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How Do Online Classes Work?

Learn about common questions related to learning online, including what you should expect, and how long of a commitment you should be prepared to make.

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Learner Taking Online Classes at HomeWith the world going online, it's almost essential to discover how online learning works. The pandemic has supercharged remote learning and away from on-campus classes. Many education programs help individuals and businesses help businesses remotely. Video, online articles, and discussion forums are what fuel online classes. Overall, it will feel like regular classes with course materials, a syllabus, and timed exams. Be aware of your personal time management, keeping up in group projects, and access to the internet.

If you're prepared to manage your own time and learn from various programs, you can know almost anything available on the internet.

How do online classes work?

Registering for an online class isn't as complicated as one might think. With edX, you can discover single courses or complete programs. Most other online programs work similarly to edX. Make an account, look for an online course or online program that interests you, register for the class, and check-in your email for the next steps. Users can audit courses (take them for free) or pay for a certification that you can share. Auditing courses usually offer limited access to the lectures' feedback on assignments and limit the community with classmates. 

Most online courses mix quizzes, interactive web assignments, discussion forums, video lectures, and more. Classes online can be through a live Zoom call or a pre-recorded lecture. Depending on the platform, you can keep watching lectures online. 

Overall, online education has been more accessible than ever. There are a plethora of online course topics to explore and the opportunity to learn from almost anywhere. All you need is time and reliable internet access. 

Do online classes have set times?

It depends on the course. An asynchronous class is usually available for online learners that aren't tied to a college. It means that the student can study the coursework at their own pace. After registration, an online class might require due dates for assignments. Other online classrooms might have flexible due dates for self-paced courses. Flexible learning is becoming popular as students are craving education and remote learning.

College students are more likely to enroll in synchronous learning. Every student will learn at the same pace, attend lectures at a specific time, and submit assignments simultaneously. This more closely resembles the traditional classroom. This is an easy transition to remote learning. This offers a better opportunity for students to have automatic and live feedback. Synchronous learning also allows students to focus, community, and dedication to the course.

Most online classes will be self-paced in some form. For example, homework or lectures can be self-paced. However, it can be intimidating to navigate a self-paced course on your own. Before registering for a class, understand the timelines associated with your class. Manage your own time, and you'll be a remote learning pro in no time.

What should I expect from online classes?

Don't expect too much to be different from the online class. Go into your first class feeling like it's an in-person class. You might have a better experience online since educators expect emails and will respond quickly. Online discussions might be better for introverted students or people who dislike public speaking. Lastly, you have easier access to additional resources online. Most online classes link lectures to online articles. That way, if you're passionate about a topic, you can go right to the link.

Like with all things, there are downsides. It's not uncommon for the internet to go out during class. A teacher might disappear during a live lecture, or you did not adequately upload an assignment. Another primary concern is staying motivated through the completion of a remote course. Not having that in-person community can feel isolating and demotivating. Create a routine and stick with it as you complete your course.

How many hours should you spend on an online class?

Some online degree programs like edX will tell you the estimated time per week you'll spend on a course. For first-time distance learners, expect to spend extra time on coursework. This is mainly because getting accustomed to online formatting takes some practice. Time management is also a skill to practice. Distance education makes things easier, but it can be easy to get distracted during studies. 

For something specific, imagine this: an intermediate course is three credits. The three credits are based on the three hours you would be spending in class with lectures. Expect to spend the same amount of time as the lecture for assignments and studying. So in a three-credit course, expect three hours of class plus three hours of projects and studies.

Again, this is the general rule for higher education. However, this is not the ultimate truth for all online degree programs. Before registering, see if the course estimates how much time to spend. Know that, and your education won't blindside you.


Distance education is more straightforward than many new learners would expect. As long as you have a reliable internet connection, you can learn almost anything. If you're struggling financially, reach out to your online provider and inquire about financial aid.

Most learners have access to open enrollment, meaning that anyone can register for online classes. Of course, the learning experience will differ, but it's worth the extra experience.

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