The Perfect Fit
Finding flexibility, opportunity with COCC's eLearning options
Managing an everyday jigsaw puzzle of commitments and responsibilities—constantly fitting the pieces of work, family and other demands together—doesn't leave much room for the pursuit of higher education for some. But the virtual classroom clicks in perfectly. It offers convenience and flexibility, allowing students to get ahead while giving space to lives already in motion.
"The key to eLearning," says recent COCC grad Melissa Alire, "is that you will get out of it what you put into it." Alire earned her certificate of completion in business administration partially via eLearning classes. And she credits this form of learning with helping her bridge a 20-year gap from her last school experience, taking the brunt out of an intimidating back-to-school reality.
"In my experience," she adds, "the instructors provided plenty of supplemental materials to help the students succeed, but you have to make the commitment to watch the videos and do the readings."
Once considered a novel form of education, eLearning has gone mainstream. Enrollment data for the 2016-17 academic year reveals that 2,964 COCC students have taken at least one online or hybrid class—approximately 33 percent of all credit-seeking students.
The online options at COCC are available for about 12 percent of all the college's courses, ranging from an Introduction to Literature to Microeconomics to a class in QuickBooks. A search of the college's schedule of classes displays a complete list, by term, of available coursework delivered fully online or in hybrid format.
Most involve a host of lesson tools: interactive discussion boards, journal entries, group projects, peer reviews, quizzes, exams and writing assignments. They also utilize a variety of interactions with peers and instructors.
Michael Murphy, director of eLearning at COCC, says that one commonly held view of online learning by those unacquainted with the design is that faculty contact is minimized. "The truth is that online courses offer great access to faculty," he explains. "For example, many use email, blogs, interactive discussions, journaling, announcements, chat sessions and conferencing tools to connect with their students in a myriad of formats, often in more detail."
Online classes also foster an individual-centered experience, where all styles of learning are embraced. "Every student has a unique learning style," explains Murphy. "Some students are visual learners, while others might learn better with an auditory approach." Online environments, he says, allow instructors to build their courses and implement a variety of resources, assignments and projects to connect with multiple learning styles. Students can tap into materials in whatever way works best for them.
For students interested in eLearning at COCC, an online orientation process is required, typically taking an hour or two to complete; to best access this, the most recent version of Firefox or Chrome is recommended. The process starts with an overview of general student readiness and addresses overall expectations, and leads into an orientation course via the college's Blackboard Learning Management System.
"This helps students determine if online learning is a good fit for their learning style and, if so, how to improve their online readiness," explains Yasuko Jackson, eLearning's instructional design specialist. "We want our students to be successful—so they need to know that successful online learning takes discipline, self-motivation and good time-management skills, in addition to basic online technology skills." Also recommended for success: finding a quiet workspace.
Alire says that her own formula for success involved advocating for herself, reaching out when needed. "The instructors I had were all very good about answering questions, or clarifying information by email when necessary," she says. Her parting-advice-as-pep-talk captures it all: "You will never know what you can accomplish if you don't try!"
If you have questions or would like more information about the eLearning options at COCC, contact the eLearning department at 541-383-7785.
By Mark Russell Johnson, COCC College Relations