Are Online Classes Harder? And Other FAQs About Going to School Online

Are Online Classes Harder? And Other FAQs About Going to School Online


If you’ve never taken an online course, it’s only natural to have some questions. Are online classes harder? How do the classes work? Will I be able to learn in this format?

There’s a lot to consider about going to school online. But just because something is new, doesn’t mean it has to be worrisome. To help ease your concerns and give you a better idea of how it all works, we took on some of the most commonly asked questions regarding online education.

Are online classes harder than traditional classes?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this. A lot goes into determining whether an online class is more or less difficult than its traditional, in-classroom counterpart. Personality and study habits are some of the biggest factors in answering this question.

If you are self-motivated and can hold yourself accountable for accomplishing weekly tasks, you might excel and love the format. On the other hand, if you’re a student who needs strict timelines and prefers a face-to-face learning experience, then online courses may pose more of a challenge.

Ultimately, the materials taught in these courses don’t change much, if at all—fundamental concepts are fundamental concepts. Most online courses follow the same overall lesson plan that is used in the on-campus classroom.

What is the format of an online class?

Generally speaking, online classes follow a regular cadence—typically a weekly format. Students are expected to log in, review any assigned material for the week, take part in answering online discussion questions and completing weekly assignments. Like with “traditional” classes, instructors will incorporate quizzes or tests along the way.

How do lectures work in online classes?

Many online courses include video lectures, either live or prerecorded. However, there is typically more lecture time in the on-campus classroom. To help facilitate more spur-of-the-moment discussion, instructors may also set up live videoconference sessions where students can directly ask follow-up questions. One nice aspect about video lectures is that you can pause and take notes or rewind and listen again. This can be incredibly beneficial for those who like to take very detailed notes.

Can I earn a degree solely from taking courses online?

In many cases, it is very possible, and even sometimes more practical to earn a degree entirely online. This largely depends on the degree you are seeking and the academic institution offering the program.

Some online programs may require in-person classes for lab work or other hands-on learning scenarios. If in-person classes are an absolute no-go, it’s important to ask ahead of time whether any of the courses in your desired program will require in-person attendance.

Is an online degree considered as valuable as a traditional degree?

Due to the fact that online degrees are a relatively new concept and have only emerged within the last 20 years, some remain a bit skeptical about the quality of the education. However, in recent years obtaining an online degree has become much more common and attitudes have changed.

The truth is that accredited colleges and universities issue the same degree whether it is acquired through online courses or the classroom. Earning a degree via the online option is essentially the same credential, just obtained through a different method. Choosing the online route as opposed to the on-campus route is viewed more as a matter of personal preference and is not a reflection on the effort needed to obtain the degree.

How common is it to obtain an online degree?

Obtaining an online degree is becoming more commonplace. The National Center for Education Statistics states that 5.7 million students took online or distance education courses in 2014. With around 20 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across the United States, this amounts to a significant portion of the student base.

Are online courses a good fit for you?

Ultimately, the answer to that is for you to decide. Now that you have a better understanding of how online courses work, you should feel comfortable knowing that going to school online is at least a viable option for you.

Whether you choose to pursue online or traditional courses, it is a life-changing decision that will take careful consideration. If you’re ready to roll-up your sleeves and find the right college for you, check out The Smart Shopper’s Guide to Going Back to College for advice on how to focus your search on what matters most to you.


About the author

Annie Jones

Annie researches and writes student-focused articles with Collegis Education on a variety of topics for Rasmussen university. She is passionate about learning, writing, and encouraging students toward success.

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