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Are Online Courses for Me?

Ana-Marcela Lopez

Online/distance learning is becoming more ubiquitous as colleges adapt to the changing needs of adult students. While online college used to seem like a fringe (and sometimes shady) market, many not-for-profit, mainstream institutions have joined in and raised the standard to create excellent opportunities for all. Developments in these online courses allow students to get a high-quality education while also balancing work and family obligations. 


As with any part of college, there are unique challenges and opportunities with this new form of education. First of all, what does an online class even look like? You might be expecting to complete your work on your own time and in your pj’s. The opportunity to do so is certainly one of the biggest perks of online learning, but not every online course is like that. Online courses fall into one of two categories: asynchronous or synchronous.

Asynchronous: Asynchronous courses do not follow a set schedule, so they allow students to complete the coursework at their own pace. Usually, professors pre-record lectures or assign readings with subsequent assignments. Students with unconventional schedules or family and work obligations may benefit from self-paced learning. 

Synchronous: Synchronous online learning refers to virtual lectures and discussion boards that require participation at determined times. These courses follow a similar structure to an on-campus course, so there is less flexibility in the times at which you study. However, these courses can be beneficial for those who struggle with time management or crave a more collaborative learning environment.

7 Things You Should Know Before Taking an Online Course

Types of Assignments

Every program will have its own standard class format, but online courses tend to include some combination of the following:

  • Discussion boards: If you thought an online course meant you wouldn’t be engaging in thoughtful discourse with your peers, think again! Discussion boards are the online version of a Socratic seminar. Typically, your professor will moderate a discussion about a text or topic, and then you and your peers will be expected to respond in an online forum. Even in an asynchronous course, you might be expected to complete a discussion post by a certain time. 
  • Research papers: Many online courses will have at least one written assignment. 
  • Group projects: Yes, you read that right! Group projects are becoming increasingly popular and accessible in online courses. You might be required to connect and coordinate with a group of classmates to complete a project. 
  • Proctored exams: As a distance learner, you’ll take exams a little differently to ensure academic integrity. You’ll be directed to a testing center that will administer the exam. 


The biggest misconception is that online courses are easier than traditional on campus courses. In reality, online courses often cover the same material and are even taught by the same professors as on campus courses. This may actually be more challenging, since you can’t raise a hand if you don’t understand something or have an immediate question.

The key to being successful in an online course is making sure you have appropriate support.  Make sure you know what kind you need and where to get it. Establish your support networks before you encounter trouble.

    • Academic support: As we mentioned earlier, the nature of online classes makes it more difficult to interact with your professor if you’re struggling with the material. Each professor will have different protocol, so find out early how to ask for help. Whether it’s sending an email, going into office hours, or organizing a Skype session, you’ll need to make sure how to find the path to success. 
    • Logistical support: As you might expect, the bulk of your learning and assignments are done online, which means your tech must be running smoothly at all times. Most professors won’t accept computer issues as a valid excuse for not turning in an assignment on time. Connect with the IT department at your institution to establish a support system you can lean on in the event of technical difficulties. 
    • Non-Academic Support: If you’re taking courses online, that probably means that you have other responsibilities apart from school. Have a conversation with all the important people in your life to know that your finances, childcare, and other responsibilities are able to be taken care of during this busy time of your life.

Time Management

One of the greatest advantages of online learning is the increased flexibility and freedom it can afford you. That said, you’ll need to have strong time management skills to be successful. If you are taking classes asynchronously, then there will be less moderation over your time by a professor. You’ll be expected to meet deadlines without issue, so don’t fall into the trap of procrastination!

As an adult student, you have unique needs that colleges are continuously trying to meet. Online courses are a great way to balance work and life obligations while advancing your career. Though college is going to be challenging no matter where or how you study, there are many excellent schools that streamline non-traditional forms of education with a design to ensure success. And that’s where we come in. Abound: Finish College narrows down your options and gets you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools we trust and find the program that works for you.


More Helpful Guides:

How to Find a Better Job After Finishing College?

How Long Does it Take to Finish College?

The Adult Student Checklist

Is My GPA Too Low to Go Back to School?


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