McDaniel College
Department of Communication
Richard W. Dillman (


"Online" and "face-to-face" courses have significant similarities and differences. If this is your first online course, you may want to read this page.




Much of the work in a face-to-face (FTF) course is done in a specific room at a specific time. Most of the work in an online course (OLC) is done on your computer. This can dramatically change the way a particular student "takes" the course.

The thing that students most often say they like about online courses: freedom to work on your own time schedule, the fact that they have so many discussions with the professor.

The thing that students most often say they dislike about online courses: the need to log into the course frequently to keep up with the work, the need to get off to a quick start.

The bottom line: online courses demand more attention to detail than face-to-face courses, but they give you the freedom to do the work on your own schedule.


Classroom. The class discussions will occur by means of an online class discussion board. You can log in and use the discussion board any time day or night. That is a big advantage. However, a disadvantage is that you must log in frequently in order to do well in the course. Weekly reading and homework assignments are posted on the board. Assignments are collected via board postings, graded, and returned via email. Periodically, the professor sends each student an email update on their progress in the course.

So, on the one hand, you always know where you stand. But on the other hand, the class moves quickly and it's up to you to keep up.

You should spend some time thinking about your personal work habits and how they will work in a class with no "face-to-face" class meetings. For example, everything that the professor knows about you comes to him or her through the computer. This puts a premium on good writing and clear thinking, and it makes your "people skills" and personality less important.

And, since there is no classroom, there is no way to "sit in the back" and just listen and "get through" the course. There are no lectures. All of the course material is written down and posted online for you to read. People who begin the class paying close, focused attention to the reading, and who do the homework assignments right from the beginning tend to do very well. People who get off to a slow start in an OLC can find it impossible to catch up.

Work Load and Grading. An online course has about the same amount of work as a regular course, but the "work flow" is different. Each week you will have to log on to the discussion board, read what the professor and other students have written, and post messages of your own. These messages become part of your grade. Occasionally you will have to write a short paper and submit it to the professor.

If you have never taken an OLC before, it is a good idea to be very focused at the beginning of the course while you get used to the "flow" of the course, its assignments, and its work load. The most common mistake made by students who fail online courses is to not get started soon enough.

Because of the networked communications, an OLC is a bit like an independent study, and each student's experience will be different. This makes it important that students log in to the course frequently and participate in the online discussion. The professor is also a participant in the online discussion, so the professor's comments and explanations will be available to everyone.

Some people think that OLCs are "easier" than FTF courses. Final grades in the two kinds of courses suggest that the difficulty levels are about the same. Basically, those who think that getting to class three days a week is hard find that never having to go to class seems easy. But some people report the opposite - being required to go to a FTF classroom makes them get their work done, while the freedom of an OLC doesn't give them enough structure.

Homework. Since an online course has no classroom in the traditional sense, it has no "home" work -- there is only "work" work. If you are used to dividing your time between "class" (which you "go to" and "sit in") and "homework" (which you do in order to prepare for "class"), then you will find that taking an online course forces you to change your way of thinking about "school". The professor posts the assignments on the course discussion board, and gives the due dates, but it is up to you to create your own work schedule and get your results to the professor on time.

One of the biggest problems that students have with online courses is dealing with the need to start their assignments soon enough to finish them by the due date. To be safe it's best to read the assignments as soon as they are handed out and begin working on them immediately.

Information about Assignments and Exams. Some students use the classroom meeting of a FTF course to catch up on information about the course: what will be on the exam? when is the next assignment due? and so on. Since OLCs do not have classroom meetings, this approach will not work online. On the other hand, all of the course information is posted in writing and available to everyone all the time. There is never any doubt as to what the assignments are and when they are due. As with everything else in an online course, it is up to the individual student to pay attention and keep up.

Class Notes. Since there are no lectures, there are no class notes to take. The professor's comments and instructions are online and available to everyone. It is very easy to ask questions and have them answered, and you should plan to use this feature frequently.

Hardware and Software. You will need access to the internet, a web browser, and an email account. Your computer must be able to read Adobe PDF documents. All computers built in the last five or six years have all of these things. A cable or DSL "broadband" internet connection is an advantage ... a phone "modem" connection will work, but it might be somewhat slow. The two most common computer set-ups are a PC with Micrsoft Windows or an Apple Macintosh with OSX. Both of these work well using a McDaniel College email account and the McDaniel broadband Internet access network.