Online Education

A Division of the Office for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning

Questions to Ask Yourself

Is online learning right for you?


When figuring out whether taking an online course is the right decision for you, it is helpful to understand what skills you need in order to excel in an online environment. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Similar to face-to-face courses, you can expect an online course to take an average of 2-3 hours a week per credit (so typically 6-9 hours for a 3 credit course). Although it may be convenient to eliminate commuting and complete the coursework on your own time, it is important to assess whether you have 6-9 hours a week you can commit to for an entire semester. Accelerated and summer courses will demand the same amount of time, but in fewer weeks. You should expect to spend 15-18 hours per week in a 7 week course.

  • Often online courses have deadlines as frequently as a face-to-face class would be meeting. When you are given assignments, you will usually have to read instructions and figure out what the assignment is asking on your own.  You will need to take the initiative to understand what is expected of you and look ahead in case you need clarification.

  • Online courses require you to take the initiative and login on a regular basis. You are expected to keep track of deadlines and participate in discussions. If you wait until the last minute to complete assignments or only login once a week you will not be able to effectively participate in discussions or receive the valuable feedback from other students in the course. Additionally, waiting until the last minute to complete assignments does not leave time to arrange a “plan B” if your Internet is down, or your computer is having problems.

  • In an online course, being able to pace yourself means you can process the discussion and content of the course in your own time, and may be able to make the comment you wouldn’t have thought of in time in a face-to-face class. This actually adds an additional benefit to online courses because students are able to hear all comments – including comments from students who don’t typically speak in a face-to-face classroom.

  • Being familiar with using a computer is essential for doing well in an online class. You will be logging in on a regular basis and completing various tasks that require the ability to navigate web pages and software programs. If you are uncomfortable using the course website you are less likely to regularly participate in the class, and more likely to become frustrated with the course.

  • Most communication with online instructors and fellow students will be done through the discussion boards and email exchange. It is important that you are able to articulate your thoughts and questions through writing in order to excel in an online course.

  • The use of social media to stay in touch with friends is a good indicator of how comfortable you will be communicating with instructors and classmates in an online classroom. Have you tried to engage with social media websites and struggled to navigate or follow your contacts? If so, you may want to “test the waters” with online communication (possibly through a blended course) before enrolling in an entirely online course.

  • One of the best perks of online courses is the flexibility of reviewing lectures and course content every week. For students who struggle to get to campus, online courses are an excellent alternative. If you are motivated to complete your classes, and this flexibility makes it possible, you are more likely to take the time to work through the obstacles of an online course (e.g. less accountability for attendance, discomfort with online interface).

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