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Online classes: The basics for beginners

The basics of online learning from an OSU Ecampus student

What is it like to take online classes? An Oregon State Ecampus alum shares firsthand insights

By Monique Lanier

When I first started thinking about going to school online, I was completely clueless as to what I should expect. Of course, I knew what the internet was and the basics of how to use a computer, but I felt pretty intimidated about online classes because I honestly had no idea how earning a degree from a distance worked.

My daughter had been out of school for years, and I had been out of the workforce for a long time, too, so I hadn’t been exposed to anything that came close to online classes. Even if I was anxious and a little embarrassed about my lack of online skills, I was determined to finish my degree.

The basics of online learning

So I drank a lot of coffee, hid out in my bedroom, and started looking online for the best schools. I think I even googled “Online classes for Dummies.” I’m sure this is really obvious to most people, but here are the essentials of online learning that I wish someone would have told me:

  1. Online classes are different than in-person classes because they take place on your computer, wherever it works best for you. You don’t need to be in a physical classroom, and this makes it ideal for anyone who needs flexibility in their education.
  2. People who work, have family obligations, disabilities, travel barriers, or simply prefer the convenience of online education flexibility, enroll in online classes. Oregon State University Ecampus also delivers some hybrid courses and programs, which blend in-person and online coursework.
  3. The structure of online education varies by institution, but online classes generally follow a traditional class format. If you’ve ever gone to school, you’ll feel comfortable with an online class structure. The main difference in online classes is that your work is done through an online platform. Oregon State Ecampus uses Canvas.
  4. Canvas is an online learning management system many schools use to host all your classes. Each class will have its own course site on Canvas where you’ll find the syllabus, weekly assignments, a place for group discussions, etc. Canvas is an intuitive platform and easy to navigate.

Here’s what’s so great about Oregon State Ecampus: You can try out their online classes! I learned so much on the Canvas course demo, most importantly that online classes aren’t as scary as I thought. I felt confident I would be able to navigate Canvas easily, and I was excited about getting started.

How should I study for online classes?

If you’re anything like me, you might have been out of school for a while. Getting back into the swing of things can be challenging, but here are my best tips for online learning:

  • Studying for an online class is no different than studying for a class you would take in person. The goal is to learn the material.
  • It’s also good to keep in mind that what might have worked best for you five, 10, 15 years ago may not be your optimal study strategy now. Be open to new approaches.
  • If it’s been a while since you’ve had to prepare for a test or write a paper, be patient with yourself as you figure out what works best for you now.

Oregon State Ecampus provides students with a success coach who is an expert on study skills! I met with my success coach every week, and he had great recommendations on time management, designating study space, staying motivated, balancing work and school, and so much more.

There is not a “one size fits all” way to study, which is why a success coach is so valuable. It was amazing to have personalized support – and it worked!

I completed my bachelor’s degree online at Oregon State University, applied to graduate schools and was accepted into Harvard University.

My heart, however, will always be at Oregon State.

Go Beavs!


Monique Lanier is a freelance writer who also has a long history in writing, acting and music as a writer and performer. She earned her Oregon State University bachelor’s degree online and is pursuing a master’s degree at Harvard University. Read more about her educational journey »

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