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Taking Online Courses

MLC uses Moodle as its computer management software for online courses. These questions and answers provide information regarding taking courses online.

Click on a question below to jump to the answer.

  1. How do online courses work at MLC?

  2. What does a typical online lesson look like?

  3. How do online courses compare to face-to-face courses?

  4. Do I need to purchase textbooks or materials for an online course?

  5. Do I need to come to the MLC campus to complete work for an online course?

  6. If needed, will I be able to access MLC Library resources?

  7. When do online courses begin/end?

  8. Do I work through the course independently?

  9. Do I have to be online at a certain time every day?

  10. What if I have another major obligation in the middle of the course?

  11. Are assignment deadlines set in stone?

  12. Is online learning for me?

  13. What type of computer hardware/software do I need?

  14. What type of computer skills do I need?

  15. How do I get technical help?

  16. I am new to online learning and Moodle. Is there an orientation session available?

  17. How do I go to enroll in an online course?

  18. After enrollment, how soon can I access a course?

  19. How much does it cost to take an online course?

  20. Can I audit an online course?

  21. What is the time commitment for an online course?

My question is not listed here.


1. How do online courses work at MLC?
Online courses at MLC work as they do at most colleges and universities and are accessed through the internet. Once students enroll in a course they are given a username and password that allows them to access the course website. At MLC we use Moodle as the course management system to facilitate our online courses. Students that are new to online learning and/or Moodle will be provided access to a free "Getting Started with Moodle" mini-course to help them become familiar with the online tools and activities that are commonly used in many of our online courses. Moodle contains the tools that will be used to access course materials, submit assignments, take quizzes/tests, communicate with course other course participants, access your course grade, etc. Students do not install Moodle on their computer, they simply use its tools directly from the MLC website. A typical course is divided into a series of lessons, similar to a face-to-face course.

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2. What does a typical online lesson look like?
The instructor will break the course down into a series of lessons and will provide a "lesson guide sheet" to lead the students through each lesson. A typical lesson might include reading materials from a textbook or an online source, discussion of the material with other students and the instructor via a discussion forum tool in Moodle, and an assignment type activity that each student completes and submits to the instructor via an assignment tool in Moodle. Many of the undergraduate courses also have exams, but exams are rarely found in graduate level courses where you are likely to have a major project or projects assigned.

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3. How do online courses compare to face-to-face courses?
Online courses are treated the same way as a face-to-face courses and are held to the same academic standards.
The content will be similar if not identical. Online courses can include assignments, presentations, discussion, projects, tests, etc. The course materials will often be reworked for online delivery, but the content remains the same. College transcripts make no distinction whether a particular course was completed online or face-to-face.
The difficulty level of the course work is intended to be the same. Do realize, though, that you do not have the "imposed discipline" that accompanies a face-to-face course (for example, "the class meets in room 325 every M-W-F in the 3rd hour").  Being successful in an online course does require an extra measure of self discipline.
Time commitment is expected to be similar between an online and a face-to-face course. (See the answer to question 21  What is the time commitment for an online course?  for a more detailed answer.)
Main differences between an online and a face-to-face course are that scheduling of class/study time is more flexible, communicating with instructor and classmates is electronic, course materials have been reworked for online delivery, work is submitted electronically, and no travel is required, making them more convenient for the student.

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4. Do I need to purchase textbooks or materials for an online course?
Many online courses will use the same textbook used in a face-to-face version of the course. However, some online courses access all course materials directly via the internet at no additional cost. Several weeks prior to the start of an online course the course instructor should be sending you the course syllabus which will contain the materials that you need to purchase for the course as well as information on where you can purchase them.

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5. Do I need to come to the MLC campus to complete work for an online course?
Almost all online courses through MLC do not require you to come to campus. A couple of courses are of a "hybrid" type, which means a week or two will be on campus in a face-to-face format and the rest of the course will be online. Any online requirements for MLC online course are clearly indicated in publicity sent out by MLC.

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6. If needed, will I be able to access MLC library resources?
Online students have the same online access to the MLC library as on-campus students. The MLC Library website is found at https://www.mlc-wels.edu/library. The MLC Library website databases can be accessed directly from off-campus through http://www.emil.mlc-wels.edu/ where you will be asked to enter your MLC username and password that you use to access your online course. Once logged in you should see a list of databases you can access. These databases are commonly used for graduate level online course work.

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7. When do online courses begin/end?
MLC online courses generally follow the same schedule as the on-campus courses for beginning end dates. Publicity published by MLC will clearly indicate dates for courses, both online and on-campus. Midterm breaks within online courses are set at the discretion of the course instructor. Some online courses, especially in the graduate program, will begin new lessons within a course each Wednesday because many of our online students have full-time jobs and have more time to work on the course material over the weekend. Details such as these will be communicated to students by the course instructor at the beginning of each course.

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8. Do I work through the course independently?
No. Other students will be taking the course at the same time and you will often communicate with them and the instructor via the discussion tools in Moodle or via regular email. The instructor sets specific deadlines to complete each activity, but students do not need to access the course at a specific time each day. In other words, students go to the course site and work on the course when they have time, but they must complete the various activities by a certain date. Although the courses are not "independent study" courses, there are often activities within each course that you complete independently of other students within a given time frame.

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9. Do I have to be online at a certain time everyday?
MLC online courses are offered in an asynchronous format, which means students and instructors do not all have to access their course at a specific time each day, but can access and work on the course at times that are convenient to them. Students will have 24-hour access to their online course for the specified length of the course. Generally, students should log into the course daily to see if any new announcements have been posted by the course instructor or fellow classmates. Instructors will post deadlines for students to complete certain activities in the course, such as discussion postings, assignments, self-quizzes, etc. Therefore, in most online courses it is extremely important that students participate in the course at least 4-5 times per week. Specific requirements for participation will be laid out by your instructor.

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10. What if I have another major obligation in the middle of the course?
As would be expected, students should make every attempt to avoid missing class for extended periods of time. This is especially critical with courses offered in an a compressed format during the summer term and courses in the graduate program. However, many online course instructors will work with students so they can complete missed work before an expected extended absence. Students should contact the course instructor before the start of the course to see if an extended absence will prevent them from enrolling in and completing a particular course.

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11.  Are assignment deadlines set in stone?
Assignment deadlines exist for a good reason. However, just like face-to-face courses, things come up that might prevent a student from completing an assignment on time. As would be expected, please contact your course instructor if you encounter a situation which prevents you from complete an assignment on time. Generally instructors are very understanding if you explain the situation. It is up to the course instructor whether additional time is granted to get work in and if it will affect your grade.

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12. Is online learning for me?
You need to determine if the advantages of online learning outweigh the disadvantages.
Advantages: Convenient, flexible, 24/7 course access, unlimited online resources, independent working schedule
Disadvantages: Technical skills needed (see next questions), face-to-face contact is limited
Generally, self-motivated, self-disciplined individuals with good reading and comprehension skills will do better in an online course than others. But this is also true of face-to-face courses.

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13. What type of computer hardware/software do I need?
It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that they have a computer system that meets or exceeds the minimum hardware and software specifications to participate in an online course. Note that the minimum specifications may result in slow access speeds and lead to some frustration. Some courses may have additional hardware and/or software requirements, as specified by the course instructor.

The MINIMUM Software Requirements
● Word Processing Software
       ○ Must be able to save and read files created by Microsoft Word, which will be used by most course          instructors. Microsoft Word 2007 or newer (or other equivalent software) is preferred.

Web Browser
       ○ The following minimum browser versions are required:
                     ■ Microsoft Internet Explorer 7
                     ■ Mozilla Firefox 3.6
                     ■ Google Chrome 4
                     ■ Apple Safari 4.1
                     ■ Opera 9
       ○ We cannot guarantee compatibility with all versions of all browsers. If you have problems, feel free to try out another browser or contact MLC.

● Email Software
       ○ You are required to have access to email, including the ability to send and receive attachments.

● PDF File Support
       ○ Your course may require the reading of files in the PDF format, make sure you either have Adobe Reader installed or another program which allows you to read PDF files.

● Other Software
      ○ Depending on your course, you may be required to download and install other free plugins to access streaming media or other web materials.

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14. What type of computer skills do I need?
● Participants are expected to have at least …
       ○ A basic knowledge of how to work with their computer and its operating system.
       ○ A basic knowledge of software applications such as word processors, email applications, Internet browsers, and online search engines.
      ○ NOTE: It is the student’s responsibility to seek out technical assistance as needed from a local resource person. MLC cannot provide assistance on how to work with your computer and/or its programs.

● Internet Access
      ○ High speed access is strongly recommended (such as DSL, cable, fiber optic, etc.).

● Email Account
      ○ MLC provides all students with a Gmail account, which includes access to Google Apps that are used in some courses. It is strongly suggested that students use this email address for all course work.

● Operating System
     ○ You will need access to a computer with the following minimum operating system version, or newer:
                  ■ Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3
                  ■ Apple Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”
     ○ Please make sure that you have installed all available updates for your operating system.

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15. How do I get technical help?
While it is the responsibility of students to seek local technical help with the computer and software they need to take an online course, technical assistance on accessing the course and working with Moodle will be available through MLC.
For assistance with Moodle access and user accounts, generally contact MLC Network Services at (507) 233-9100 during normal business hours (8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Monday - Friday) or email the Help Desk at helpdesk@mlc-wels.edu.
For Assistance on working with Moodle, please contact the MLC Director of Academic Computing, Dr. James Grunwald
grunwajr@mlc-wels.edu or (507) 354-8224 ext. 349.

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16. I am new to online learning and Moodle. Is there an orientation session available?
Yes. Once you have registered for an online course an account will be created for you by MLC Network Services. About a week before the start of the course you will be sent instructions on how to access a free "Working Online with Moodle" online mini-course that will lead you through working with online activities commonly found in MLC online courses using Moodle. Course access will only be granted to those students that have registered to take an online course through MLC.

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17. How do I enroll in an online course?
Enrollment is handled through the  MLC Office of Continuing Education. Additional information is available through the various links on their website at www.mlc-wels.edu/gsce. You may also email the director Dr. John Meyer at or call 507-354-8221 ext 398.

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18. After enrollment, how soon can I access a course?
Once registered for an online course, two things must occur before you will be able to access your course online. MLC Network Services needs to create a user account for you and your course instructor needs to make the course available to students. About a week before the start of the course your account will be created. Several days before the start of the course your course instructor will send you information on how to access your course online. Instructors also have the capability to grant student access to limited portions of the course at any time.

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19. How much does it cost to take an online course?
The MLC Office of Continuing Education handles all cost and registration issues. The tuition charged for an online course is the same as a face-to-face course. If the course is online there is an extra $25 technology fee per course.

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20. Can I audit an online course?
Students may elect to audit an online course, but they are allowed into the course only if there is room after others taking the course for credit have enrolled. Please see the Office of Continuing Education web site for specific costs.

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21. What is the time commitment for an online course?
The amount of time you need to spend on the course per day or per week depends a great deal on your prior knowledge of the topic being studied, what you hope to get out of the course, and your prior experience working with computers, the internet, and online learning. 
As a general rule of thumb, the time commitment for an online course is expected to be similar to the time commitment if the same course were taught in a traditional face-to-face classroom. Students in a 1-credit traditional course spend a total of 12.5 hours (1, 50-minute class period per week over 15 weeks) in class. Plus, they are expected to spend about twice that amount of time outside of class reading courses materials, studying, and completing assignments, for a total of 37.5 hours per 1-credit course. A 3-credit course would result in 112.5 hours per course.
Spreading the 112.5 hours out over a semester of 15 weeks would result in an average of about 7.5 hours per week. If that same course were taught during an 8-week summer session, the amount of time would be 15 hours per week. Realize that this is only a rough estimate and that your experience might not be typical, resulting in a greater or lesser time commitment on your part.

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If your question was not listed, or if you have a question or comment on a provided answer, please send an email to Dr. Jim Grunwald at grunwajr@mlc-wels.edu.