How Do Online Courses Work?

Each blog post is dated and contains accurate information as of that date. Certain information may have changed since the blog post publication date. If you would like to confirm the current accuracy of blog information, please visit our Online OTA program overview page or contact us at (877) 223-2677.

Online courses at St. Catherine University play a pivotal role in your success of becoming an occupational therapy assistant. Since the curriculum blends 80% of online learning with 20% of in-person practice, you will be responsible for completing a lot of online coursework on your own time, which may lead you to wonder, how do online courses work?

Understanding how to navigate the online learning platform St. Kate’s uses to deliver such dynamic and user-friendly courses can help you make more sense of this question.

Canvas: Your Virtual Classroom

Canvas is an online learning management system that makes teaching and learning concepts easier. It’s the platform you will spend the majority of your time on throughout your Online OTA education. “Canvas houses all of your course content,” says Isabelle Fisher, E-Learning Program Administrator for St. Kate’s Online OTA Program. “Its many amenities (course calendar, to-do list, technical support, etc.) will foster your online learning success from beginning to end.”

Adaptable, reliable, easy to use, time saving, and most importantly, mobile – these are just a few benefits Canvas offers students. With technical support offered 24/7, you are able to have your questions answered, no matter what time you need help.

Canvas is very easy to navigate, even if it’s the first time you log in. “When you first log in, there’s a help bar you can refer to at any time,” says Isabelle. “This will allow you to search through the Canvas guides, which will give you answers to common questions that have already been asked.” You will have access to Canvas soon after you enroll in St. Kate’s online OTA program.

Canvas guide screenshot
Canvas guides can compare to an FAQ page. By resorting to this, students can receive technical support 24/7.

To help you gain a better understanding of the platform, you will be required to watch a short orientation video explaining the technicalities of Canvas and how you can get started on the right foot. At that time, it’s best to link Canvas notifications to your phone and email. This will help you stay up-to-date on any course news, assignments, readings, and more.

Course Framework

Upon entering your first course, you will be directed to a home page. This is where you will find the title, an overview video that describes what you can expect to learn from the course, and a button that links to your professors contact information. When you’re ready to begin, you will simply click on the ‘start here’ button.

Screenshot of an online course example

You will then see the following components for every course:

  • Learning Outcomes: describes what you will learn in the course.
  • Read and Study Materials: lists the textbooks or materials you will need for the course.
  • Learning Activities: provides you with a detailed outline for all assignments.
  • Assessment: gives you direct access to discussion forums and course assignments.
  • Review: gives you a lesson overview and self-assessment that can be used for further study.

Once you become familiar with Canvas, you will know how to navigate each course for every semester to come and will have more time to contribute to mastering the material itself.

Communicating Online

A common myth about online coursework is that students always work alone, with little to no contact with instructors or fellow classmates. In St. Kate’s Online OTA program, our online courses make it possible for students to broaden and refine their audio, written, and video communication skills to complete their academic requirements. Here are a few ways you can expect to communicate through online OTA courses at St. Kate’s:

Discussion Boards

Throughout each learning module, you will participate in an online discussion forum. This is where you, your instructor, and classmates come together to discuss a common topic related to course material.

The discussion could start with a question from your instructor or a member of your cohort. From there, you can respond, question, and evaluate with your peers. In St. Kate’s Online OTA program, you will need to respond to at least two of your classmate’s posts – this will not only keep you engaged, but encourage you to learn from your peers along the way.

Module discussion in canvas


Canvas allows you to also have conferences with your instructors and classmates. At St. Kate’s, these take place within ‘Big Blue Button’.

You can think of this as a virtual meeting or webinar that’s usually initiated by your instructor. Some conferences will include your instructor going over a PowerPoint slide and other times they will repeat an important lecture to those who may have struggled understanding it the first time.


If you don’t need a conference or a discussion board conversation, there’s always email. In addition to your St. Kate’s University email account, you will have a Canvas email account. Your Canvas inbox can also link to your St. Kate’s email – this will help you keep everything in one spot. To find success in the program, you will want to monitor your email account frequently and regularly.

Tips to Help Your Online Studies

Now that you know more about how online courses work at St. Catherine University, your next step is to learn more about how you can prepare for success.

1. Be Open Minded

Online learning is different than your traditional ways of learning. It will take some getting used to, so it’s important that you are accepting of everything to come. Through St. Kate’s online OTA program, the possibilities for your potential are limitless. You will no longer be confined to learning within a certain classroom at a certain time – you can complete coursework at a time that works best for you, while still meeting the deadlines set by your instructors.

2. Find a Reliable Routine

Having your schedule coincide with your online courses is vital to your success as an OTA student. This can avoid procrastination, help you meet deadlines, and calm any anxieties or worries you may feel about learning online. Be sure to set aside some time each day for completing the course readings or activities. Soon enough, you will start to feel more comfortable and confident as you settle into your routine.

3. Treat Online Coursework Like a Full-Time Job

Achieving your associates in occupational therapy is not something that should be taken lightly. Outside of skills lab and fieldwork, you can expect to spend up to forty hours a week on online coursework. Staying organized and engaged will help you become a successful OTA student and you can expect future employers to take notice.

Say Yes to an Online OTA Education

Now that you understand the unique features that St. Kate’s online coursework can provide, it’s time to learn more about the Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program. If you’re ready to give online coursework a chance, contact an admissions counselor today.

outside shot of st. kate campus

The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy and OTA

Get answers to your questions about the field, about the OTA career path, and about St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program.

book with cover title: Occupational Therapy Assistant Explained