For students who have only taken courses in a traditional classroom, transitioning to the virtual classroom of an online college course can be a bit of an adjustment. Students may wonder what to expect in a virtual learning environment, including how they will communicate with instructors and fellow students and how different the two types of classrooms really are.

Similarities between Online and On-Campus Classrooms

In many ways, virtual classrooms are similar to traditional ones. After all, the goal of online classes is the same as that of traditional courses: for students to develop their knowledge in the subject area and to earn passing grades that illustrate their level of knowledge. Like traditional courses, online college classes typically require tests and papers, and these components often make up a large part of students’ grades. Also like on-campus courses, participation may count toward students’ grades, too – it’s only the type of participation that varies.

What’s Missing in a Virtual Classroom – and How to Adjust to It

You might be surprised to learn that many students in online courses miss interacting with instructors, but that’s what a Kent State University study found, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Factors such as a lack of engagement and feelings of isolation and estrangement are among the biggest challenges online students face, according to The New York Times. While the role of an online college professor is still to educate students and evaluate their work and their understanding of course material, the interactions students have with their professors are very different. Instead of meeting a professor in person throughout the semester, students receive and submit assignments through the virtual learning platform. Their main communication with professors is through email or through chats and forums within the virtual classroom platform.

To make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction, many online colleges are making courses interactive through the use of videos and virtual laboratory projects. Students participate in online class discussions by posting their insights and reactions to course material in forums, and they may be graded on their posts. In some online classes, students may even work on group projects together. To make themselves more readily available to students who need help or have questions, some online college instructors communicate via social media websites, like Facebook and Twitter.

Adjusting to the virtual classroom experience is less about adapting to the use of new technology, since most virtual learning platforms are fairly intuitive, and more about adjusting to a new style of learning. In online courses, students must be self-motivated and self-disciplined. The tradeoff of having the freedom and flexibility to complete their coursework on their own schedule is that students don’t have face-to-face meetings with a professor to remind them what they’re supposed to do and when. However, students who embrace the interactive components of online courses may find that the virtual classroom isn’t as different from the traditional classroom as they expected.