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Chapter VII: How Does Online Learning Work? What Does an Online Education Look Like?

It’s going to be difficult to truly know what online learning is like until you take a class. However, there are a few simple ways to introduce the concept. To help you gain some familiarity with the process, we’ve provided a simple introduction in this chapter.

Where it Begins: The Linfield Blackboard Home Page

Illustration 4 below depicts a Linfield Blackboard Home Page for a student, Richard Pelletier. Blackboard is a popular, widely used software program that Linfield College and many other institutions use to deliver online educational content. Richard’s courses are Strategic Management, Creative Writing: Fiction, The Holy Qur’an, and Native American history.

Blackboard Home Page
Illustration 4 - A Blackboard Home Page With Course List

Take note of the links at the top right corner of the page: Accessibility and Help. Accessibility informs the reader that Blackboard is in compliance with federal regulations regarding persons with disabilities. The Help link is just that. It brings you to a list of help topics if you are having problems. Illustration 5 depicts the Help dialog box.

Online Learning Help Dialog Box
Illustration 5 - Help Dialog Box

Illustration 6 shows the screen that appears after logging into Professor Sandie Kiehl’s Strategic Management class. Take note of the two tabs just below the Linfield logo: Teach and Student View. Each tab brings you to the appropriate Web page. For a learner, the appropriate page is, of course, Student View.

Strategic Management Class Online
Illustration 6 - Business 495: Strategic Management

Immediately beneath Teach and Student View is the all-important Course Tools menu. The Course Tools menu is where you find access to announcements, assignments, calendars, discussions, and all the nuts and bolts of a particular class. Grades, files, the course syllabus – it’s all there. Illustration 7 is a view of the Course Tools menu; the “Discussions” option has been selected.

Blackboard Course Tools

Course Tools Menu
Illustration 7 - Course Tools: Discussion

Illustration 8 depicts “Learning Modules,” which is how Professor Kiehl has mapped out the semester.

Online Learning Module
Illustration 8 - Course Tools: Learning Modules

Illustration 9 shows Week Four of the Learning Module (External Analysis: See It Applied).

Online Learning Module - Week Four
Illustration 9 - Course Tools: Learning Module, Week 4

Blackboard allows for a clear, intuitive and user-friendly approach to managing and organizing a great deal of information. While it may take some getting used to, most online learners – from Saigon, to Hawaii, from the Pacific Northwest to New York City, to Madrid, Spain - find it easy to navigate.

What Surprised MaryHelen Clausing?

There was one thing about online education that surprised MaryHelen, a Linfield College learner (now graduated) who was working full-time and returned to school to complete her degree. A self-described self-learner who says she is fairly savvy around computers, MaryHelen said, “I was surprised by how much group work we did. I think that’s a really good thing. I don’t really love it, but in the real world, you’re going to have to problem solve with groups and work in teams.” She laughed and said, “I thought in an online class, I’d get to skate right past that.” Her full-time job prevented her from completing her degree on a campus. “The thing about online,” she said, “was that I was far more likely to post comments. In face-to-face classes, I’m pretty shy.” MaryHelen is now enrolled in a face-to-face graduate program.

In an online group project, a certain portion of the online class Website is reserved for a specific group. Only the members of the group can post there. Learners can email each other with attachments and so on. Some groups can choose to meet in person or do all their work online only.

Welcome to a Synchronous Live Chat With Professor Ritter

Live ChatProfessor John Ritter teaches American history in the Adult Degree Program of Linfield College. Professor Ritter became excited about teaching online after participating in workshops held by Linfield College’s Technology and Blackboard Administration department. During the semester, Professor Ritter holds three synchronous online chats each week. (A synchronous chat is another way of describing a real-time, fast-moving, free-for-all discussion.) Learners are required to participate in just one of the three discussions, but they are so popular that many log on for all three. “We have the whole class online for these rapid-fire discussions,” said Professor Ritter. “Sometimes I have to keep four different threads of conversations going. It’s amazing. The students really like learning from others, and they like the rapid-fire discussion. For my part, I drink a lot of coffee.”

It’s Still College, Only Different

On one level, learning online is similar to face-to-face learning. You have reading assignments to complete, lectures to read or listen to, papers to write, and material to learn. “But it is different,” said Professor Janet Peterson, who teaches in Linfield’s Health, Human Performance, and Athletics Department. “There are opportunities for learning in face-to-face and online environments. But some people cannot learn online and others find that online is the best option for them.” Professor Peterson has been teaching online for a number of years and was open to the concept from the beginning. Her openness to alternative methods may have come from her own family. “Years and years ago, my mother got her college degree from a correspondence school, and I was somewhat dismissive about that path. Then I realized that she was able to secure the same kinds of jobs as other people. Later, in graduate school, I came to believe that there are many different teaching formats that are effective beyond the traditional ones.”

Michelle Lagos: Online Learner

Michelle is a business owner, a mother and is active in her community in southeast Portland, Oregon. She’s also a Social and Behavioral Sciences major at Linfield College. “What I like best,” she said, “is that I bring my best self to the classroom experience. I enter the class ready to contribute and to listen to my classmates.” The online environment is perfect for her she said, “because I can work around my clients’ needs and really be present in the classroom too.”

Dr. Graham Mooney: Online Educator

Dr. Mooney teaches the History of Public Health at the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is a strong advocate for online learning. “It makes a lot of sense,” he said, “that a population that engages so much with the internet and is so digitally aware should have its education delivered that way too. An online degree with a high level of inbuilt, on-demand capability and flexibility can make for better educated students.”

A Key Distinction: Term-based and Self-paced Education

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of degree programs: term-based and self-paced. A term based program is what it sounds like – there’s a time limit that ranges from five to fifteen weeks from the beginning of a class to completion. A self-paced program is wide-open, with loosely defined time frames for learners to complete their coursework. At Linfield College, we offer term-based classes.

Chapter VIII: Resources to Help You Succeed

Four Avenues of Support

Strong, supportive institutions have excellent technical, research, faculty, and advising support systems. Let’s explore these a little further.

What About Technical Support?

It’s easy to be amazed by the new development of millions of people going to college online. It’s less easy to create the institutional capacity to consistently and effectively deliver those courses and materials online. Both students and faculty must be sufficiently trained, equipped and supported so that the material – not the technology – is at the forefront. Students (and faculty) must know that in the event of a problem, they can find solutions quickly and easily. Faculty members have to learn to build classes in new ways. The fact that “new ways” keeps evolving and changing complicates matters. The best schools are increasing their bandwidth and staying current with new developments.

At Linfield College, technical support is available to students as they need it; the school has recently increased its bandwidth and is poised to announce a new version of Blackboard.

Brett Hardee is the Division of Continuing Education’s head of Technology and Blackboard Administration. He said that the most frequent issues with newer students are user-name and password problems. After that, issues related to plug-ins cause problems. Plug-ins are add-on programs or applications that are needed to connect properly to Blackboard, such as Java and Adobe Reader. Several methods are available to help learners, from talking them through the necessary steps over the phone to using a computer program to connect to the student’s computer and installing these applications remotely.

Online Tutorials

At Linfield College, learners have the option to view an online tutorial in Blackboard to become familiar with the program before their classes begin. Faculty have workshops and consultants to help them stay current with existing and developing technologies.

Research Support

In a connected world, research librarians have a much larger net to cast and a growing array of tools to reach learners and help them become information literate. The proliferation of Websites, online journals, blogs, Wikipedia, videos, and online art collections, as well as many other source materials, has created a diverse and rich world to explore. In most ways, this is a good thing. “One challenge that we have now,” said Carol McCulley, Linfield College’s Virtual Librarian, “is to help our learners know when to stop. The material that is available online for research purposes is almost endless.” Because of the nature of the online environment, McCulley knows when various classes have research papers due. She can issue a friendly virtual reminder to students telling them that she is available to help as deadlines approach.

Just a few links bring forth an astounding amount of useful information.

WildCat - Linfield’s catalog of books, videos, etc.
Summit Catalog of Northwest academic libraries
WorldCat - Catalog of libraries worldwide
EbscoHost - Journal articles in academic disciplines
Lexis-Nexis - Newspaper articles and legal resources
CINAHL - Articles in nursing and allied health fields
Articles and Library Databases - Complete list by subject
Internet Sites - A select list of Web resources by subject

There is a Library Class Page for many classes taught through Linfield College’s Division of Continuing Education (DCE). These pages provide a comprehensive look at how a person might begin to use library and Web-based resources to conduct research for a given class. There is guidance on how to use the library’s resources to find and acquire the information you need, and, how to evaluate and use that information. There is a world of information literally at your fingertips, and a virtual librarian is there to help you learn to navigate through it.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points: Academic Advising

Moral support – from friends, life-partners, fellow students, and especially, from academic advisors – plays a big role in the life of a successful student. One purpose of academic advising is to help students develop educational plans that will be compatible with career goals and instill a desire for lifelong learning. Another is to encourage the intellectual growth of learners and serve as rich resources of information. Still another, and perhaps the most important is this: A great academic advisor can save a student enormous amounts of time and money by being a wise and knowledgeable guide through the thickets of higher education and personal aspiration.

Cara Nicole Bruner, the Business Management major living in Spain who we met in Chapter II, said, “At our point in the game, some of us are up against a lot. I had credits from four colleges. Some people have families and jobs and children and unless there is someone to support and advise us properly, someone who can say, ‘We’re going to get you through this’, it’s going to be difficult.”

Academic advising at Linfield is mission driven, designed to promote intellectual growth, critical thinking, thoughtful dialogue, and lifelong learning. Academic advisors mentor students, support them as unique individuals, and use their specialized knowledge to benefit students.

For more information on the relationship between advisors and advisees at Linfield Colleges’ Adult Degree Program, please see Chapter Two of the Linfield Adult Degree Program Student Handbook.

Evaluating the Faculty

Faculty responsiveness is a key benchmark in evaluating a college. Contact those faculty members who teach in your area of interest and ask them directly how they stay in touch with their students. Professor Ritter said, “One of the most important things is keeping in touch with students to have them feel that you are readily available. Students need to know that you are responsive because they can get isolated. My students have my email address and my cell phone number.”


Chapter IX: How Much Does An Online Education Cost?

Value Defined

When you evaluate the cost of paying for college tuition, it’s important to keep in mind what you are paying for. If you are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, you are paying for accreditation (and all that entails), reputation, distinguished faculty, support services (like research libraries), and current technologies. You are paying for all that goes into the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge in both traditional and non-traditional ways.

Cost Considerations

By any measure, the Linfield College online adult degree program is affordable. Because Linfield online tuition charges are determined by the number of credits taken each semester, students are charged on a pay-as-you-go basis, with no down payment beyond a modest application fee. Students may also elect to pay their tuition in three installments during the semester. Tuition charges are competitive and, in many cases, below those charged by the public higher education system. The Linfield program has been approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for eligible veterans pursuing a degree.

Financial Aid

Through the Financial Aid Office at Linfield College’s Adult Degree Program, adult learners can apply for, and become acquainted with, private, state, and Federal loan and grant programs. Federal Pell Grants, Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, the G.I. Bill, the Oregon Opportunity Grant and various private scholarships are some of the financial vehicles that help adult learners fund their education.

Crisanne Werner is Linfield College’s Director of Financial Aid. “A common misconception,” she said, “is that some adult learners believe that if you make too much money, you can’t get financial assistance to go to school. It just isn’t true.” Federal Stafford loans, in particular, unsubsidized Stafford Loans, are aimed at higher income earners and offer low interest rates. Below is a link to the Linfield College Adult Degree Program Guide to Financial Aid:

Linfield College Online Costs

An up-to-date schedule of tuition costs can be found at the Linfield Division of Continuing Education Website.

Compare and Contrast

One way to establish that you are receiving good value is to compare the tuition costs of one school and another. See our comparison chart at:

Textbooks, materials, lab fees, travel costs, etc. are not included in the tuition. The fees are listed in the class schedule. Prices for textbooks (both “new” and “used”) appear in the Linfield online bookstore.


Chapter X: Lifelong Learning

When we asked our former student Mary Helen Clausing, who was kind enough to offer her insights and experiences for this e-book, if she had something she might want to say to an audience of potential online learners, she said:

“I really think, in nutshell, it’s a fabulous way for an adult to go back to school. And that it’s a fabulous feeling as an adult. Something you think is so out of reach – you get caught up in your job, you think, ‘I wish I would have, or I could have but I can’t now, there’s no way.’ The thing is, you can. And it’s hard. But it’s so, so great.”

We live in extraordinary times. The world needs thinkers and problem solvers and go-getters and self-learners and lifelong learners. The world needs you. Thank you for reading this e-book. We leave you with a great line from a great English writer:

It’s never too late to be what you might have been.
- George Eliot