In many ways, taking an online course is like taking a face-to-face course. Both feature individual assignments and cooperative group projects, and both require you to take exams to show you are learning the course material. The instructor directs students through the activities, posting announcements, delivering lecture materials, responding to questions, and grading assignments and exams.
The great benefit of being in an online course is that you can have direct, one-to-one communication with your instructor and fellow students at any time, rather than only during class or office hours.
Unlike the situation in most face-to-face courses, where you can show up for class, listen to lectures, and perhaps not play an active role in the discussion, the assignments in online courses require your participation. If you do not keep up with reading and other homework, you will not be able to contribute meaningful, timely comments to the online discussions. Avoid this predicament by setting aside specific times each week for engaging in course participation activities, and stick to them. Otherwise, you may find you quickly fall behind in reading messages to which you need to respond.
A good rule of thumb is to log on at least once a day to check announcements and review online materials. How long you need to be online depends on the activities for that session.
Look at the calendar to see when certain assignments are due and when projects begin and end. Different courses may offer very explicit schedules that tell you when you need to be online for different assignments. For example, you may have a class discussion for which you will need to submit an initial comment on a Monday and then respond to another student's comment on Tuesday. Requirements of this kind will be spelled out in the respective assignment or discussion.
You can log on when it is convenient for you, but there are some things to consider:
Your presence in the course will be apparent only if you add to discussions and do the online assignments. Also, as stated above, it is crucial that you keep up to date by reading all lecture materials and posted comments before participating in the online discussions.