How Do Online Classes Work? (2023)

How Do Online Classes Work? (1)

Whether you’re considering going back to school to start or to finish a degree, online courses are an appealing option, and you may be wondering how online college classes actually work.

How is Online Different Than Face-to-Face Classes?

You might be familiar with taking a college class in a face-to-face environment in a traditional college setting. The basic premise is still the same online; you’ll have a syllabus to introduce you to what the class – or course – is about and the competencies it will cover. You’ll also learn what materials are required for the course, the types of assignments to expect, grading information, the assignment schedule and academic policies.

Attending classes on campus may tie you to a traditional semester schedule, limiting opportunities to begin a degree program. Online classes may differ, offering term start datesyear-round. At Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), for example, there are 8-week terms for undergraduate classes and 10-week terms for graduate, allowing ample opportunities to enroll throughout the calendar year.

What Will Online Assignments Be Like?

Your assignments will be much like what you might expect or have experienced on campus, except they will be virtual. Rather than an in-class discussion, you’ll use online forums for discussion posts and responses. There may be readings and other resource materials, along with quizzes, academic papers, presentations and other assignments pertinent to specific areas of study.

(Video) Online Classes: A Survival Guide

A vast array of resource materials is available through a virtual library, and quite often with 24/7 chat assistance.

Will Online Classes Be Flexible?

A big difference is that you won’t be attending your online college class at a defined time each week. Instead, you’ll have the flexibility to do coursework when it makes sensefor you within the framework of the course schedule.

For instance, at SNHU, courses in online degree programsare broken out by week-long modules with due dates clearly defined each week. You may choose to complete all assignments for that week within a two-day period or chip away at work throughout the week. Depending on whether you're a night owl or an early bird, you can find the time of day that's most convenient and productive for you.

What is the Online College Community Like?

And while the work will be done from wherever you are, you’re not alone if you choose a school that has supports in place to help you succeed. Online students at SNHU work with an admission counselor to ensure the degree program they choose is the right fit. Upon enrollment, an academic advisor is assigned to provide support throughout each course and assist with scheduling, resource advice and lend a hand whenever needed. Adjunct instructors are available throughout each course to clarify information, answer questions and facilitate learning.

(Video) How Do Online Classes Work?

If you'd like to get involved with extracurriculars, there’s an online portal where you can connect with other students, join clubs and participate in activities. Events including SNHU's annual LEADS conferencealso allow you to connect with others in the community while also focusing on your personal and professional development.

There are also career advisors ready to assist you whether you're angling for a promotion at work or want to leave your job and find a new one. You can also gain career insights and assistance in building your connections and personal brand with the help of an alumni network. At SNHU, you'll find there are more 130 thousand graduates.

While these supports may not be in place at every school you consider, it’s important to focus on what is meaningful for you – and ensure you select a degree program at a university that has what you need and want.

How Many Classes Do You Take in College?

How many classes you take depends mostly on you: whether you’ve already taken courses or not, how much time you can commit to school and which degree you hope to earn.

The number of credits it takes to graduate from college depends on your program:

(Video) What ONLINE College is really like *classes & misconceptions*

  • A bachelor’s degreeprogram typically requires 120 credit hours (or approximately 40 classes).
  • A master’s degreeis typically anywhere from 30-40 credits, and sometimes up to 60 credits (from 10-20 classes), depending on the program you choose. For example, an MBA – or Master of Business Administration– may take as few as 30 credits to complete while a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writingcould take 48 credits.

If this isn't your first time attending college, you may be able to transfer credits to your new program, altering your timeline and cost to completion. SNHU, for example, accepts up to 90 creditsfrom previous coursework. You may also be able to finish faster with prior learning creditsobtained through certain certifications, trainings and military education.

Part-time or Full-time Student: How Many Classes is Full Time?

Two online classes per term is considered full time at SNHU. If you’re hoping to maximize the number of courses you take each term to move faster to your degree, you may be surprised by how manageable two courses can be.

This may be variable at other schools, so it’s important to ask this question up front and understand what constitutes full and part-time – and how your financial aid awardmight impact your options.

Are Online Classes Easier?

The best online classes have academic rigor and knowledgeable faculty with expertise in their fields. That winning combination, along with supportive resources and staff, creates a learning environment comparable to what you’d expect in a face-to-face class setting.

Some classes may feel easier than others for you based on your level of interest, willingness to put in the work and comfort level with what’s required of you in a particular course. If writing is something you absolutely love and a class is writing-intensive, that course may be one you’ll feel really comfortable in. If a course seems like it may be challenging, it’s important to consider what resources are available to assist you in the areas you feel you need additional help.

(Video) How to Make the Most of Online Courses

For example, some schools offer 24/7 drop-in tutoring sessions as well as access to a writing center. Leveraging these resources can help you turn in your best work.

Knowing what supports are in place for you as a student can turn what might have been a difficult experience into a course you may thrive in.

Success Tips for Online Classes

To do well, it’s important to assess the time you have available for coursework and plan accordingly, leaving yourself some flexibility to pivot as needed if challenges in other areas of your life come your way. Schoolwork may be something entirely new for you, and you could be uncertain about how to maximize your success in a course.

Here are two tips to help:

  • Managing your time is essential for your success – and there are time management strategies that can help you tremendously, including prepping well for a project, prioritizing tasks and developing a schedule and sticking to it.
  • Practicing good study habits is another way to boost your learning. Think about how you learn; how you best engage with new information and what sticks and what doesn’t. Be sure to put yourself in an environment where you can best focus and retain information. Ensuring you have ample time to complete your assignments is equally as important. You’ll have a hard time focusing if you’re short on time and feeling stressed– and when you allow yourself the time you need, you’ll have an opportunity to reach out for help should you get stuck on any part of an assignment.

While your experiences or concerns may feel uniquely personal, rest assured that others have been where you are now and had the same desire to earn their degree. See what some in the SNHU community had to say about tips for college success. No matter where you’re planning to continue your education, the basic ingredients for academic success are the same.

(Video) How live online classes work

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU online programthat can best help you meet your goals.

Pamme Boutselis is an adjunct, writer and senior content director in higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


How Do Online Classes Work? ›

Online classes typically have an asynchronous, or self-paced, portion. Students complete coursework on their own time but still need to meet weekly deadlines, a format that offers flexibility for students.

How does online schooling work? ›

Online schools have virtual classes that students can take from home or a library or a coffee shop or anywhere else that has an Internet connection. The teachers work remotely and have a structured curriculum for their online students to follow. Some kids take only one or two fully online classes.

What to expect from online classes? ›

You can expect the same variety of work online as you would face-to-face. Online courses deliver a mix of quizzes, essays, assignments and group discussions. Depending on the course, you may work together with other students in groups, participate in peer review, or debate a variety of topics on the discussion boards.

How do live online classes work? ›


Classes meet at regularly scheduled times and you have the opportunity to interact with your instructor and your classroom peers in real time. Just like a regular on-campus class, you are expected to attend and participate in the discussion.

How many hours a day do online classes take? ›

You should plan to devote a minimum of three hours per week per credit, plus an additional hour per class each week to review materials. For instance, for a three-credit online course, you will need nine hours of study time and one hour of review time each week.

Is online school harder than regular school? ›

For some people, online programs are easier because they offer a flexible schedule. In addition, people with great time management skills and a sense of responsibility can excel in online classes. However, online education may be more challenging for those who enjoy learning in a classroom environment.

Is online school harder than regular? ›

Because online classes cover the same or similar material, typically in the same amount of time as traditional classes, they are not harder. The only thing that can make an online class seem harder is the amount of reading and communication they require.

What is one downside of taking online classes? ›

Fewer Networking Opportunities. Students taking virtual classes have plenty of chances to connect with their peers through discussion boards and other online tools. But one of the obvious cons of online learning is that it doesn't provide as many opportunities to network with the entire campus community.

How do I attend online classes? ›

How To Take Online Classes
  1. Choose the topic you want to study. ...
  2. Research online courses on the chosen topic. ...
  3. Check the course content thoroughly. ...
  4. Assess the level of interaction and engagement in the course. ...
  5. Check if the course is flexible. ...
  6. Compare competitor options before enrolling.
Oct 12, 2022

How many hours is an online class? ›

Thus, many online courses run the same length as their on-campus counterparts. This means that a semester-based schedule will include approximately 15 weeks of work for 9 hours per week or 135 hours total for the semester for each 3-credit course.

Are online classes on your own time? ›

Online classes typically have an asynchronous, or self-paced, portion. Students complete coursework on their own time but still need to meet weekly deadlines, a format that offers flexibility for students.

How many weeks are online classes? ›

Universities commonly use an accelerated format for their online courses, so you can complete an online class in less time than it takes to finish an on-campus one. The online semester length can vary, but 8 week sessions are typical. Some schools hold sessions that are as short as four weeks each.

How long is the average online course? ›

Anywhere between 4 to 8 hours of total length would be a very typical number for most industries. Not that you are specifically aiming for a given length, it's just it will naturally take you that much time to explain everything in sufficient detail. But your courses don't have to always take that long either.

How many hours a week should you spend on an online class? ›

Plan four hours a week for every credit hour for difficult classes and three hours for the classes that fall somewhere in the middle. A handy formula that you can use to help determine how many hours of study you should schedule using this rule of thumb, along with other resources for new students, can be found here.

How many hours is 3 credits? ›

What is a Credit Hour?
Credits to be earnedHours per week, 7-week courseHours per week, 14-week course
1 credit6 hours3 hours
3 credits18 hours9 hours
6 credits36 hours18 hours
12 credits72 hours36 hours

Can you get held back in online school? ›

Failing a grade is a possibility at an online school. Yet, the consequences are a little less dramatic than it would be the case of failing a grade at a traditional school. A student is not obliged to repeat the grade from the beginning, but they instead continue from the point they failed.

Is it a good idea to go to school online? ›

Online courses teach students how to manage their time better since the student bears the responsibility of engaging with the course instead of simply showing up to class on an assigned day and time.

Is switching to online school worth it? ›

Online programs are absolutely worth it, depending on the student's circumstances. Contrary to popular belief, online programs are not easier than on-campus programs. Online programs aren't necessarily more affordable, but they can be.

Has online school affect grades? ›

Using an instrumental variables approach, we find that taking a course online, instead of in-person, reduces student success and progress in college. Grades are lower both for the course taken online and in future courses.

Does online school go faster? ›

Earning a degree online can provide a faster path to graduation than traditional college programs because students are not constrained to attending class when they can physically be on campus.

Why is online school so hard? ›

Being at home there is an increased amount of distractions and opportunities to lose focus on the work given. The distractions arise because of the amount of time we spend on asynchronous learning. At school, 100% of the day is synchronous learning.

What to dislike about online classes? ›

Ten Disadvantages of Online Courses
  • Online courses require more time than on-campus classes. ...
  • Online courses make it easier to procrastinate. ...
  • Online courses require good time-management skills. ...
  • Online courses may create a sense of isolation. ...
  • Online courses allow you to be more independent.

What are 5 disadvantages of online learning? ›

What are the 5 disadvantages of online classes?
  • Lack of face-to-face interaction.
  • Difficulty staying motivated.
  • Limited access to resources and support.
  • Technical difficulties.
  • Isolation.

Why is face to face learning better? ›

The Advantages of Face to Face Learning in the Classroom

You can access more information and richer understanding through teacher and other students' body language and voice. You have the opportunity to connect with, problem-solve, and network with other students from a wide range of backgrounds.

Do you have to talk during online classes? ›

Depending on how the course is set up, the instructor might have to unmute your microphone. In other cases, you might be able to unmute yourself. In online discussions, it can be hard to gauge your professors' and classmates' facial cues. Be sure to share airspace and try to avoid interrupting others.

How do you pass college classes online? ›

11 Techniques to Be Successful in Online Classes
  1. Treat It Like an In-Person Class.
  2. Form a Virtual Study Group.
  3. Use the Resources Your Teacher Provides.
  4. Have a Dedicated Study Space.
  5. Eliminate Distractions.
  6. Take Notes.
  7. Beware of Sneaky Deadlines.
  8. Check Your Email Regularly.
Jul 2, 2021

Can you take some classes online? ›

Students seeking lifelong learning for personal enrichment often take online classes from free online providers. Top universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT developed massive online open course (MOOC) platforms such as Coursera and edX. Learners can access these platforms for affordable learning opportunities.

Is it better to learn online or in a classroom? ›

More Interaction and Greater Ability to Concentrate

While not true for every student, studies suggest that students who are shy participate in online class discussions more easily than face-to-face. Some students also report better concentration in online classes due to the lack of classroom distractions.

How are online classes flexible? ›

What does flexibility in online learning mean? It mainly refers to the fact that you can study the course materials anytime your desire. However, it does not mean a lack of structure, guidance and support. Flexible online learning also offers flexible help from tutors and mentors that guide you through the course.

Why offline classes are better than online? ›

Only in offline classes is it possible to comprehend a subject better. Greater involvement and interaction – In face-to-face learning, there is greater interaction between the students and the lecturers. They get to participate in more class activities.

How many hours is 3 classes? ›

College courses are measured in credit hours. A 3-credit course meets for 2.5 hours per week. Balancing the course load is vital to academic success.

Do online classes take less time? ›

You'll probably spend less time “in class” – watching lecture videos and interacting with your classmates and professor – than you would in a traditional classroom setting if you take an online course. This doesn't mean that you'll spend less total time on your schoolwork, though.

Can you take online classes on phone? ›

Working from a mobile device is convenient

Anytime, anywhere learning has its appeal. Anywhere you have an internet signal, you can work on your course. This allows students to access online classes on mobiles, tablets and laptops.

Do online classes have homework? ›

In general, online classes have the same educational goals as traditional classes do. Online students are required to complete readings and homework assignments just like in-person students, but rather than turning in assignments in-person, assignments are uploaded on a website.

Are online classes the same as in-person? ›

Yes, an online class should cover the same material as an in-person option at the same school. This means that the degree you earn online will be identical to the one that you would have earned by taking in-person classes as well.

Do colleges count online classes? ›

You don't have to drive to your local campus to get the benefits. These university courses count for high school and college credit. Completing them will prove to any college admissions staff that you're ready for the challenge. They will also save you time and money when you arrive on campus.

Can you finish an online class early? ›

Many online schools offer accelerated classes. These classes can be completed in five to ten weeks instead of the traditional 18 week semester.

How can I finish my online class fast? ›

manage time over in order to successfully complete an online course:
  1. Make the course a priority. ...
  2. Take the course with a friend or colleague. ...
  3. Set aside one hour a day to work on the course. ...
  4. Make a study plan. ...
  5. Make a calendar or schedule. ...
  6. Get rid of distractors. ...
  7. Set goals and incentives.
May 4, 2015

How fast can you complete online college? ›

Many students finish bachelor's degrees in as few as 12 to 18 months by taking online courses and earning credit hours via remote learning. Finally, some students are able to finish their credit hours towards a bachelor's degree faster.

How long should online training last? ›

While based on our data, 10–25 hours is a good goal, it isn't the be-all and end-all of course lengths. What matters more than your course length, is the value and transformation you're providing through your course. Here are some factors to consider in deciding on course length.

Is taking 4 online classes too much? ›

Four classes per semester is fairly standard and definitely handleable. It also depends entirely on how many credits you take. 5 and 6 credit courses require much more coursework compared to 4 credit courses in my opinion.

How long should a virtual class last? ›

A best practice for virtual training delivery is to limit sessions to no more than 60-90 minutes in length. For longer training meetings, consider splitting these into shorter sessions or spreading them across multiple days.

Is 5 classes a semester too much? ›

Breaking it down further, most college courses at schools with semesters are worth three credit hours. So on average, you would expect to take five classes a semester. That's above the usual minimum, which is 12 hours, and below the maximum, which is normally 18.

Is 6 classes a semester too much? ›

The standard course load for full-time students is 12 to 18 hours which usually comes out to about 4 to 6 courses per semester.

How many classes should you take per semester? ›

You usually need to take at least 12 credit hours per semester to qualify as a full-time college student. Twelve credit hours usually translates to four courses worth three credits a piece. Some students take more than 12 credit hours a semester.

Is 16 credits good for a freshman? ›

Your Graduation Plan

While it might seem strange, for many students it's better to take about 15 credits in their first semester. This is recommended because 12 credits are usually the minimum to be considered a full-time student at the college. It can even affect tuition in some cases.

Is 20 hours a week a lot for a student? ›

According to research studies, the ideal number of hours a student should work each week is 13 – 20. Although 13 hours may not seem like a lot, it maintains a delicate balance between your varying course load and your life circumstances. Anything more than 20, and your grades take a hit.

How many classes is 15 credits in college? ›

In order to complete an associate degree in two years, students must average 15 credits a term. This is normally the equivalent of four or five courses per semester.

What are the pros and cons of online school? ›

42% of companies that use e-learning generate more income.
Pros of Online LearningCons of Online Learning
FlexibilityLess Social Interaction
AffordabilityLimited Course Availability
IndividualizationRequires High Degree of Self Discipline
Jan 10, 2023

Do colleges like online school? ›

However, most colleges do not discriminate against students who have done their high school education online. That being said, some colleges may be more likely to accept students who have done online high school than others.

Is online learning harder than face to face? ›

The Advantages of Face to Face Learning in the Classroom

You'll be able to concentrate harder on your learning because there'll be less distraction than if you were at home. You may feel more comfortable and learn more easily in a familiar, traditional classroom situation.

Do students learn better online or in a classroom? ›

More Interaction and Greater Ability to Concentrate

While not true for every student, studies suggest that students who are shy participate in online class discussions more easily than face-to-face. Some students also report better concentration in online classes due to the lack of classroom distractions.

What is the biggest disadvantage of online classes? ›

What are the 5 disadvantages of online classes?
  • Lack of face-to-face interaction.
  • Difficulty staying motivated.
  • Limited access to resources and support.
  • Technical difficulties.
  • Isolation.

Why is in person learning better than online? ›

Advantages of In-Person Classes

Distractions like the internet, TV, phones and even family members can make it hard to study. In-person classes can be a chance to step away from these distractions and focus solely on learning. The routine of attending a class at the same time each week can be a helpful way to learn.

What are 3 disadvantages of online classes? ›

Ten Disadvantages of Online Courses
  • Online courses require more time than on-campus classes. ...
  • Online courses make it easier to procrastinate. ...
  • Online courses require good time-management skills. ...
  • Online courses may create a sense of isolation. ...
  • Online courses allow you to be more independent.

Is it cheaper to go to school online? ›

Not only does tuition tend to be lower, but many additional expenses, such as transportation costs and course materials, are eliminated in an online program. However, it's important to note that the average cost of online college is still a significant investment.

Are online schools respected? ›

As many as 83% of business leaders see an online degree at a “well-known” institution as having the same value as an on-campus degree. If they are not familiar with a school, however, or the institution isn't known for producing prepared graduates from its programs, your degree may not be seen as having the same value.

Do online classes have meeting times? ›

Online Vs.

Online courses are completed fully online —there are no on-campus meetings.


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