About Online Courses

What are Distance Learning and Online Courses?

Distance learning takes place when students and faculty members are separated from each other by location or time.  Distance learning courses usually have little or no requirement for synchronous ("live") meetings, whether in a physical location or across the Internet.  However, some courses and faculty members may require that students attend a face-to-face session on campus or participate online at a particular day and time.

Distance learning courses and programs provide an attractive alternative to individuals with busy schedules or limited access to local educational programs.  By offering flexible and convenient access to the course materials and assignments, distance learning is attractive to a wide variety of students. Distance learning courses can include the use of online courseware, video streaming, videoconferencing, web conferencing, or a combination of these modalities, and sometimes in conjunction with face-to-face meetings.

Online courses are one type of distance learning, and they are delivered via the Internet.  They are designed to allow students to earn college credit from their home, office, or while traveling. Online courses may include exercises, projects, and collaborative assignments. The learning environment may feature tutorials and courses with audio lectures, photo materials, discussions, chat rooms, readings, illustrations, and video.  Online courses require extreme self-discipline.  Students must log on and be prepared to read through many web pages and comments. A great deal of time is spent visiting websites, reading articles, contributing to online discussions and chats, and preparing and submitting assignments. Completing online quizzes, exams and participating in online group projects are common.

Are Distance Learning and Online Courses Right for You?

While distance learning programs provide an attractive alternative to individuals with busy schedules or limited access to local educational programs, they are not the best choice for everyone.

There are a number of factors that you should take into consideration in determining whether distance learning is right for you.  For example:

  • You should determine your learning style and degree of self-discipline to be sure that you will be motivated to complete online coursework. Distance learning classes are very focused and intense and require a great deal of independent work.
  • You should find out what kind of time commitment will be expected of you for each distance learning class.  For example, how much time will be required each week for you to complete the coursework and assignments?  Some classes may require you to visit campus and meet with faculty or attend videoconferences, while others may be offered exclusively online.  

The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements has created this website with questions you should ask before choosing an online program.

This assessment of readiness might help you decide whether online classes are right for you.

What traits do successful online students have?

Generally speaking, the following traits are ones that lead to student success in online classes:

  • Self-directed and motivated - You'll need to be able to provide the structure needed to finish the course.
  • Independent - Although you will have communication with students and your instructor, you'll need to be able to complete tasks alone away from the personal interaction (voice inflection, hear reactions, see facial expressions) you may be used to in a face-to-face course.
  • Able to stay on task - You will need to develop a schedule to complete your work on time.
  • Comfortable with computers - You'll need to possess the technical skills, i.e., downloading software and installing plug-ins, to complete the course.
  • Able to use email, internet browser, word processor - You'll access your class and complete the majority of your work online.
  • Like to read and write - You'll need to be able to read large amounts of information, synthesize it, and communicate it through the written word.
  • Inquisitive - You need to speak up online and ask questions when you have them.

You need to have strong reading skills and be able to communicate effectively through writing. Most of the material in the online environment will come from your textbooks and written lectures; therefore, strong reading and critical thinking skills are very important for success in an online course. Online students communicate through such text-based tools such as emails, discussion forums, chats, and instant messaging. You need to feel comfortable expressing yourself in writing.

Are online courses self-paced?

No. Depending on the instructor, you will have assignments that require you to communicate with other students just as you would in a face-to-face course. Most online courses require you to adhere to due dates for assignments, quizzes, tests, etc. If you register for an online course, expect to have to adhere to deadlines set by the instructor. If you struggle with time management, these tips might help.

Do all online courses look and work the same?

No. Instructors have complete control over the design and organization of their courses. Just as instructors individualize face-to-face courses, they tend to do the same for online courses. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the course early in the semester in order to become comfortable with navigating to important materials. Also keep in mind that most instructors are not online all day and might not reply to your questions right away. Check the syllabus to see if your instructor details his or her response policy.

Although each class is different, there are some best practices for participating in an online course.

Does my computer meet the minimum specifications for online learning? 

Review the D2L Platform Requirements and Complete the System Check at this link.

How computer literate do I need to be?

You need to have a basic knowledge of computer and Internet skills in order to be successful in an online course. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Knowledge of terminology, such as browser, IMHO, application, etc.
  • Understanding of basic computer hardware and software; ability to perform computer operations, such as:
    • Using keyboard and mouse
    • Managing files and folders: save, name, copy, move, backup, rename, delete, check properties
    • Software installation, security and virus protection
    • Using software applications, such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel, email clients
    • Copying and pasting, spell-checking, and saving files in different formats
    • Sending and downloading attachments
  • Internet skills (connecting, accessing, and using browsers) and ability to perform online research using various search engines and library databases.
  • Ability to use online communication tools, such as email (create, send, receive, reply, print, send/receive attachments), discussion boards (read, search, post, reply, and follow threads), chats, and messengers.

Even the most basic online course requires the development of new computer skills, as students learn to navigate different learning management systems (LMS) and programs. The skills students learn to participate in their online courses translate to many professions, including creating and sharing documents, incorporating audio/video materials into your assignments, completing online training sessions, etc.

Will I need to come to campus?

Some courses do require on-campus meetings for activities such as an orientation, student presentations, and exams. Please carefully read the detailed course descriptions when you register and check with your faculty member to determine whether any face-to-face meetings will be required.

How are tests administered?

Most online courses have projects and exams that are conducted online. Some courses do require on-campus exams. Please carefully read the detailed course description for any specific testing requirements. In some cases, an instructor may require you to have your exam proctored.  Students who are unable to take the exam at Shippensburg University on the designated day and time due to their geographic location or other extenuating circumstances may request to take the exam at an alternate location with an individual proctor.  In such cases, it is the students’ responsibility to 1) identify an alternate testing location and proctor, both of which meet particular criteria established by Shippensburg University, 2) initiate the request for an alternate testing location and proctor with Shippensburg University no later than two weeks prior to the exam date, 3) work with the alternate testing location and proctor to identify a mutually agreeable testing date and time, which is approved by the course faculty member, and 4) pay for any costs set by the alternate testing location and proctor the student has identified, and pay those costs directly to the alternate testing location and proctor (Shippensburg University does not charge a fee for students’ use of an alternate testing location and proctor).  To obtain the criteria for an acceptable alternate testing location and proctor, and to request and receive approval for an alternate testing location and proctor for their exam, students should send an email to PCDE@ship.edu.

Are credits for online courses transferable to other colleges?

Generally speaking, Shippensburg University credits are transferable to most colleges and universities.  If you attend another college or university, you should first check with that college or university about transferring credits from Shippensburg University. There is no difference in how online and on-campus course credit and grades are recorded on an official Shippensburg University transcript.

How do I start an online course?  Will the instructor contact me?

IMPORTANT: All students must use their Shippensburg University (ship.edu) email address for online courses. The instructor will email you approximately one (1) week before the start of the course at your ship.edu email account and provide you with directions for getting started.  Students can access their online class in the Desire2Learn (D2L) learning management system at https://d2l.ship.edu.

How do I obtain the required textbooks?

Textbooks may be obtained from the Shippensburg University Bookstore by ordering them online and having them shipped to you, as well as purchasing them in person at the bookstore.  PA residents should allow one (1) week, and all others should allow two (2) weeks for delivery of any bookstore purchases.  For more information about ordering class materials from the Shippensburg University Bookstore, go to Bookstore.

Can I access the Library resources from home?

Yes, all students taking online courses can access the library resources. To learn more about Shippensburg University’s library services, go to Library.

How do I obtain my transcript when the course is over? 

You may obtain an official transcript (for free) from the Office of the Registrar by completing the Trasncript Request Form.

Where can I get more information about online courses and registration? 

Please contact the Office of Professional, Continuing, and Distance Education (PCDE) at 717-477-1502, pcde@ship.edu, or in Horton Hall 108 on the Shippensburg University campus.