Introduction to Online Learning

Introduction to Online Learning

Classroom vs. online learning

Traditional classroom learning requires you to attend classes in person on campus. Considering the current situation in South Africa and many other countries around the world due to the spread of Covid-19, universities are compelled to move to alternative modes of learning. Online learning refers to education programs in which instruction and education take place mainly over the internet through the use of a Course Management System (CMS), helping students learn new skills via digital materials (Stern, 2020). The CMS used at UKZN is Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment). Moodle can be accessed at: You will log in using your LAN username and password, and enrolment keys for your various modules will be available from your lecturers.

How does Moodle work?

Moodle is where your lecturer will:

  • Post all course materials for your module
  • Conduct online discussions and other activities
  • Receive your module assignments

Your lecturer will expect you to:

  • Familiarise yourself with the tools you need to participate
  • Read all course materials posted on Moodle
  • Participate in activities created on Moodle
  • Use Moodle to submit your assignments (unless otherwise instructed)

The UKZN Moodle site has many resources to help you to familiarise yourself with this particular CMS format and there are also many video tutorials available on YouTube.

Four common online learning myths (California Community Colleges, 2020)

Myth # 1: Online learning is easier (students don’t have to read all material or make notes because everything is provided)

The facts: The workload for any course is actually very similar regardless of how it’s delivered (contact classes, online learning, correspondence courses). In fact, there is more reading in online courses because you have to read your lecturer’s instructions instead of listening to them in class and also make notes (refer to Section 3 – Online Reading Strategies). Online learning therefore requires self-discipline and motivation. The good news is that online learning gives you the flexibility to learn at times that fit into your schedule.

Myth # 2: Online learning is self-paced (students can race through course content and submit assignments whenever they feel like it)

The facts: Regardless of how quickly you work or what you think you may be able to accomplish at your own speed, most online courses are NOT self-paced. The most successful students will concentrate on their work at the pace that their lecturer sets, and will allow time to really focus and put their best effort into assignments. Cognitive psychologists have noted a ‘spacing effect’ that suggests it is better to absorb material at regular, separated intervals than all at once, which is why ‘cramming’ is so ineffective for many students (Searles, 2012). The good news is that completing online courses develops organisational skills that will benefit students in traditional courses they may take later on.

Myth # 3: Online learning doesn’t require participation (students are anonymous and can ‘fly under the radar’)

The facts: Even though you and your lecturer cannot see each other, they can access reports on the quantity and quality of your course participation, which will be a key component of your online learning. In fact, sometimes lecturers know more about their online students than if they were teaching in a traditional classroom. The good news is that online learning can allow you to develop meaningful relationships with your lecturers and fellow students, everyone has a chance to provide input, and you can carefully consider your thoughts before you ‘speak’ (see Section 5 – Skills for Online Communication).

Myth # 4: Online learning doesn’t require communication skills or good etiquette (students can email lecturers at any time of the day or night and expect an instant reply)

The facts: Most lecturers provide a maximum turnaround time (e.g. 24-48 hours), so you need to plan ahead and be sure to have an alternative if you do not hear back from a lecturer before a task or assignment is due. Look for answers in Question or Discussion threads, or reach out to other members of the class. The good news is that building online relationships develops good communication skills (see Section 5) and assertiveness, and allows for cooperation and collaboration with fellow students.

References Section One: