9 Common Types of Assignments in Online Courses



In some instances, online students watch recorded lectures and respond at their own pace.(DADO/GETTY IMAGES)

Students considering taking their first online course may worry about the types of assignments they will encounter.

In particular, those who are accustomed to face-to-face education may not know what coursework to expect before they start. Below is a list of nine common types of virtual assignments instructors generally assign in online classes.

1. Read or watch, then respond: This type of assignment closely mirrors the face-to-face lecture. Instructors provide video lectures, articles or book chapters and assign students a set of questions. Students can read or watch the material at their own pace, so long as they meet the deadline for their responses.

2. Research papers: Formal research papers remain a popular assignment in online classes. Writing about research is a required skill for many graduate degrees, and publishing original research is a measure of expertise in many disciplines.

There is little difference in completing research papers for online versus on-ground classes. However, online learners should ensure they have remote access to a university’s library resources to succeed.

3. Exams: The often-dreaded tests and quizzes are also common in online courses. But the rules and testing environments can differ depending on the institution. Some will use proctoring services that monitor students through webcams and identity verification questions.

4. Discussion boards: Usually intended as a supplement to the weekly coursework, the discussion forum is intended to replace the in-class discussion or seminar. In the virtual classroom, students respond to a prompt and each other. Some discussions require students to submit responses before being able to see what classmates wrote.

[Discover what to expect in online course discussion boards.]

5. Blogs: These keep a running public dialogue of students’ thoughts and ideas about a topic. Students can add new insights to the blog throughout the course, and sometimes other students can comment. Blogs are particularly useful for online classes that require students to reflect upon life or clinical experiences and internships.

6. Journals: The journal assignment is usually a private way for online students to communicate with the instructor. Sometimes, journal topics are prescribed and formal, but usually these assignments allow students to express ideas, opinions, concerns and questions about course material.

7. Wikis: These are especially useful for group work. Students can comment on and edit a shared document to develop task lists, write research questions, document experiences or start discussions.

8. Case-based assignments: These are more popular in certain fields than others. Generally, an assigned reading or video vividly depicts a real-world example of the issues or concepts the class is learning about, describing all of the salient details and information. Well-constructed cases force students to analyze problems and research, test and present potential solutions.

9. Self-paced adaptive assignments: Adaptive learning is growing in popularity, especially in subjects such as math and science.

[Learn how to decide between live and self-paced online courses.]

Usually, students watch short lectures, then answer a set of questions. Based on how they perform, new lectures follow and focus on areas the student needs help with. These types of courses generally don’t have a class or cohort structure as each student moves at a personalized pace. There may not be one instructor for the course, but a team of facilitators is generally available in real time.

The takeaway: While these types of virtual assignments don’t represent the total list of possibilities, they are among the most common. Instructors will choose which online coursework best fits the material and learning objectives. Each online class may be slightly different.


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