Why Take an Online Course?

Flexibility is the name of the game

Young woman taking an online course

Let’s face it: Going back to school-even part time-can be daunting. Perhaps you’ve got a full-time job to maintain, or responsibilities in your personal life and it sure would be nice to schedule in some “me” time.

Or maybe you are a current or recent graduate who is trying to complete your degree or prepare for graduate school, juggling coursework in several subjects or from multiple universities to meet important deadlines.

When there’s only 24 hours in a day, pursuing additional education can seem time-prohibitive-but it doesn’t have to be. Online learning allows you to get the relevant, highly sought-after skills in a way that seamlessly integrates with your busy work schedule and life.

looking for academic or professional growth?
needing to complete prerequisites for advanced study?
wanting personal enrichment?
changing your career?

Then online classes and certificates can fit those needs. They also give you the flexibility to complete your coursework when and where that fits your schedule.

You’ll get Berkeley-quality education; learn from working professionals; and have opportunities to connect with, learn from and network with your fellow classmates. You’re just doing it remotely.

TL;DR: Why Study Online

The Online Class Experience

Depending on your area of interest and your preferred method of learning, you can choose a course that is right for you.

In some disciplines, community and interaction with peers and your instructor drive the learning experience and is reinforced with group projects with real-world relevance.

Courses are built with extensive content-including pre-recorded lectures and assignments-that solidify the concepts that you need to confidently move forward in your education or career. These materials are available 24/7 to allow you to work at your own pace, and are supplemented by direct interactions with your instructor and class discussions to keep you connected to your classmates.

Top Two Benefits

We’re all about creating learning environments in which our students can engage with each other and their instructors. Online classes offer many opportunities for this type of engagement, such as responding to instructor-posed questions, chatting with other students about the course content, group projects and the like.

As part of the learning community, your instructor will always be present by serving as a mentor, providing personalized feedback and answering all of your questions via email or chat. But being part of this learning community lies in how much you want to join in on the conversation.

Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program student Claire Keller could continue to work as a lab chemist and also volunteer in a hospital setting while completing her required coursework:

These working professionals are devoted to their areas of expertise and want to give back to their community. They are as passionate about their fields as they are about teaching!

Just like a classroom course, your instructor may assign readings from sources such as textbooks or articles; viewings of other mediums such as videos or podcasts; and assessments such as quizzes, projects or papers within the course modules.

All of these avenues aim to strengthen your knowledge of the subject area. Your instructor is available, even if he/she/they is remote. We encourage you to communicate with your instructor if you have questions about the course content or need additional guidance on the material that you’re learning. Consider these opportunities the equivalent of staying late after class or to ask your instructor questions in person.

Medical Microbiology instructor and course developer Rachael Webster loves to teach online:

Pick the Format That Suits Your Learning Style

What type of learner are you? How much structure do you need? How much flexibility do you desire? Do you want to feel part of a learning community?

Based on the answers to these questions, you’ll want to select one of the following three formats.

This format allows for the most flexibility in your schedule. Once you enroll, you start the class; there’s no need to wait for a specific start date. After you enroll, you progress through the course at your own pace, and you have six months to complete the class.

There are no specific deadlines; however, once you turn in an assignment, you need to wait until your instructor grades and returns that assignment to you before you can turn in the next assignment.

This doesn’t mean that you are alone; you will find other students working alongside you in each module and you always have your instructor available to answer questions. Your instructor also provides individual, detailed feedback on your assignments from module 1 through the final exam.

These classes have a set start and end date-in the same way as a classroom course-and usually run about two to three months. This type of online class also has a cohort of students, in much the same way as an in-person class. You’ll have weekly assignments that are due on specific dates, but you can work on each week’s assignment when it is best for your schedule.

Instructors lead group discussions and postings to forums. Some of these classes also have group projects!

“I needed to be able to keep up with my job and be able to do the coursework from a different time zone,” says Accounting certificate graduate Molly Isenbarger. “That’s what made it so great: During those weeks where I would have a heavy workload, I could do my homework in advance. I could be the master of my own fate, schedule my study time, plan around exams, let my employer know, et cetera.”

They have the same setup as the fixed-date class-specific start and end dates-but add classroom-style interactive learning. You attend scheduled online sessions with your instructor and classmates using a virtual conferencing platform such as Zoom. Instructors deliver course content in interactive video-conference sessions that are thoughtfully designed and executed. This adds additional community and engagement with your instructor and classmates while you work on assignments and other course work.

Hear about premed student Ferheen Abbasi’s experience in this format:

If you want more structure-similar to an in-person classroom course-you’d be best suited to take our fixed-date or Live Online classes. If you want more flexibility of when to begin your course, listen to lectures and submit your assignments, then a continuous-enrollment class is right for you.

If you are an independent student who prefers to learn at your own pace, receive written feedback as you submit work and reach out to your instructor if you have questions, a continuous enrollment class is a great fit for you.

Because students enroll in this type of online class at any given point during the year, there’s not much of a cohort like you would get in a classroom setting.

On the other hand, if you really enjoy a lot of engagement, community building and more opportunities to network, then a fixed-date or Live Online class is perfect for you. You’re studying with a distinct group of students who are progressing through the course at the same pace that you are.

Tips to Succeed

Taking an online class requires a strong dedication to your studies. We are devoted to making sure that our students succeed in their academic endeavors, so here are some tips to help you be your best online learner:

Consider your schedule and other commitments. Think about your top priorities at work and at home, and what you may be able to shift to create time for readings and assignments.

Knowing all of your commitments in advance will help you allocate time to schoolwork and maintain balance. Use phone apps with reminders at 1-week, 3-day and 1-day intervals to remind yourself of homework assignments. Our online learning platform, Canvas, has a built-in calendar that you can sync to your phone’s calendar.

Stay on top of the syllabus and the required coursework. Utilize time- and resource management-tips from the experts.

Get tips from past students:

You’ll be spending a lot of time online so make sure you have the right tools to make it happen, such as a strong Internet connection that supports videos and online meetings. For our Live Online format, you’ll want to make sure that you have a computer that has access to a webcam and microphone. These are usually built into your computer.

Visit the online course regularly to check for updates, complete assignments, download materials and participate in online discussions. Just like a classroom-based course, you are expected to do the prep work, read all assigned readings and maintain academic integrity.

Many of your assignments will require posting comments on the message board or responding to posts from instructors or students. This allows you to have in-depth interaction with your classmates and engage in interesting discussions on what you are learning.

If you have questions about the course material, reach out to your instructor and be specific. Describe your confusion or problem in detail; chances are, others in the class are wondering about the same thing.

Online courses mean the student body is not restricted to one geographical area. Take advantage of this diversity: Reach out to your fellow students and learn about their work, career paths, and the different types of jobs and opportunities available.

Connect with classmates on LinkedIn to broaden your professional network. Leverage these relationships for future jobs or collaborations.

Your classmates are also a great sounding board for new ideas, and can provide valuable advice and mentorship. Utilize your new community and reach out.

Readings and assignments require a lot of focus and concentration so set yourself up to do your best work.

Turn off your phone and log off of social media. If you feel the urge, take a break. Just be sure to remember your goals and limit your time.

Whether it is a university library, coffee shop or just your kitchen table, find out where you work and focus best.

When you’re in a gym class, the instructor often reminds you to breathe. You’re so focused on what you’re doing-and possibly the pain!-that you can forget something as basic as breathing.

The same concept applies to your education: Don’t forget to breathe and pace yourself. Make sure you take regular breaks and get some “me” time to unwind: go for a walk, watch your favorite TV show, spend time with friends and family, etc.

You’re going to have those days where it feels overwhelming, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. When you’ve completed the course, you’ll have a greater depth of knowledge, access to a global network of professionals in your field, and the knowledge and skills crucial to a successful future.

So what are you waiting for?

Check out our vast catalog of online courses and get started!

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UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education branch of the University of California, Berkeley. We empower learners to meet educational and career goals.

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UC Berkeley Extension

UC Berkeley Extension

UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education branch of the University of California, Berkeley. We empower learners to meet educational and career goals.

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