online master’s program, I had a few reservations about completing a degree exclusively online.  Now, 3 weeks into my first ever online course, some of those concerns have been erased, but unfortunately, others have taken their place.  At this point in the term, my learning has been more focused on trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of Canvas, getting used to using discussion boards and trying to keep all of the different assignments organized than on the actual class focus: creating an effective online experience.

Canvas is a relatively intuitive design, but there are a number of more intricate functions that take time to figure out.  A webinar orientation on the ins-and-outs of Canvas would be great for new students and would have saved me a fair amount of time.

I am a very visual and social learner, so being sequestered from other students feels a bit unnatural.  The introduction assignment is a good idea, but something to consider is how that could be taken even further in developing a community of learners.  In a few of the discussion posts, a synchronous discussion board was brought up allowing real time communication between faculty and students.  For me, something like this would be immeasurably helpful.

Organization has never been something I have struggled with; however, with all of the assignments being posted at the beginning of the week, it is a challenge sorting tasks and working them into a manageable schedule around work.

Despite the difficulties in adjusting to this form of class, the first part in learning to create an effective online experience is to fully understand what students need and go through in an online environment, and what better way to learn than from first-hand experience.  It would be very difficult to be a driving instructor without ever having driven.

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5 Responses to Online Course Culture Shock

  1. elearnable1 says:

    I like your driving instructor analogy, Ben. And you make a good point – what better way to learn how to design and develop online learning than to be an online learner yourself.

    This is my last course in the ILT program, and like you, organization is not something I usually struggle with. So far though, I’m having some challenges with this particular course. For me, I think it may be how some of our assignments are bridging across different weeks. I’m having trouble keeping track of it, and for the first time ever, I’ve created a checklist for myself to make sure I’m doing everything when I’m supposed to.


  2. benpotter8 says:

    Thanks for the comment. It’s good to know I’m not the only one. I had to create a checklist also. I’ve been using three mini whiteboards to help organize assignments: assignments that are due that week, recurring assignments (for example this blog) and long term projects. It seems to be helping so far.


  3. Michelle Dame says:


    I really appreciate this blog and would have loved to have seen it when I first started taking online courses in Canvas. I’ve noticed that all the instructors put things in different places which makes it difficult to standardize the experience for the learner because each time you go in there are assignments put in different places. For example I just stumbled onto the team assignment this week and the discussion that I will be expected to lead. I feel sort of stupid and behind in the game. Do you think some of the modules and postings by instructors should be standardized? Do you think that projects should be outlined as well as discussion postings at the beginning of term?


  4. Rosanna Miiller Salas says:

    Ben, I enjoyed reading your blog. I share your concerns and feelings about being an online student. It is great to know other participants are having similar good experiences and difficulties like the ones I am having.
    I found it interesting your suggestions to make more interactive the online courses and also the idea of an introductory Canvas webinar. Today I was with a faculty group that have similar concerns and are looking for practical solutions to make online courses more engaging, effective, and interactive.
    I like how you identify the difficulties you experience but also provide a proactive approach suggesting practical ideas to deal with it. Thanks for sharing!


  5. This is my final course for my degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I’ve been taking online courses for over a year now and it’s still sometimes a struggle for me to adapt to the asynchronous nature of them. I would consider myself an active participant in a traditional classroom setting or even in a meeting at work, however online discussion boards have continued to trouble me. My best experience thus far has been an online course where the professor offered to host in-person discussions each week as an alternative to participating in the online discussion. I found these energized me when I went back to completing assignments in the online format. Knowing the professor and other students from face-to-face discussions made a huge difference. I think my ideal learning format as an adult would be a hybrid course that incorporates both the online flexibility with the essential human interaction.


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