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12 Tips for Success in Online Classes

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Whether you’re a first time e-learner or a veteran in the online space, I’m sure you understand that there’s more to online classes than just turning in the homework.  However, if you aren’t quite sure what all the aspects of online learning are, before you read this list, make sure you check out How Do Online Classes Work?  Then you can come back with enough foreknowledge to make the most of the following tips.

These 12 tips are designed to help you get the most out of your classes, regardless of your level or your technical understanding.  Take each one in turn, applying the principles to your personal situation, and you can be sure to achieve success in your online classes!


1. Manage Your Time

As an online student, there is perhaps no task more important than staying organized.  Because you are not constantly surrounded by people reminding you of the work you have to do, you have to take the initiative, and ensure all work is completed and all assignments turned in on time.

It is important to realize the importance of time management before you enter the virtual classroom.  Many students that are presented with the amount of freedom that an online education allows end up spending too much time on certain classes and assignments and too little on others.  The following steps will show you exactly how to keep track of your time and use it as efficiently as possible.

Create a Weekly Schedule

If a course you are taking doesn’t have a specific schedule to distribute the workload, it is a good idea to take it upon yourself to create one.  Make a schedule with clear times set aside for classwork.  It is best if this schedule is the same each week, as it shows you what your workload really looks like and gives you a heads up, so you know what to expect each day.

Plan Out the Semester

After laying out your regular (weekly) schedule, it’s time plan out the semester.  Using a calendar of some sort, lay out everything that is assigned for the class, from homework to group projects to tests.  Make sure that EVERYTHING is accounted for in this process because this will be your lifeblood for your online college career.  There are several ways you can approach this, depending on your personal preferences.  Two of those options are event-based (for you ‘planners’) and task-based (for you ‘list-makers’).


This is when apps like the Google Calendar come in handy.  Take every task that must be completed for the class and create an event for it, allotting a generous amount of time to ensure completion.  Note: These events are in addition to those already scheduled in the previous tip.


Move right down your list of assignments in the syllabus or other source.  Mark in events that already have a date/time assigned.  For assignments that have specific due dates, estimate the required time necessary to complete the assignment, and create events that will fulfill that time requirement, allowing you to complete the assignment by the due date, provided you actually work during those times. Note: Always leave a buffer for estimation error.  For tests and quizzes, the process is virtually the same, the difference being you are planning for study time instead of homework time.

After all events and assignments have been accounted for in your calendar, schedule in the assignments that have much more room for flexibility–such as those courses where the only due date is the last day of the semester.  Then, repeat the process on any remaining classes you may have.

Now, in order for this system to work, you have to be confident that your planner contains all the events of each day.  You must be thorough and put EVERYTHING in the calendar for each day, or this will simply become another step down the path to a stressful life.  If you can rely on your planner, you can relax your mind, knowing that everything will be taken care of if you simply follow what you wrote down.  This process seems tedious and restraining, but if you can maintain the self discipline to hold yourself to it, you can accomplish great things and tackle massive workloads, while still having free time to spare.


RTM ScreenshotIf you are someone who loves making lists, this is the strategy for you.  In order to approach your education in this way, you will need a planner–either the physical, paper kind or an app, such Remember the Milk for iPhone.  This typically works best with an actual planner because of the way it splits up all your tasks and is easy to take in visually.  This technique also works well when supplemented by the event-based approach.

After you have picked your method of choice, begin with the first course on your list.  Find all the assignments and tests.  Instead of writing the times of each event, write down simply what must be done each day.  Events that have a specific time allocated to them may be placed in a separate location such as the Sunrise Calendar iPhone app.

For tests/quizzes, start with the day before the event.  Create a task, saying something along the lines of “Study – Quiz Tomorrow!”.  Then move back one day at a time, adding in tasks to study, until you feel confident that you can master the exam material within the allotted study time.

Note: When adding in tasks, set up a priority scheme, with at least 3 levels of priority, such as in this example:

  1. Would be helpful to complete today (Written in pencil or colored in blue)
  2. Must be completed today (Written in pen or colored in green)
  3. My life is over if this isn’t done tomorrow! (Written in PEN AND HIGHLIGHTED or colored in red)

The process looks very similar for assignments.  Only, instead of creating tasks for study time, simply make them for homework time.  Set these tasks as early in the semester as possible to make sure you knock them out with extra time to spare.  This relieves stress and gives you more time to better prepare in other areas.

As you progress through the course, make changes, be flexible, and make sure what you have written down is accurate.  Just like with the event-based style, if you can learn to rely on your planner, you can alleviate even more stress from your daily life by writing everything down and letting your planner do the ‘worrying’.

Actual application of the planner is simple, once it has been set up correctly.  Each day, look at that day in your planner, and you will see in front of you every task that must be completed that day.  All you have to do at that point is do it.

Set Your Priorities

When making decisions about what to work on and when, priorities can play a key role.  They help determine what should be done first, and you should always take care of high priority items first.  Always remember that priority will change with proximity to the due date.  Listen closely for any cues from your instructor about how they feel about priorities.  Oftentimes, this is subtle, but remember you can always ask if you’re not sure.  These opinions can play a strong part in your success as a student, so try to make your own priorities reflect those of the professor, in regards to schoolwork.


2. Prepare Your Computer

Confirm the Technical Requirements

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 10.58.45 AMWhen looking into what classes to take, it’s always a good idea to make sure the computer and software you have are compatible with all the requirements of the course.  If you have more questions about this, before joining a course, check out the resource on how online classes work for the section on Requirements.

Know Your School’s Recommended Software

Avoid headaches later on in the course, when time is of the essence, by looking up the recommended software before the course starts.  Included in this software list should be the internet browser that is recommended for your program and courses.  As this is the primary means of connecting to your course materials, it is essential that you use the correct browser.  A fully supported program can mean the world of difference when so much time is spent inside it.  If the software information is not listed with the course info, you can find it by contacting either the IT department or college’s support line.

Test Your Internet Connection

Part of your success in online education depends on your ability to connect to the internet, for viewing lecture videos, listening to instructional material, and participating in group conversations via forums and discussion boards.  Slow internet is one sure way to kill your productivity.  Make sure your connection can handle the demands of your courses.  You can easily test your internet connection by streaming a movie online.  If you don’t have any issues with lagging or waiting for the video to load, you should be fine.  However, if the video has trouble loading, pauses often to buffer, or cuts in and out, you might need to consider investing in a faster internet connection.


3. Utilize the Latest Technology

Get a Skype Account

Skype is a free application used to video chat with people over the internet.  Not only is Skype a good way to connect with professors, it is becoming an increasingly more integral part of today’s job market, including interviews.  Those that don’t have a Skype account or are unfamiliar with the program are put at a disadvantage to those who can utilize it’s full capabilities.  Face-to-face connection is vital to establish        many aspects of what makes a relationship real, and Skype uses that principal to give you a head start in the world of technology that we live in today.

Use Mobile Apps

If you own a smartphone, yet don’t use it for your classes, you are wasting a valuable resource.  There are so many apps you can use to take full advantage of these amazing pieces of technology.  Oftentimes, colleges will offer an app that you can download to keep track of discussions, course materials, and schedules while away from your computer.  There are many other apps as well, some of which were mentioned in the “Make a plan” section of this article.  Here are some other great iPhone apps that can help you succeed in your online courses:evernote

  • Evernote – An all-in-one note-taking app that combines tasks and projects with text and audio notes, making it a one-stop shop for study management.
  • OneNote – One of the most organized note systems out there.  It started with the desktop version, but now includes mobile, making it easy to write notes and access immediately on any device.
  • Dropbox – A quick and easy way to store files in the cloud, making them accessible from the web or on any device with Dropbox installed.
  • Flipboard – News, personalized and organized.  It’s a great way to stay up-to-date with the world around you.  Flipboard is also very helpful when you need to make discussion board posts about current events.
  • Wolfram Alpha – A collection of apps that can wolfram_swizzhelp you compute just about anything, from Multivariable Calculus to the number of licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.


Download a Reference Manager

It’s no secret that college involves a LOT of research.  You will write a lot of papers and work on a lot of projects.  Many of these require sources that you must cite, using a format such as APA or MLA.  You have a choice to make:  Do you want to…

  1. Manually type out every word of your references page by flipping back and forth between your source and the document, or…zotero
  2. Use a free program to manage the data for all your sources (some of which is collected automatically) and instantly generate a properly formatted works cited page.  Some of these reference managers can even be fully integrated into your browser to add websites at the click of a button manage your entire reference collection from one window.

Use the Resources Available to You

You don’t have to be limited by the way you were brought up or how they did things when you were in grade school.  Technology has come a long way in recent past, so take it and run with it.

  • youtube tutorialIf flash cards are your thing, look up online flash cards for a quicker, easier more efficient way to study.
  • If you enjoy reading away from the computer, download documents (or print as PDFs) and transfer them to an e-reader.
  • If you need help on a specific assignment but can’t reach the instructor, search YouTube for tutorials or access one of the many online studying and tutor sites made for people like you.

Don’t place a limit on what you can achieve by assuming there is only one way to approach it.  The internet is a vast database of people finding new ways to do things; you just need to tap into that resource.

Back Up Your Data

This almost goes without saying.  Nevertheless, always back up your data!  Save often, and use whatever methods necessary to keep multiple copies in multiple locations.  Some options for backup:

  • Use a dedicated external hard drive for regular backup of your entire computer or a specific folder within it ($50-100).
  • Keep copies of all your course documents and files on a dedicated flash drive ($5-30).
  • Use a cloud storage service to back up all the data for your classes ($0-10 per month).


4. Participate


What goes around, comes around, and that is all the more applicable to this situation, as so many of your classmates will be in similar situations but with very different backgrounds.  Aside from the rest of the internet, a major resource is your class.  Speak up, and use that resource to help others or draw from the knowledge base of many of your classmates.  Share with them your tips, helps, and questions.  Become a part of the community and you will quickly see the benefits when it comes time to ask a question.

Speaking up about the class, adding valuable input can also help you stand out from the crowd.  When you give your insight on a topic, it not only helps to keep the class interesting, but it engages the other students, spurring critical thinking and developed replies.  These kind of quality statements and questions are not easily forgotten by your peers and instructors.

Think Before Pushing ‘Send’

However, be mindful of what you are putting out on the internet.  Even if there is a Delete button, be careful how you phrase things because written communication can be so easily misinterpreted.  This is the downside to standing out from the crowd. Because you cannot set the mood by using your tone of voice, it is important to word your messages in a way that is not easily misconstrued.

Remember: Users Are People Too

That second look before hitting the ‘Send’ button is all the more important in tough times.  Everyone has those moments when you’re just fed up, when the world seems to be against you, and you just don’t want to deal with people for awhile.  This is precisely when you are confronted with that snide remark from a classmate, regarding your opinion on a topic.  STOP.  Take a deep breath.  Relax, and respond (if necessary) to the person in a calm, sincere manner.

Perhaps the issue isn’t a rude user but an instructor that is being uncooperative or simply unhelpful.  Before aggressively demanding your way, take a moment and remember: users are people too.  Even if you never have an in-person encounter with one of them, your classmates and instructors are on the other end of the web, thinking many of the same thoughts, having many of the same feelings as you.  They aren’t some mindless program, built to make your life miserable.  They are human beings and should be treated as such.

Be Patient

We are dealing with rather slow forms of communication here.  Now that smartphones are everywhere, email communications–among others–have sped up significantly.  However, it is important to understand that the instructor has to sort through all the messages from all his students, and yours is just one of the pile until he/she gets to it.  Responses can sometimes take more than a day, so plan accordingly.  Do not procrastinate until the last minute because in an emergency, you might not be able to contact anyone before it’s too late.

Be Persistent

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While it is important to be patient, it may take a few attempts to get through to someone.  It can be tough trying to make contact, but persist in your participation because your success depends on it.  That is why so many online instructors put a grade on participation–they see the value in it.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Many instructors appreciate this and will go out of their way to help you succeed.


5. Network

With all this interaction, you are bound to start to get to know some people.  Hang on to these connections because you will eventually see the value in them.  Genuine relationships are key to success in life for many reasons, and when in need of a job or recommendation letter, these people will be the ones to help you get where you need to be.

Connect With Instructors Early

There will be times in your online courses when you feel like you are struggling and can’t seem to keep up.  There will be other times when you don’t understand why the work you do doesn’t seem to be up to the professor’s standards.  It is in these times when it is good to have a previously-existing, educational relationship with your instructor.  The groundwork you lay for this relationship, early on in the course helps, in times of need, to bridge the student-instructor gap, getting you the help and answers you need in the most positive way possible.  Most instructors are happy to help out all their students, but just like with anything, there will always be those people that you can’t seem to connect with.  Those same professors are often the teachers of the classes that provide the biggest challenges.  However, you can prepare yourself for those classes before the issues happen by reaching out to the instructor, getting to know them, and opening the door for future problems that may arise.

Find Study Partners

Look for those people that can help you succeed in your classes.  Together you can study for tests, ask each other for help with homework, remind about upcoming deadlines, and just talk about whatever it is you’re going through.  If nothing else, going through tough times together is one of the surest ways to create lasting friendships.


6. Study

Let’s face it, in college you have to study in order to succeed.  You’ll be thanking yourself if you take the time to figure this out sooner, rather than later.  Follow these suggestions to make sure you’re using the correct techniques and creating good study habits.

Play to Your Strengths

If you don’t know your learning style, find out what it is, now.  Once you know how you learn the best, you can use that information to create a school-work and study regimen that gives you optimum results.  If you are a visual learner, use flashcards and video tutorials to really help sink in.  If you are more of an auditory learner, record yourself saying key phrases and words to play them back for yourself.  If you are a tactile learner, use hands-on activities, such as tracing words with your finger.  However, regardless of your learning style, find the combination of techniques that works for you and stick with it.

Read Materials a Second Time

In your study-time, don’t forget that one of the keys to understanding is multiple readings, taking the subject one line at a time.  This applies to all learning styles because it’s all about repetition.  Blazing through chapters two weeks before the test and never looking at them again is a sure way to end up with scores that are less than satisfactory.  Return to the same material as often as possible to ensure maximum retention.

Don’t expect to know everything

You can expect that there will be many times when things don’t seem to make sense right off the bat.  Studying multiple times over the same material really help it sink in.  It’s important not to be discouraged at these times, even if no one else seems to be struggling with the topic.  Everyone learns and understands things at different rates, so be prepared to grasp some topics really well and others not as much.

Print Study Pages

You will be spending enough time in front of a screen during other activities.  Print studying material to review away from the computer.  This eases the burden on your eyes and frees you up to enable studying on the go.  It also keeps you away from the temptation of browsing the web or completing other unnecessary tasks on the computer. If you prefer–as mentioned earlier in this article–you can always choose to save the files on an E-reader or tablet instead.  The name of the game is flexibility, and distance ed is a master at it.


Because of the nature of online courses, your instructor will most likely spend less time teaching, and more time helping you find the information you need to succeed.  Of course there are still lectures of a sort, but much more of your time will be spent reading than in a normal classroom setting.  It is your job to make sure you stay ahead of your classes, and in order to do that, you will need to read up on the various areas of the course.

Don’t simply glance over the syllabus and required reading material.  The professor is there to help you, and the readings they assign are a part of that help.  Take advantage of it early on, so you can have the upper hand and avoid playing catch-up, being forced to ask your classmates what’s going on in the class.


7. Prepare for Each Course BEFOREHAND

Review the Documentation

Review the help files and documentation regarding your classes and apps.  If you don’t understand something, read up on it.  This goes back to the tip on reading.  If you don’t like it, online college might not be for you–but hopefully you already knew that.  Help files are there for a reason, and you can learn so much just by browsing through them.  This could be for an app you are using for a class, a discussion board or forum, or any of the apps mentioned in this article.  Learn about them before the class starts so you can take full advantage of all that has been offered to you.

Familiarize Yourself With the Layout

user interfaceBefore the class starts, get familiar with the layout of the course’s homepage.  Web applications can sometimes be odd and less than user-friendly, so when the work starts, don’t add to it by ignorance of the interface.

Purchase all Required Materials

Required materials are required for a reason.  Purchasing them is one of the most important steps to achieve success in online classes because they hold much of the information the courses are based on, and typically are necessary to complete many of the classes’ assignments.  It’s true that textbooks can be a substantial financial burden, but you can save hundreds of dollars by buying them used online.  Just find out the ISBN number of the textbook and search for it on any of the many websites that sell used textbooks.


8. Be Diligent in Your Coursework

Check in Daily

Part of staying on top of your classes involves being able to react with time to spare.  Anything could be posted at any time, and you need to be ready to respond quickly and efficiently.

Check Your Email

How else are you going to get important announcements, many of which could be time sensitive?  The best way to handle this is to set up notifications for yourself whenever you get emails.  This can either be done through a mobile device, web browser plugin/extension, or desktop app.  If you aren’t notified for each new email, or if you tend to ignore notifications, it is vital to your college success that you check AT LEAST once a day to ensure you don’t miss last-minute updates.

Try it Yourself, First

It is incredible how much quicker you will learn if you find the answers on your own.  Answers that are provided by another are taken for granted and the brain doesn’t soak it in quite like when you work hard to find the answer.  This is especially applicable to mathematics, in regards to solving those tough equations.  Put the effort in, and you will reap the rewards.

Get Ahead of the Assigned Work

One of the quickest ways to find yourself needing to drop out of your online courses is to get behind.  You cannot afford fall behind in a distance learning situation.  The obvious way to avoid this is to stay ahead of schedule.  You can do this by following Tip #1 on this page and making sure you complete every assignment by your self-made due date.

Have a Consistent Workspace

consistent workspace

While one of the perks of distance ed is flexibility, it is important to realize that most people typically learn best when their environment and schedule are both consistent.  When you try to work in a new space, it is like starting from scratch; you have to take the time and effort to refocus yourself and get back to the mindset of productivity that comes naturally with a workspace dedicated to classwork.  Avoid this step by being consistent in your study habits, removing yourself from all distractions.


9. Keep at It

Online education is set up in a way that simply will not work without a lot of effort on your part.  You get out of it what you put in, so why would you do anything but your absolute best?  This is your opportunity to create a lasting career and incredible future for yourself, so make it count.  Only you can determine the results.

Stay Motivated

Remember that you’re in this for the long haul.  It takes time to earn a degree, and sometimes it might not seem like that degree is worth it, but just remember what you’re doing it for and the feeling you had when you decided to apply for online schooling.  Remember that there will always be good days and bad days.  You can make it through, just don’t give up.

Don’t Give Up

You have to believe in yourself and believe that you can achieve success in order to achieve it.  A mind set on failure is destined for one thing, and it’s not success.  If you ever begin to doubt yourself again, remember that moment when you felt like you could succeed.  That was when you were right.  That was when you saw what you are truly capable of.  If you follow that path, you can succeed.  Fight to the end, don’t give up, and you will forever thank yourself for the results.

10. Don’t Overwork Yourself

Be Mindful of Your Course Load

This is another step that can be taken care of by following Tip #1.  Plan out your semester in advance to determine if you can handle the workload.  Remember the other life events that may not be scheduled in this planner, as the combined workload may be too much for you to handle healthily.

Maintain a Proper Balance Between Family and School

At the same time, pay attention to the amount of time this will take you away from your family.  Consider this when picking out classes and when you’re scheduling and planning out work times.  An improper balance between school and family can lead to a sure downfall in both areas, so taking care to manage both correctly is vital to success in your classes as well as your family life.

Quit the Right Way

There may come a time when you need to drop a class or take a break for a year.  Do yourself a favor and quit the right way.  Follow the steps to legitimately do this because the scars left on your record from failing are permanent.  Don’t just give up or stop signing in to class.  The extra effort will be worth it in the end.


11. Take Care of Your Finances

Paying for school may not seem like it would make much of a difference to your success as a student, but think about all that is required to add a new bill to the mix.  Perhaps you would have to work more hours or cut back in certain areas of spending.  Both can easily result in higher levels of stress, as well as less time to focus on schoolwork.  It is important to make sure that your financial situation is under control BEFORE getting involved in online education.  There are a few ways you can get help with this process.

Take Advantage of Financial Aid

The federal government offers many grants, loans, and tax breaks to help people like you pay for college.  Fill out the FAFSA, do a scholarship search, and fill out any applications you need to, so you can lessen the burden of tuition, particularly while in college.  Most federal loans are not required to be paid back at all while enrolled in school.  This way, you can put your entire focus on your schooling, without worrying about how you’ll pay the next school bill.

Don’t be careless with loans, though, as they can quickly add up.  Assess how much you can handle by comparing expected loan payments with a low estimate of post-graduation income.  After this, take what loans you can, up to what you can handle, and fill out the rest with scholarships and out-of-pocket payments.

Ask Your Employer for Help

Oftentimes, employers are more than happy to assist financially with schooling when the result is a better, more educated employee.  If you are a valuable asset to the company, they can understand the benefits it would bring to increase your knowledge, critical thinking abilities, and connections.


12. Don’t Plagiarise or Commit Other Violations

Never do these things.  Ever.


What are your thoughts on this?  Let us know in the comments below.  It was quite a bit to take in, but perhaps you’re feeling inspired, like you can take on the world.  If that’s the case, try out a free online course.  Or maybe you just really want to learn what online courses are all about.  Regardless, please take these suggestions seriously, as it could mean the difference between an expensive waste of your time and complete success in your online courses.  You can do it.  You have the resources; now you just have to put in the effort.

How Do Online Classes Work?

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More than likely, one of the questions you had after first learning about online education was, “How do online classes work?”  While there is a massive variety of ways this question could be answered, including “many different ways, depending on a lot of factors”, chances are, you would like a straightforward answer about what you can generally expect.  That is what you will find here.


  1. Computer access.  The most important tool in online learning is a computer.  This can be your own or a public computer such as at a library, but you must be able to use it for as much as 8 hours in a single day.  Note that library computers probably won’t be able to fit all your time in, so be wary if that is your only option.  You’ll need to make sure that it can handle the type of use that comes from these courses, but more than likely, if you have a computer that is less than 4 years old, you already meet all the computer and software requirements.  If you have an older computer or simple want to make sure you won’t run into any problems, here are the system requirements you’ll need to meet in order to receive the full experience:
    1. Mac OS [1]
      1. Intel Core™ Duo 1.83GHz or faster processor
      2. Mac OS X 10.6, 10.7, 10.8, or 10.9
      3. 512MB of RAM; 128MB of graphics memory
      4. Sound card [2]
      5. CD/DVD drive(s) or player(s) (not often required but a good idea to have just in case) [2]
      6. Software requirements:
        1. One of the following internet browsers: Safari 5.0 or later, Mozilla Firefox 17 or Google Chrome
        2. Email (from a reliable provider such as Gmail or Live mail)
        3. A word processing program (Microsoft Word, Pages, OpenOffice)
        4. In addition to the software listed above, on some occasions, you will be required to download specific software to help with your coursework.  Provided you meet the Mac OS requirements, you should have no problem running this software.
    2. Windows [1]
      1. 2.33GHz or faster x86-compatible processor, or Intel® Atom™ 1.6GHz or faster processor for netbooks
      2. Microsoft® Windows® XP (32 bit), Windows Server 2008 (32 bit), Windows Vista® (32 bit), Windows 7 (32 bit and 64 bit), Windows 8 (32 bit and 64 bit), or Windows Server 2012 (64 bit)
      3. 512MB of RAM (1GB of RAM recommended for netbooks); 128MB of graphics memory
      4. Software requirements:
        1. One of the following internet browsers: Internet Explorer 7.0 or later, Mozilla Firefox 17 or later or Google Chrome
        2. In addition to the browsers listed above, on some occasions, you will be required to download specific software to help with your coursework.  Provided you meet the Windows requirements, you should have no problem running this software.
  2. Internet access.  This is a fairly obvious requirement but necessary nonetheless.  You’ll need to use the internet for a good amount of time–no less than 1 hour per day, 5 days a week–so you should make sure you can have a reliable source for your internet needs.  Here are some options that should do the job:
    1. Home network (this is the best option, provided it’s decent quality…not dial-up)
    2. Public WiFi networks like those in coffee shops, McDonald’s, and Panera
    3. Public computers such as in a library.
  3. Skills. There are some computer skills that are necessary for online education, but don’t worry.  If you made it here safely and by yourself, you’ll be just fine.  But, just for your peace of mind, here is a list of some of the things you’ll need to be able to do:
    1. “Navigate the Internet with a web browser.
    2. Use email and send attachments proficiently.
    3. Download and install plug-ins.
    4. Create files and folders.
    5. Use a word processing program: Microsoft Word is strongly recommended.
    6. Save word processing documents as Rich Text Format (.rtf).” [2]


One of the most appealing factors of online education is the ability to learn from virtually anywhere.  Since most classes don’t require your attendance at the hosting school at any point throughout the course, there is no need to be anywhere near the school’s location.  One thing to keep in mind, though, is that there are a few schools that require an in-person orientation, but these are few and far between, with the distance growing consistently.  Much more commonly, you will sometimes be required to take exams at any college or university, so that you can be monitored by a proctor–this is expounded upon below.

Flexibility, Scheduling, and Assignments

This topic is discussed in great detail, pertaining to its benefits, in the article Flexible Scheduling, as well as briefly on the Benefits of Online Education page.  However, this article will focus on the logistics of it all. In most online classes, there is no direct attendance policy.  There are no specific times you need to be anywhere.  The only requirements relating to that are just to get your work done by the due date.  It is because of this that many people are able to attend school full time online and hold a full-time job or raise a family.  Typically courses are split up into modules which may be every week or every two weeks.  Within each module you will have required work to complete such as viewing lectures, participating in discussions, reading texts, doing tests and papers, and completing homework assignments, turning them in via email.  Provided that you have enough hours to complete your work and study time, it doesn’t matter where those hours are placed throughout the module. [4]  In some cases the only deadline will be the end of the semester, but unless you have amazing self control, I suggest avoiding these.  You should always check as soon as possible to see the schedule of each class you sign up and also look for any scheduled dates to see if they will be an issue. While flexibility can be a huge benefit, don’t forget to consider the consequences.  Without a clear plan of action, dedication, and some quiet time, your schoolwork can easily pile up into an unmanageable burden.

Time Commitment

With all that being said about the flexibility of online learning, the obvious next question is, “How much time does it take?”  The answer: a lot.  Oftentimes, online classes take more time overall than face-to-face classes, especially if all the lectures are text-based (discussed below).  To cut to the chase, you can expect around 8 hours of study time per class per week.  This depends on a lot of factors, such as the difficulty of the class, how many credits it is, and your personal learning style.  If you think of it this way, you can take an average full-time schedule, being around 15 credits and 5 classes (3 credits each).  8×5=40 hours per week.  That is the same amount of time that you would be spending at a full time job.  Are you ready for that sort of commitment? [3] The beauty of online education is that you can easily choose between any reasonable number of classes.  If you aren’t capable of adding on another 40 hours per week into your schedule, maybe you could try taking a part-time load, such as 3 classes.  If you work on your schoolwork 7 days a week, that’s only about 3.5 hours per day that you have to add on. One final thing to consider is that online classes are sometimes accelerated, taking semester-long classes and squeezing them into fewer weeks.  If you are ambitious by nature and enjoy a challenge, then you might appreciate this faster learning pace, but if this will be your first time in an online course, make sure to pay close attention to the length of the class, deciding for yourself if you can handle an accelerated rate. [3]


Possibly the biggest difference between traditional and online classes are the lectures.  Traditional lectures consist of a classroom, professor, and students, all together at once, physically sharing the same area, with face-to-face communication possible. Online lectures, on the other hand, are all through the web with no need for face-to-face communication.  These lectures can be text, video, audio, or any combination of those three.  Typically part of the school work is experiencing the lecture, as well as participating in group discussion, in some cases.  Another option is to have the lectures be more of an aid to help in your studies, and not required.

Quizzes, Tests, and Exams

Most quizzes, tests, and exams are taken online.  Where schools–or even individual courses–differ is in the details of how this happens.  There are many variables when taking tests/quizzes online, such as whether or not it is timed, how it is taken, i.e. a web application, and how it is scored. When tests are taken through a web application, they are often scored immediately and sometimes even display your results just as soon as you finish. [5] For the exams that must be taken on-campus, the general rule is that, provided you can find an eligible proctor to monitor you as you work, you can take the exam at virtually any college or university–sometimes even churches and grade schools are accepted.  These tests are typically in the math and science departments, due to the kind of testing required. [5]

What’s Next?

Online education may be a difficult concept to grasp if you’re new to the idea, but hopefully you have been enlightened enough to consider the possibility of trying out an online class or two.  If you are interested, but wondering if it might be a good fit for you, after taking the quiz, Is Online Education Right for Me?, you should have a pretty good idea.  If instead, you are excited about the possibilities of learning online and can’t wait to get started, the next place for you to visit is one of the Online Degrees pages to see if you can earn a degree in an area that you are passionate about.  From there, you can also see what schools offer that degree.  Regardless of where you go from here, make the most of your opportunities, seeking to succeed in everything you do!

[2]Victor Valley College
[4]Accelerated Degrees
[5]Cayuga Community College
[6]Integrated Learning Platform

Disadvantages of Online Education

Note: This site has been archived and is no longer being updated, as of September, 2014.

No site should be completely biased in one direction.  It is absolutely vital to see and understand topics from every possible angle, in order to make the most educated decision.  Therefore, here are the top disadvantages of online education.

  1. Lack of face-to-face interaction.  Vital for growth in the type of communication most commonly experienced in the workplace, the face-to-face interaction that is a daily–if not hourly–occurrence at a traditional post-secondary facility is seldom encountered in online learning environments.  Most communication is done through the barrier of your computer screen and as many as thousands of miles.  It is difficult to work on traditional communication without experiencing it on a regular basis.  This also has a negative effect on professional networking; less of a connection is made when that connection exists only over the internet.  Those people you get to know in your classes, who could possibly be future employers, coworkers, or references, are slightly distanced by never (or rarely) meeting them in person.
  2. Flexible scheduling.  While this exists on the page of top benefits, it also belongs here, because we are after all, human.  The freedom to work by your own schedule is not a power many people can handle responsibly.  As mentioned in the benefit titled “Self-discipline”, pushing yourself to get your work done on time can do great things for your personal focus and control.  However, it requires a certain level of self-discipline to get started down that path of growth.  If you are the type of person who simply does what they want, whenever they want, online college may not be the best fit for you.  Chances are, the end of the semester will come around and when you realize you have done none of your homework, a minor panic attack may ensue. [1]
  3. Never leave your comfort zone.  While some may see this as a good thing, it is very important to stretch yourself in order to grow.  The “No Fear” benefit from the Additional Benefits page has a few negative side-effects.  Never stretching yourself by publicly speaking and asking questions leaves you not in the same place, but further back into your shell that seems so safe and cozy.  Now, if you are an extravert who never struggles with this, you can skip to number 4, but more than likely there is at least some fear of public speaking inside of you.  The tough part is overcoming that fear through exposure, much of which does not naturally occur in an online university. [1]
  4. Miss out on the “real college experience”.  A simple, but important disadvantage, if you don’t spend your undergrad years in a dormitory with your collegiate peers, you miss out on what could possibly be some of the best years of your life.  Much of the time, people leave after high school and never see most of their friends again.  However, after college is a different story.  The friends you spend four of your prime years with away from home often become some of your best friends.

While some of these disadvantages of online education aren’t much in the way of measurable statistics, they aren’t something to be glossed over.  Consider every angle in your search for the ideal undergraduate education, as it will set you in a direction for the rest of your life, regardless of whether or not you end up in a field relevant to your degree.

[1]Montgomery College

Additional Benefits of Online Education

Note: This site has been archived and is no longer being updated, as of September, 2014.

In case the Top 9 Benefits weren’t enough to satisfy your curiosity, the following is a list of some additional benefits of online education.  These happen to be the less well known or less impacting benefits, but they are still powerful enough that you should consider them when making your decisions.

  1. 24/7 access. In an online course, as long as you have access to the internet, you have access to the course materials.  In traditional classes, you have limited access to course materials based on what you have with you and whether or not the instructor’s office is open–although this is fading out rapidly, due to online applications such as Blackboard and Joule. [1]
  2. Increased communication skills.  In essence, over the course of your degree/courses, you will get better at effective communication through technology, and this is a highly valued skill by employers. [2]  Communication is one of the most important ‘soft’ skills you can have as an employee. [5] It is required in some form in every single job you will ever have.  While some positions require less human interaction, employers need to know that their instructions will be heard, understood, and carried out effectively.  On a more obvious note, many jobs require face-to-face interaction with customers; in which case it is absolutely crucial to have good communication skills, so as to give the customer the best experience possible.

    Studying Online
    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /
  3. Acting as a team player…virtually.  Virtual team participation on projects and online research is a regular part of online classes, much like with traditional schooling. Since the internet is becoming consistently more integrated into the working environment, the ability to efficiently work with others over long distances is increasingly more valued by employers.  This is one skill that you will want under your belt in the coming years. [3]
  4. Work & school.  A main reason online education is becoming popular at such a rapid rate is the ease at which you can take classes.  It allows you to keep your job while attending school.  Since you can stay at home while ‘attending’ class, it frees up time that would regularly have been spent driving to college.  When combined with the flexibility of online classes, as well as freedom to take as few classes as you wish, it leaves plenty of room for a full-time job.  This also is extremely helpful for people with families such as stay-at-home-moms. [4]
  5. No snow days.  Don’t worry about bad weather with online learning because you don’t have to go anywhere.  If you are ever concerned about hazardous driving conditions, then this benefit will be of great interest to you.  You won’t have to worry about fog, sleet, snow, ice, or simply going to your car in the cold (that last one is a ‘biggy’). [4]
  6. No fear. Online education also removes the fear of asking questions in front of the class because you have direct communication with the instructor. There is no need to announce your assumed ignorance to the class when you can ask the professor in private.  This way, you can have all of your questions answered, instead of avoiding speaking aloud and then not understanding the subject.  As a bonus, it builds a relationship with your instructor, and that is something that can be very beneficial on many points. [6]

Still wondering if you belong online or in a classroom?  Take this quick quiz to find out!  Otherwise, you can head straight over to start picking out a degree!

[2]Franklin University
[3]Diverse Education
[4]Open Education Database
[6]Montgomery College

Why Choose Online Education: The World At Your Fingertips

Note: This site has been archived and is no longer being updated, as of September, 2014.

If you are wondering why you should choose online education, the following article will give you an excellent example of one of the benefits.

In traditional schools, everything tends to shut down at the end of the workday, just about the time students start to study.  In online schools, you have a much greater access to all your resources.  Professors can be reached much easier after hours.  You also can schedule appointments online, quickly and easily.  Email, chat, and group discussions are all efficient ways to communicate with other classmates, as well as the instructors.  Tutoring is easy to set up.  Tech support is available much more often because of the nature of online education. [1]  Last, but definitely not least, you have access to infinite repetitions of the primary source (not your chicken-scratch notes). [2]

Image credit: thiagofest
Image courtesy of thiagofest / stock.xchng

Colleges everywhere are becoming more and more integrated with the world wide web.  However, there are still those professors who refuse to use anything related to a computer, so all your assignments, papers, syllabi, etc. are transferred via hard-copy alone.  What happens if you can’t seem to locate your copy of the instructions for a major paper, the night before it is due?  In online education, this is never a problem.  Everything is online, so provided you have internet, you have your instructions (but if you’d stop procrastinating until the night before, maybe this wouldn’t be a problem in the first place).

In addition, because online classes are available from virtually anywhere, you can choose to only take classes that are relevant to your degree or field of interest.  Furthermore, you can pick and choose each class.  Of course, you would have to apply to multiple schools and worry about all the admissions trouble, but once you’re in, it is very easy to take online courses from multiple schools.  [3]

If you are interested in learning more about the whole process of taking online courses, check out the resource, How Do Online Classes Work?, for an in-depth look at the ins and outs of these online classes.

[2]Diverse Education
[3]Open Education Database

Why Choose Online Education: It’s Cheaper

Note: This site has been archived and is no longer being updated, as of September, 2014.

Bottom line: college is expensive. Especially if you attend a traditional college or university. A good reason for why to choose online education is it can potentially be much cheaper. First off, tuition for online universities is often cheaper than traditional universities’ tuition. To make things sweeter, if you take all your classes online, there is virtually no gas, no additional parking or auto expenses, and cheaper meals (if handled correctly). [1]

To break it down a bit, let us begin with tuition.  For the 2012-2013 school year, average cost of tuition for a public college/university was around $22,000/year, while private schools averaged at $43,000/year. [2]  On the other side of things, an average online school year could cost around $15,000 in tuition. [3]

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott /
Image courtesy of Michael Elliott /

Taking class online eliminates auto expenses associated with higher education, provided you have internet access in your home.  A commuter can spend as much as $400/month on gas alone.  We could stop right there, that sounds like reason enough.  However, there can also be additional parking fees, not to mention the general day-to-day abuse your vehicle undergoes when driving to, from, and around the campus.

Food can be a very large expense regardless of your situation, but if you handle it properly, you can cut it down to a manageable size.  This process is much more difficult if you are eating every single meal in the university cafeteria, as many people do.  Those meals can cost upwards of $7 a piece.  If, instead you buy your own groceries and prepare your own meals, like in an internet schooling situation, you can cut that cost down far below that.

Needless to say, choosing to study online can be quite a bit cheaper.  Consider this while making your decision, but don’t make it the only factor.  There are many things that go into something as serious as a degree, and you should be aware of as many as possible.  For the other side of the coin, check out some of the Disadvantages of Online Education.

[2]College Data

Why Choose Online Education: Flexible Scheduling

Note: This site has been archived and is no longer being updated, as of September, 2014.

Another main reason why people choose online education is that your schedule can be infinitely flexible.   Rather than scheduling your classes for specific times each day, you “attend” the class when it’s convenient for you (provided you get all the work done on time).  [1]

Let’s go into a little more detail on how this works.  In many online classes, the instructor will post the assignments, due dates, and resources online.  They will also have regular lessons which may or may not be required for you view.  These lessons can take the form of videos, presentations, or audio, as well as other, less common options.  It is your job to complete the assignments on time.  You rarely have to check in at a specific time like in a traditional classroom.  Sometimes attendance is taken through participation in group discussions [1], based on topics covered in class, but as long as you complete it on time, you can do that whenever is most convenient for you.

Something can be said for the ability to learn at your own pace.  If you take courses the traditional way, you had better be able to either absorb everything the first time it’s spewed at you or take notes well enough to help you understand everything later.  However, online, you can wait until an opportune time when you are mentally ready to learn, and then go through the lesson as fast or slow as you desire.  This control of the tempo of learning can greatly decrease anxiety, while increasing understanding and in the end, your grades. [2]

Because almost everything is always available for your viewing, it is often possible to work at your own schedule, meaning you can work ahead if you desire.  This can be particularly desirable if there is a vacation or business trip coming up, and you want to get all work out of the way beforehand.  Many instructors will even allow you to turn in the assignments early, leaving you schoolwork-free for those days. [3]

Online education as a whole is all about flexibility from every aspect, and it is most evident in the way that you can plan your schooling around your pre-existing schedule and not the other way around.  Take a look at How Do Online Classes Work? for a more detailed look at how these processes pan out.

[2]Franklin University
[3]Open Education Database