Remote College Classes are Painful

I retired this pasted summer so I would have more time to pursue my interests. I decided to sign up for psychology class at Foothill college for several reasons:

  1. I am interested in psychology, and thought having introduction class would ensure I had a broad and systematic overview of the field.
  2. In my younger years I started and stopped taking college classes because I repeatedly failed one or more of my classes. As an older, and hopefully wiser person, could I now do well in college?
  3. Provide a bit of structure
  4. An opportunity to interact with some  fellow students

Classes Take Time

The reading, videos embedded in lecture notes, and time to do the assignments took 10-15 hours a week matching conventional wisdom that time for a class is between 2-3x the number of credit hours. Often I would find myself watching a video for 20 minutes that explained the material in a very basic manner missing nuances that I already appreciated. It was tempting to skip the video, but I felt compelled to watch it in case it covered something I was unaware of.

Discipline Required

The class was 100% online. Initially I was doing the school work on my laptop in the same location I do everything else. I found it very easy to get distracted. I needed to set aside specific times to do my school work, and do the work in “study” location. When I failed to do this, I had to spend time on the weekend “finishing my work”.

Material To Study Directed by Others

As a student in a class, I had to attend to the material selected by the teacher. I found that there were areas that I thought the material was way to superficial and would have liked to go into much more detail. There were other areas that I had little interest in, and I don’t think are that important in the scheme of things. As a “good student” I needed to attend to what the teacher wanted and do the assignments that where assigned.

Each week we wrote multiple mini papers (>=350 words). Some of the topics required me to radically shorten what I would naturally research and what I wrote. Others topics were so uninteresting that I had to struggle to find enough words to answer the question. In almost all the cases, a large body of life experience resulted a mismatch of the class expectations and what I would naturally do.

To do well in the class required memorizing certain facts and definitions. For someone working in the field, having this material available for instant recall would be key. For someone who isn’t interacting with the field on a daily basis, having a framework and access to the web, or even an encyclopedia would be adequate.

Interaction with Fellow Student Not Good in Async Classes

Due to some delays in registration, all the in-person classes were full so I registered for the 100% remote class. Structure the class provided was slight: there was a syllabus which specified the topic for the week, the quiz could be taken at the end of the week, but a few assignments and reading lists. 

As a fully remote class the interaction with fellow students was in a very poorly designed “discussion system” which resulted each student posting a short paper answering several questions, and then maybe a couple of comments in response to the post.  Little back and forth. Hard to really pull out people’s life experiences.


At the end of the 5th week I have a near perfect score.  I have confidence that I could go back to school and get a degree if I wanted to. Alas, I feel like I have learned very little in the class and engaged in a fair amount of “busy work”. This is not a good use of my time. I would like to skip over what I already know and focus on new material. It’s very hard to do this in a structured class.

One thing I did learn. I can improve my ability to evaluate the quality of research studies and identify ways to improve studies. I don’t know if this is something I would have discovered in most classes, but it’s something that some of my instructors assignments helped me appreciate.

Getting through introductory classes / basic educational requirements will be a challenge for me… not due the difficulty of the material, but because it will be boring. Succeeding in these classes will depend on “playing the school game”, not about learning.

Online discusses of academic material really sucks. It wasn’t a discussion, it was more like people making statements to each other. It’s very unlikely I will sign up for classes that don’t have synchronic  interactions as a core part of the class.  I really feel bad for the student whose college experience is largely made up of these a-synchronic remote classes.

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