Home Online Education The structure of online learning and how it helps working professionals

The structure of online learning and how it helps working professionals

by Maurice A. Miller

Online learning is a fast-growing field, changing the education landscape in America. According to a recent Forbes report, 8.5 million students took online classes through American universities in 2021. Nearly 30% of them studied exclusively online, while about 60% took some online courses.

The acceleration in online learning is global. By some estimates, the industry is expected to be worth more than $350bn by 2025. Some fastest-growing markets include India, China, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Some of this growth can be attributed to the restrictions when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but even before that, millions of students were enrolled in eLearning.

Almost all universities in the United States offer some online classes, and many of their enrollees already have careers. Professionals take advantage of this learning method because it provides a flexible way to add to their credentials.

If you are a mature student who would like to add to your existing credentials, online courses offer a fast, convenient, and efficient way to learn.

One course that continues to attract students each year is the Telfer MHA. The Master of Health Administration at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management is the only program in Canada and it brings together health administration and business management.

It is designed to equip professionals with the necessary skills to become competent managers in healthcare institutions.

You’ll cover topics such as innovation and change in healthcare, health informatics, technology in healthcare, and organizational change. You will also learn about human resources, managing motivation, stress, and power structures in healthcare organizations, and becoming a good negotiator.

Students can complete the course in as little as two years, and all the material is offered online.

The Telfer MHA may be unique because it is the only course of its kind in Canada. Still, hundreds of other online courses offer similar flexibility for working professionals.

Before you enroll in any online course, it is a good idea to understand the structure of online learning, its pros and cons, and even how to find the best online school for your current needs.

This knowledge ensures that you are well-informed and can make decisions that will enhance your career. It also provides that you know what to expect after enrolment so that you can be adequately prepared for the demands of your course.

The structure of online learning

Not everyone is cut out for online learning. While courses offer flexibility and convenience, some people find them difficult to complete for one reason or another. It is no wonder that online learning has high drop-out rates.

Enrollment rates may be rising, but according to one industry report, between 40% and 80% of students drop out before they attain a degree.

These numbers are high, and as you read this, you may wonder whether enrolling in an online degree course is a good idea. Don’t be discouraged. Many students are successful, and they complete their degree courses with ease.

All it takes is a little organization and commitment on your part. As an adult learner, you understand the stakes, so it should be a little easier to put in the necessary time to study.

It helps to understand the structure of online learning. Traditionally, education has involved the physical presence of the teacher and student in a shared space, like a classroom. The teacher presents the lesson, and the student takes notes. There is room for discussion, and students can ask questions.

Online learning is a little different. Although it retains many elements of in-person learning, the teacher and the student do not have to be in the same physical space.

They can be at opposite ends of the world, and as long as they both have a stable internet connection, they can communicate through their computers.

How do online courses work?

The structure of online courses isn’t very different from traditional learning. The teacher or instructor prepares learning material they present to students weekly.

The student is given access to a learning portal to access the lesson. These portals sit on university or cloud servers, and each enrollee gains access using a unique username and password.

After signing in, the student can access video lectures and notes. They can participate in discussions with others in their course and talk to their instructors.

Exams and tests are scheduled just like in a physical class. The teacher lets the students know about upcoming assessments so that they can prepare. Most tests and exam materials are online.

Assessments are usually available for a limited period; if students aren’t prompt, they miss out. Each completed assignment is submitted through the student portal, and results are posted there.

Some courses require that students work several hours in the field. Online courses with this requirement often help their students find placements and then monitor and guide them to ensure they meet the course requirements.

This sounds relatively easy. If all learning material, including lectures, is posted online, the average student should be able to complete the course.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Many enrollees put things off until they become overwhelmed. Students who put off lectures and studies eventually find that they have much material to cover and little time to protect it.

Whether you are enrolled in a Telfer MHA or any other course, it is important to be disciplined as an online student. It would be best to cover the curriculum at the recommended pace to avoid being overwhelmed.

Online learning formats

Most online courses take one of four formats. They can be synchronous or asynchronous, hybrid, or self-paced.

Synchronous courses require that students participate in online classroom lectures and discussions several times a week. Students must log in at a pre-set time to take part.

Asynchronous courses involve all course material being loaded on a portal, where students can access it whenever convenient. This is the best format for working professionals as they don’t have to attend pre-set lectures.

Hybrid courses are those that combine online and in-person learning. In most cases, the student is required to complete a certain number of hours on campus.

Self-paced courses are a little different because they allow the student to move at their own pace, and they can only move on to the next level after they show an understanding of skills and concepts they have already learned.

As you choose an online course, you should look at its format and decide whether it works for you. Some people prefer self-paced courses, for example, because it doesn’t matter how long they take to complete a course.

Many prefer asynchronous courses because they allow some flexibility, and they can typically complete their degree in two or three years.

You may not always have a choice when it comes to format. Some courses are set. Online nursing students, for example, often need to contend with hybrid learning and also put in some clinic hours.

Online course attendance

Most online courses do not have mandatory attendance requirements. All material is uploaded to the portal; you can access it whenever you feel convenient.

However, attending as many classes as possible is a good idea. Frequent attendance allows you to make the most of your course. You can learn at a regulated pace and ensure you are always on top of things.

Be sure to complete tests, assignments, and projects on time. If live participation is required, make time for it. Some instructors also look for students who do not participate in classroom discussions, and they may end up with failing grades.

Online discussions are important for learners as they allow them to exchange views and ideas, increasing their knowledge.

Working professionals who enroll in online courses sometimes need to ask for an adjusted work schedule, especially in the months just before they take their exams, so they have enough time to study.

Online learning platforms

You’ll access your learning material, tests, exams, and lectures through a portal that sits on a platform. You can think of the platform as the engine for the course. Universities invest a lot of money in the best media.

Common eLearning platforms include Blackboard, Canvas, Pearson eCollege, Moodle, and Lore.

You can sample the learning platform before your studies begin. After you enroll, log into your portal and take the demo courses. They will give you an idea about what you can expect after your period begins.

To easily access your learning material, you must have a speedy and stable connection. If you have an old laptop or computer, upgrading to something newer to support eLearning without glitches may be a good idea.

Online course exams

Some exams are uploaded onto your portal, and you must complete them on a given day at a given time. They are timed, so you must finish them within the stated period.

For many postgraduate courses, students complete their exams in-person on campus or at a test center. The exams are supervised and work much like ordinary exams. You cannot bring in any learning materials or phones and must complete the exam within the stated time.

Individual colleges have different testing and exam requirements, so you should find out what yours will be.

Online course projects

Most postgraduate courses require that students complete a project before they can graduate. The sooner you start your project, the better you can avoid the last-minute rush.

Be sure to know the requirements and restrictions of your project. Follow all instructions to the letter, or you may risk disqualification.

Choosing a suitable online course

There are numerous online courses, and choosing one may not be as easy as you imagine.

You need to choose a course that will boost your career, and it should be offered by a reputable institution that employers respect.

Learning how to spot a top-quality course can help you navigate the vast landscape of online learning. Here are some of the things you should look out for:

  • Accreditation is possibly the most important thing to look for when choosing an online course. It means enrolling in a high-quality system at a vetted institution.
  • The course should tell you about the instructor – Who are they and what are their credentials? What kind of track record do they hold in online learning?
  • Learning outcomes – A good course will state the learning outcomes so you know what to expect. Some go as far as to tell you what jobs you can look forward to and where you will be employed.
  • Learner support – Do you have a guide for the course? Many universities offer their learners a professional to provide advice throughout the learning period.
  • Easy portal navigation – Online universities spend a lot of time and money designing easily navigable portals. Ensure you understand how the portal works before you begin your course.
  • Access to your instructors – Instructors are your most valuable resource, and you should be able to reach them when needed. You can pre-book time slots and prepare your questions and concerns in advance.
  • Placement – If you must complete in-field hours, the university you choose should help you with the placement process. You will also be assigned a professional to monitor your progress as you complete the necessary field hours.


Most American universities now offer online learning. It is a convenient and flexible way for professionals to learn. Before enrolling, ensure that this type of education is right for you; not all people are cut out for unsupervised learning.

It would be best if you enrolled in a reputable institution accredited and recognizable to employers.

As you prepare to enroll, think about your schedule and whether you can spare time to complete your course.

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