A Complete Guide To Taking Online College Courses

Male student sitting at a desk with headphones on taking an online college class.

Online college classes are becoming more popular and abundant. They offer an enormous amount of flexibility and are conducive to most schedules. They are the perfect choice to mix with traditional classes to make the best use of time and graduate quickly and efficiently. I’ve taken at least 10 online classes while earning my degrees.

Types Of Online Class

There are two types of online classes, synchronous and asynchronous. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The main difference between the two are, that synchronous classes have live instruction occurring at a set time and asynchronous classes are done more at your own pace. Professors will link to pre-recorded lectures, videos, and slides for students to watch at their own convenience.


Synchronous classes operate much like a traditional on-campus class, with lectures, discussions, and attendance happening in real time. Although you are learning from a distance, you will virtually attend a class session each week, at the same time as your professor and peers. The class schedule is set. Students will have specific readings and assignments to complete outside of class time to help prepare them to participate in the discussion.

Synchronous courses have live-streamed lectures by the professor or a guest and engage in live conversations. Group work may still be required, it’s just structured differently than in-person. Professors can divide students into smaller groups with breakout rooms, allowing more direct discussion and learning. Students have the ability to participate and interact via webcams, microphones, chat, or message boards.


An asynchronous course offers the most flexibility. They are typically prerecorded video lessons and assignments that are not delivered in person or in real-time. At the beginning of each semester, your professor provides you with a detailed syllabus with all your tests, assignment due dates, and recommended reading schedules. They are self-paced, allowing students to view instructional materials each week at a time of their choosing.

Discussion boards are used a lot in asynchronous classes. It’s where you will introduce yourself and interact with your peers and post assignments. You will have access to your professor though it’s typically in the form of email or message boards.

Online College Classes Offer Flexibility

For many learners, the primary benefit of taking online classes is scheduling flexibility and convenience. For some students, particularly those who are working and taking a full semester load, online courses are not just the best option, often they are the only option. There are only so many hours in the day and sometimes it isn’t always possible to physically attend every class.

Personally, I found taking online classes alongside my on-campus classes was particularly time-efficient for me. In most cases, it reduced my commuting time, and the time I spent on campus waiting for the class to start. With my busy work and class schedule, I sometimes preferred and needed to do the coursework at night or on the weekends. I also found I was able to squeeze in an extra class or two a semester and not feel the pressure of the time restraint which is imposed when attending an in-person class. Online asynchronous classes contributed to how I graduated a semester early with my bachelor’s degree.

Fitting Classes Into Your Schedule

Building a class schedule can be extremely challenging. Good time management is key to a successful semester. Deciding on which classes to take, how many classes to take, and when to take them, can be very overwhelming. Especially, when you are trying to build a schedule around other commitments like jobs, sports, meetings, religious services, or family.

Online courses are very accommodating, particularly asynchronous classes. The ability to fit them anywhere in your schedule can be the difference between taking a class or not. They were essential for me being able to work and for graduating early because I was able to fit more classes into my busy schedule.

How Do Online College Classes Work

A reliable computer and a strong internet connection are basically all a student needs to take online classes. It is important that the computer operates at a decent speed. It’s not necessary to get an expensive model, just make sure it can handle a few different programs and it won’t crash. Your internet speed should be reasonably fast and reliable. You will appreciate a good internet connection when you are taking timed quizzes and tests. Waiting for the next question to load can be excruciating when you have slow internet.

Colleges generally rely upon some kind of Learning Management System (LMS) for their online college classes. LMS is used to develop, deliver, manage and assign course content. To track student progress and measure and report student grades.

Most online programs use either Blackboard or Canvas for course management. However, there are other LMS in use too. They all generally operate the same. Professors provide students access to course materials, communication tools, online assessments, and grades, as well as the ability to submit assignments electronically. All the platforms can be accessed anywhere and at any time just as long as you have an internet connection.

Discipline Is A Must

Some students believe that online courses are harder than in-person courses. I think students may find them more difficult because they don’t have good discipline and time management skills. Accountability is a must when you take an online class. Prepare and you will be successful.

Other students believe online courses are easier or will be “easy A’s”. This belief may come from the fact that some courses don’t require the student to attend or watch the lecture—it’s optional. Therefore, students think the lectures aren’t necessary to complete assignments, quizzes, and tests. I caution any student from ignoring optional or no credit lectures or assignments because had the class been in person you likely would have completed them, don’t ignore them simply because the format of the class is different.

Not All Classes Are Meant To Be Taken Online

It’s important to know, that there are some subjects that are simply not suited to take online. Difficult courses like math, chemistry, biology, and foreign language, need more direct teacher instruction, in-person clarifications, and demonstrations. Be mindful of courses that might require extra support and guidance from your professor.

I found the combination of in-person and online classes was a very good strategy to speed up my academic career. The blend allowed me to create the most efficient schedule and academic plan for my lifestyle. I encourage you to give an online class a try. If you are unsure or intimidated take an easier course first and see how you do.