Part 21: Distance Learning through Online Classes

by Frances Dolloph: Director of Community & Distance Education

at Potomac State College of West Virginia University


Distance learning has been around for a long time. Courses via correspondence, satellite, and video conferencing are some of the ways students have been able to study and earn degrees. Today, distance learning via a computer and the Internet is the latest way to take college courses without going to a campus facility. Online classes can be the ideal learning opportunity for the proficient computer user, a self-disciplined student who can schedule study time, and an individual whose commitments require a flexible learning schedule. Students may take online courses as part of an on-campus schedule or only online.

The online student must have access to a computer with Java installed, a word-processing program (preferably Word) or other required software, access to an Internet provider and available help for technical problems that may arise. In addition, students should have the use of an alternate computer in case of computer malfunction. Online students need and should be able to use an e-mail account in their own name and must be able to check their e-mail frequently. This will be one of the means for course work and communication between students and instructors. Keyboarding skills are a great asset.

The online student should be well disciplined and able to work independently with the ability to manage time and schedule assignments without procrastination. Online courses require a lot of reading and writing, which results in 9-12 hours per week per course on average. It is important to read thoroughly the syllabus, course guidelines, and assignments. Most courses are structured with required weekly contact through written assignments, quizzes, and discussion groups.

Most schools provide some type of informative orientation class for the beginner and provide assistance as needed. Students can learn helpful hints, computer requirements, and general procedures quickly. Orientation at Potomac State takes about 15 minutes and the students gain beneficial information that will give them insight and tips to help them succeed. Finding the URL, login, password, computer requirements, e -mailing an instructor, and sending attached files are some of the topics covered in orientation.

The number of courses an individual may want to take varies with working hours and other commitments. Many students start out with one or two courses to see how well they manage their time. After taking online courses, many adults have been known to say, I love online courses and the flexibility they provide. Online courses are usually offered on a semester basis, generally around the same time as campus-based classes, though this varies among institutions. Textbooks and other course materials may be purchased at the college bookstore or ordered online with a credit card.

Many colleges offer financial aid for distance learning students who qualify. If you are seeking financial aid, be sure to call your college as early as possible; financial aid deadlines are earlier than registration deadlines. The link to FAFSA forms online is available at

When taking an online course, individuals should make certain that the institution offering the class has regional, state, and/or program accreditation. Just because a web address or e-mail message has .edu at the end of it does not mean it is an accredited or even a real educational institution. Potomac State College of WVU has been a fully accredited member of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools since 1926.

Carefully scrutinize information on the Internet in order to protect yourself from fraud or from investing in an education that has no value once completed. The value of any course lies with the knowledge you gain from a reputable institution. College transcripts show online and face-to-face classes in the same way. There is no way to tell from a transcript whether the course was online or not.

By answering a few questions, individuals can determine how well online courses would fit their circumstances, lifestyle, personality, and learning style:

Is your need to take this course immediate or could it be taken later on campus?

Are classroom discussions important or can you understand the work through discussion groups and reading?

Do you often get things done ahead of time, need reminding, or put things off until the last minute?

Taking into consideration your personal and professional schedule, would you have enough time to work on a course, including study time?

Do you feel comfortable or apprehensive about using computers, sending e-mail, attachments, working in Word, etc.?

If required to go to a location for proctored exams or come to campus to complete work or exams, are you able to do so?

Do you have your own computer with the necessary software installed and a reliable Internet connection?

Distance learning might not be for everyone; however, it has definitely given many individuals a viable way to pursue their education when otherwise it would have been impossible. Many, many students are taking advantage of the flexibility that online learning provides. For further information and advisement, you may contact

All "College Tips" columns are available at

Online Careers at

ELearners at

Online College Courses at

WV Mentor

WV Apply, Admission and Financial Aid Information at

Potomac State College of West Virginia University at or (304-788-6820 or toll free: 1-800-262-7332)

Mineral County Technical Center at (304-788-4240)
Eastern Community and
Technical College at (304-434-8000; or toll free: 1-877-982-2322)