Online Classes at College: What You Need to Know

Last updated: Mar 6, 2020

When you think about college classes, you may picture a large lecture hall crammed with students diligently taking notes, a professor at the front of the room, and a deck of PowerPoint slides showing in the background. If, however, you enroll in an online course, your classroom could be a cozy spot in your bedroom, a corner in a coffee shop, or a shady spot on a lawn. It’s not old-school education, and that’s why questions arise about online classes at college and what you need to know if you’re considering the digital route.

College student taking an online class

What Are Some of the Benefits of Online Classes?

A big advantage of online courses is the flexibility they afford students. If you are a commuter or have a part-time job, these courses allow you some flexibility to learn when you want and at the pace you want, making it easier for you to fulfill your nonacademic commitments.

Students also say that taking courses online enables them to participate in events and extracurricular activities that regularly scheduled classes in a brick-and-mortar setting would rule out. The flexible schedule also helps accommodate healthy behaviors such as getting enough sleep and going to the gym.

Do You Have the Discipline and Drive for Online Studies?

Online courses offer more flexibility, but they also require students to be more organized and motivated. You don’t have a professor physically telling you what to do and when to do it, then reminding you to stay on track. It’s up to you to stay on top of assignments and make sure you meet deadlines.

Many students who have taken online courses recommend recording coursework deadlines in a planner and setting aside adequate time to get the work done. However, online courses today often include email reminders and assignment deadlines, which help inform and keep students on pace. As online courses become more and more interactive and transparent, it has become harder to disengage and fall behind.

 College student taking an online class

Are You the Type of Learner Who Can Thrive in an Online Setting?

Online courses typically require significant reading and interaction on digital discussion boards. What’s lost is the face-to-face interaction with instructors and fellow students in real-time discussions.

Online course instructors typically are accessible by email when questions do come up. Just make sure you give them adequate time to respond and aren’t contacting them a few hours before an assignment is due.

If you find you learn better in groups, you can always reach out to classmates and set up a chatroom, Facebook group, or other digital means to engage and cover the material together.

If these digital realities are acceptable, and if you are able to read and retain large amounts of information, then an online course shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge.

How Is Course Material Impacted by Online Learning?

Today’s online learning is not the same as it was 10 years ago, or even five. At many universities, including USF, regular advances in multimedia and technology can actually improve the learning experience of course material for online students. A stubborn preconception colleges still fight is the idea that many subjects simply do not translate to online education.

Digital learning content can take students on interactive virtual field trips, provide social interaction with students from all over the world, and help explore complex problems through innovative multimedia strategies. Online courses harness the power of technology to allow students to experience content in ways they cannot in traditional classes, often improving learning outcomes.

As technology evolves and improves, the likelihood increases that you will be taking at least one online course during your college career. That’s why you should weigh the pros and cons of online versus in-person learning.

You can discuss digital options with your academic advisor, too. And be sure to reach out to the various academic support services on campus to help guide your learning experience – regardless of the format.

For general information on enrollment, the USF Office of Admissions is ready with advice and answers. Contact us online, or reach us by phone at 813-974-3350.