If you are considering going to college, you may need to decide between online and traditional classes. An increasing number of colleges are embracing the online and hybrid learning environments and students need to understand how these classes work to determine if this style of learning is right for them. 


How Do Online Classes Work? 

A student doing her homework on her bed with her dogs.Online classes offer traditional college coursework through an online learning platform. Rather than attending class and listening to lectures in-person, students watch video lectures, participate in online discussions, and submit projects online. Students can log on from home or work and even while traveling to complete their coursework and therefore are not limited to attending college in one specific geographic location. Online classes are growing in popularity because of their flexibility and accessibility, leading to several questions of whether or not obtaining a degree online is advantageous.  

Here are some of the most important questions students need answers to before enrolling in online college classes. 


11 Frequently Asked Questions about Online Classes


How Are Online Classes Structured? 

While every institution is different, most online classes will require students to log into an online learning management system, which is a portal where they can see their syllabus, manage assignments and connect with their teachers and classmates. There may be video lectures to watch, or the course may be focused more on projects, forum-based chat and self-paced lessons. 


Do Students Need to Attend Classes at Specific Times? 

The answer to this question varies from class to class and instructor to instructor, so it is worth asking the school before enrolling. Some online classes have live or recorded lectures, and these require the student to log in at certain times to participate. Others are self-paced, where students meet weekly deadlines while completing work on their own schedule. You may even find courses that combine these two strategies.

Do Online Classes Have In-Person Components? 

Usually, no. Online-designated classes are fully online. Sometimes, hybrid classes will combine online learning with on-campus obligations. The main exception is a program requiring a student to attend a residency program or participate in an internship at some point during the course. Some courses may also require students to participate in in-person networking activities with fellow students. 


What Is the Normal Workload of an Online Class? 

Online courses can be as challenging as traditional on-campus classes. You can expect to spend about 15 to 20 hours a week on your coursework if you are a full-time student. This may be less for part-time students or more for students who are taking particularly challenging courses. 


How Do Students Interact in an Online Classroom? 

If the course requires some on-campus work, students interact through videoconferencing, discussion forums, social media groups and even phone and email contact. It does take more work to develop strong relationships, but the tools to do so are woven into the program. 


How Long Are Online Classes? 

Most schools will follow a traditional semester schedule for their online classes. Typically, semesters run for 14 weeks, but you will find others that have shorter terms with unique credit requirements. Accelerated programs may have a shortened approach, and some schools offer online classes in shortened, half-semester segments. 


Are Assignments Harder for Online Classes? 

The assignments for online classes are similar to the assignments in a traditional classroom. Typically, online classes rely more on computers, which can make them more challenging for students who do not have a strong technological understanding. 


What Should Students Do Before Enrolling in an Online Class? 

Before enrolling in an online class, students need to learn the registration process for their chosen school specific to online and hybrid courses. . Knowing whether or not there is an on-campus component for the particular class is also helpful, so students can plan ahead for visits to campus. 


Students  should also inquire about the technology needed for the online learning platform, so they can ensure they have what they need when classes start. Many online programs have a specific schedule and requirements for logging in at certain times throughout the week,  which may affect the rest of your busy schedule. 


How Do Students Take Exams in Online Classes? 

Some classes will offer proctored exams, requiring students to visit a testing site that has a proctor who can administer the test. Other online courses will offer exams online with a virtual monitoring option. This allows the proctor to watch over a webcam or a computer to monitor for cheating remotely. Some courses focus on project-based learning and do not require exams, so a proctor is not necessary. 


Are Online Classes Easy? 

Online classes are not any easier than traditional classes. Professors provide challenging coursework that will increase students’ knowledge in their field. Sometimes the online environment makes learning easier or harder, depending on a student’s learning style, but the coursework is going to challenge learners just like it does in a traditional learning environment. 


Are Online Classes Fun? 

Online classes that utilize technology well can be a fun change from the traditional classroom setting. When instructors keep classwork engaging and appropriate to the platform, it allows students to take a more self-directed approach to their learning. Many find this to be the preferred way to move forward with their education. 


5 Tips to Be Successful in Online Learning


As you prepare to step into the world of online learning, here are five tips to help you be successful. 


1. Set Goals for Yourself 

Before you begin your studies, determine what your goals will be. Set goals for the week, month, semester and school year, then work to attain each of those goals. Keep the goals realistic, but make sure they challenge you at the same time. 


2. Build a Strong Support Network 

You will need the support of your teachers and fellow students, but you will also need the support of your family and friends as you step into the role of a college student. Enlist support wherever you can and remember that your online education is a temporary situation. 


3. Set up a Comfortable Work and Study Space 

You need a dedicated place to do your schoolwork, even if you are working through an online program. Make it comfortable, but keep it organized and clean so you are not distracted when it’s time to get to work. 


4. Get Organized 

From turning in assignments on time to planning your weekly schedule to ensure your coursework is completed, you need to be well organized to succeed in online classes. Take time to get organized before you begin. 


5. Prepare for Hard Work 

Earning a degree is hard work, no matter the method. Online education does provide flexibility, but it is not the easy way out when it comes to college. College is supposed to be hard, so prepare for hard work. Give it your all and you will get the most out of it in the long run. 


If you are looking for a school that has a wide range of online degree programs, consider Metropolitan State University of Denver. With licensure programs, certificates, undergraduate programs, minors and graduate programs available entirely online, MSU Denver gives you the flexibility you need as you choose a school that is innovative and accessible. To learn more about our creative higher education programs, reach out to an admissions counselor for more information today. 


Want more? Read about an Air Force veteran working on her graduate degree while overseas.