How Does Online Schooling Work?
The structure of online courses work a lot like on-campus courses. You'll have required readings or lectures along with online classroom discussions and subsequent exams or essays.
Importantly, online college classes work by utilizing software known as a learning management system (LMS). These applications host, administer, record, and report all of the content contained in a college course. Schools each use an LMS to assess a student's understanding of a subject by funneling lessons and tests through this digital system. Think of it like the hub of your education. Teachers can film lectures through video conferencing, administer tests, generate grade reports, and collaborate directly with students.
An LMS contains the same curricula and the same instructors as a school's on-campus counterparts. Therefore, you will earn the same education and diploma.
The Format of Online Classes
To understand how online classes really work, you need to first know the differences between asynchronous and synchronous coursework:
Asynchronous classes mostly refer to remote learning where teachers upload course lessons and lectures onto a digital learning platform. Then, you can engage with these materials on your own schedule. Keep in mind, you'll still have to adhere to deadlines for homework and tests.
Synchronous classes, on the other hand, are more akin to traditional learning, with set start and end times that you must be present for. The table below will further explain the differences between these two learning formats.
Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Classes
How Long Are College Classes?
The length of college classes depends on several factors, including the course level, how many credits it's worth, and if you're taking it during a normal semester or as a summer class. In general, however, college classes range from 50 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes long.
The same applies to online classes that are taken through an LMS. However, online learning can give you more flexibility by allowing you to finish classes at your own pace.
Examples of Typical Assignments
LMS platforms are extremely versatile.
- As a student, you may be asked to take a test which contains a variety of question formats, including multiple choice, true or false, fill in the blank, or mathematical operations.
- Essays are another typical assignment, where you are presented with a question or topic and must write your response at-length. These long-form assignments may require you to upload images, add attachments, or even create a powerpoint presentation.
- There are also discussion forums available on most LMSs, where students and teachers can engage with one another in an ongoing conversation.
What Is a Good Computer for Taking Online College Courses?
Both Windows and Mac can run popular LMS software, like Blackboard and Canvas. Advances in technology have made personal computers more than capable of operating LMS software for taking an online course. In fact, many colleges offer free laptops or tablets to remote students who are enrolled in online programs. Manufacturers, such as Acer, make affordable laptops for remote learning, including the Acer Swift 3 and the Acer Chromebook Spin 713. The 2020 Macbook Air is also a strong option if you want to take advantage of its powerful hardware and affordability, as compared to more expensive Macbook Pro models. Keep in mind, if you opt for a tablet, such as an iPad, you may encounter limitations due to browser or tool incompatibility. For this reason, laptops are a much better option.
Are Online Classes Easier?
Online classes are not inherently easier than in-person classes. However, they may fit the learning styles of some students more than studying in a physical classroom. If you experience social anxiety or test anxiety, for example, you may find that remote learning isn't as challenging. Plus, given the flexibility of asynchronous classes, you may feel better about meeting your classroom requirements. As mentioned above, taking online courses means completing the same coursework and passing the same exams as on-campus courses.
What If I Need Help With an Online Class?
If you need help with taking an online class, it's best to take advantage of the resources your school offers.
Remote learning institutions often have 24/7 tech support services for enrolled students.
There's usually a help desk support system or dedicated email address where students can submit tickets and outline their problems. This allows you to troubleshoot your hardware and software issues anytime of the day or night.
Can Online Tests Detect Cheating?
Online tests are administered directly through an LMS. These systems have ways of detecting and preventing cheating during online tests. Blackboard, for example, utilizes the Respondus LockDown Browser system, which keeps users in full-screen mode and prevents students from utilizing right-click functions, such as copy and paste. Similarly, Canvas monitors exactly when a user has stopped viewing a question or left the page entirely.
In some cases, you'll be required to take a proctored exam. In the case of the edX LMS, this means the system will remotely monitor your desktop by having access to your microphone and webcam. All movement and data is recorded and reviewed to ensure the academic integrity of the test taker.
Is It Harder to Network With Peers?
For remote college students, networking is important when it comes to maintaining a social life and opening the door for future career opportunities. Given that Millennial and Gen Z students are very social media savvy, the issue of networking may not seem as difficult as you'd think for these distance learners.
According to data compiled by Digital Information World, 86% of college students are seeking new ways to socialize with peers since the pandemic. Services like Zoom and Google Classroom make it easier to network while studying remotely.
Should I Take Online Classes?
When considering whether to attend college online, it's important to think about the big picture of online learning and how it will coincide with your study habits. Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I confident that I can stay on track with minimal supervision?
- Will my college experience be as fulfilling without direct social interaction with my peers?
- Does my chosen college have an LMS that's available through mobile?
- Is internet speed going to be an issue for me?
It's also worth noting that online learners are less likely to graduate than traditional students. This is likely due to the informal schedules and lack of structure that comes with asynchronous learning. However, if you're confident in your stick-to-itiveness, then you might find that online learning offers many benefits and an online degree may be worth it after all.
What About In-person Requirements?
Some — albeit few — online degree programs require in-person learning via internships or residencies.
Nursing degrees, for example, require students to complete in-person clinical hours before graduating. Not only do these requirements come from the school, but state licensing boards require them as well. Typically, students must complete these hours at appropriate agencies in their community. Mechanical engineering is another such field, where students need in-person training during their program. As an example, schools may require a cooperative experience, which is an in-person internship that can be completed at an approved employer.
For both of these degrees, students need to coordinate with their instructors on which employers meet the program's requirements. Some schools require students to complete their internship within a certain number of miles of the school; others have lists of cooperating employers and organizations nationwide.
Things You Should Know Before Taking Online Classes
Whether you plan to take a single course to make up for lost credits, or complete an entire degree online, here are some important points you should consider before taking online classes:
- Online classes are widely available in a variety of fields.
- Online courses require students to pursue alternative ways of socializing.
- Some students may struggle with the lack of accountability that comes with studying remotely.
- Online classes use an LMS that administers tests and maintains accountability through deadlines and cheating prevention.
- Online degrees are just as respected as on-campus degrees.
- Synchronous classes feature more classroom engagement while asynchronous classes require mostly solitary learning.
- Online classes are heavily favored by adult learners and those who are switching careers.
Read our article about the steps you can take to prepare yourself for success with the first day of online classes.