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Top Online Education FAQs

Online Education Basics

Online learning is education that happens off-campus and through the medium of the Internet. Online education has been a player in post-secondary education since the 2000’s, delivering degree and certificate programs for both traditional and non-traditional student. Some high schools and traditional/residential colleges may need to conduct remote learning due to extenuating circumstances, such as the novel COVID-19 pandemic. Online learning utilizes digital communication tools like video calls, instant messaging and learning management systems to create a virtual education experience.

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In-person learning refers to typical school instruction, usually involving attending classes in a physical building on a high school or college campus. These classes might involve using the computer or other online tools, but they are primarily taught by teacher(s) to their students sharing a classroom together. Online learning takes a variety of forms, but in general indicates that a class does not meet in a physical space and instead conferences over a digital communication platform. Online classes may be longer or shorter than in-person classes depending on the school.

Online classes are held entirely online, without in-person interaction. Hybrid classes mix both online instruction and in-person instruction. Students may experience hybrid classes as staggered days between school and online learning or half days where they attend school in the morning and learn from home online in the afternoon. Colleges may use a HyFlex model where students can decide on which days they’d like to attend class in-person and when they’d like to tune in online. Read more about the difference between online and hybrid classes here.

Synchronous classes occur in real time, with students and teachers gathering virtually at the same time, whereas asynchronous classes are pre-recorded and not delivered at a specific time. While you won’t have interaction with students and your teacher(s) in an asynchronous class, the nature of asynchronous learning means you can take the course at your own pace and on your own schedule.

Students who are motivated independent learners and who are responsible in meeting classroom expectations are likely to do well in online learning. Students who feel overwhelmed in the traditional classroom environment may find remote learning more accessible, as they can create a comfortable study space all to themselves.

By staying focused and engaged and being flexible. See our guides on Top 10 Tips to Stay Focused During Online Learning and Top Do’s and Don’ts of Online Learning Classes.

Yes. Online degree programs can help you attain a college/university degree without needing to commit to a residential campus experience.

You will register for an online course just as you would register for an in-person course, likely using a school-specific portal to search for courses and add them to your schedule. To make sure you register for the right courses towards your major or minor, set up a virtual appointment with your teachers/advisors before you register for classes.

Technical Questions

  • PC or Mac computer or laptop; or mobile tablet; or an iPad
  • Microphone or headset (laptops and tablets have built-in microphones)
  • Webcam (laptops and tablets have these built-in)
  • Windows 8.1 or above (for PC) or OS 10.14 or above (for Mac)
  • High speed broadband Internet connection
  • Most recent version of Internet browser (Chrome and/or Firefox are recommended)
  • Easy access to school email account and learning management system (try bookmarking these to your browser of choice)

If you require technical assistance with online learning, you should contact your school’s IT or Help Desk.

Tuition and Payment

Online education varies in cost. Public high schools entering online education due to extenuating circumstances are like not charging for online education. Private secondary schools and residential colleges’ online courses will vary in cost depending on the individual provider, but you may pay tuition rates comparable to in-person rates. Online degree program tuition is often the same price if not more compared to a residential college. Individual online classes are however cheaper than a full online degree program.

Like when paying tuition for in-person school, you can finance online classes with loans, scholarships, grants and personal funds. You can use an education fund like a 529 plan to pay for online education just as you would for traditional college.

Yes. Grants, scholarships and student loans can all help pay for online education. If you haven’t already, try a free scholarship search that delivers personalized results based on your interests and qualifications.

Academic Questions

When shifting from in-person learning to online learning, some courses may be cut due to difficulty transferring to virtual education, low enrollment or lack of access to equipment. On the other hand, online learning may offer different program variety than in-person instruction since you do not have to be in a particular location at a given time while learning remotely.

Expect to encounter teaching/communication methods such as video conferencing – such as through Zoom or Google – online chats and instant messaging, email, discussion forums, course message boards and learning management systems like Blackboard or Canvas.

Depending on your school, the online learning school day may resemble a traditional school day, with blocks of synchronous classes interspersed by short breaks and broken up by a lunch period. Or it may incorporate longer break periods and a greater reliance on asynchronous self-guided study. Your school will likely have a schedule readily available on its website.

Plan to devote the same amount of time to an online class that you would an in-person class.

For synchronous classes, all participants are expected to be in class at the same time for the entire class period. Plan to arrive to class 5 to 10 minutes early and have all your materials at the ready. For asynchronous classes, the pace of the course is self-directed so you can participate on your own schedule.

Much like in-person classes, you’re expected to come to every class. However, learning from home does raise issues for some students. If you know you have family obligations that may interrupt your school day or have trouble connecting to the internet, reach out to your teachers as soon as you can to let them know of our unique situation. If you get sick and need to miss a day or two of class, also send an email to your teachers.

Expect the same amount or close to the same amount of homework for an online class that you would receive for an in-person class. While the homework assignments may be based around online tools rather than handouts or worksheets, plan to give yourself the same amount of time that you would normally give yourself for homework and studying.

Email is the best tool to use to reach out to your teacher for support for online learning classes. Our guide on How to Connect to Your Online School Teachers has common scenarios and guidance for getting in touch with your teachers.

Yes, there are group projects for online courses. Expect breakout sessions during class where you and a few other classmates may work collaboratively on a project. You may also have to establish group meetings with teammates for projects through email, online chat programs and Zoom.

You will interact with other classmates during online learning through the chat feature, breakout sessions, group projects or class message boards. You can also exchange email addresses or phone numbers to keep in touch with classmates outside of the school day.

While it may vary from course to course, much of online learning is graded like in-person learning is graded – on a scale from A to F. Online classes will factor into your GPA unless otherwise stated.

The kind of college credit you’ll receive with online learning depends on the institution. In the case of a residential college moving to remote learning, the credit you earn should be the same as the credit you would earn in an in-person class. If you have taken online classes and are looking to transfer to a residential college, the accreditation status of your school will determine if your transfer institution will accept your credits.

Test administration within online education generally falls into two categories – virtually proctored exams and alternative testing. Proctored exams are timed, closed-book tests, and will likely be administered from within your school’s learning management system (LMS) like Blackboard or Canvas. These systems have plug-ins that can allow teachers to monitor exams through their students’ own computers. Alternative testing is a learning assessment that is not timed and may take the form of an open-notes quiz, a group project or class presentation.

You will take a proctored exam from your own computer. When taking a proctored exam, you will need to have you webcam and microphone on for the virtual proctor to observe your test taking. Virtual students who live near their school may be invited to campus to take an onsite proctored exam, depending on the circumstances.

For college students, the typical Add/Drop period should persist for online courses. This is often the first two weeks of classes where you can choose to drop a class or add an additional class without penalties.

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Last Reviewed: October 2021