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How To Take Online College Classes: A Field Guide For Working Professionals

Online college provides a wealth of benefits for busy, working professionals looking to get a degree. However, if you’ve never taken an online college class—or it’s been quite some time since your last one—it can also be nerve-racking to get started. 

Fear of the unknown and uncertainty about what to expect may make online college classes seem more daunting than they really are. We’ll answer 9 of the biggest questions about online college classes, so you can start your online college career with confidence.

Are There Different Formats For Online College Classes?

There are two primary types of online classes—instructor-led and self-paced. In self-paced online classes, you study, complete assignments and evaluations independently, without the traditional deadlines of an instructor-led course. Instructor-led courses are the most similar to on-campus courses. 

We’ll focus on the instructor-led model as we discuss how online college classes work.

What Are Online Courses Like?

The number one thing you should know—online college classes are just as demanding as in-person courses. While the structure is more flexible to accommodate busy schedules, the course content, assignments and evaluations will require the same amount of effort as any college class.

Online college courses typically involve videos, live streams, online chat groups, and content like articles, case studies, slide decks, etc. 

Instructor-led online college classes are often a combination of live-stream sessions and pre-recorded video modules. There will be live “meet sessions” where instructors review material, lead class discussions and give students collaborative assignments. In order to maintain flexibility, course content is also taught through pre-recorded lectures, instructional videos, illustrations, readings, case studies and more. The best online college classes will also record all live sessions for students who miss the class or want to review content.

How Long Will An Online Course Take?

Online college classes are structured very similar to in-person college classes. In an instructor-led model, most classes will last 6 to 8 weeks. Classes will be broken down into independent study, live sessions and group work. Progress is regularly evaluated through assignments and quizzes, which have defined deadlines to keep students on schedule.

“One of the best features of the Franklin approach is the balanced learning format,” says Dr. Doug Ross, Chair of the Business Administration Program at Franklin University, “It ensures students allocate roughly the same amount of time each week to their coursework. Unlike a traditional college class, which can have inconsistent periods of heavy workloads, Franklin evenly distributes work across the length of a course. This makes sure students with busy professional and personal lives can plan ahead to fit coursework into their schedules.”

Do Online Students Have To “Attend” Virtual Classes At Specific Times?

It depends. Each class will have different requirements for attending class. Some online college classes might meet once a week, while others only meet 3 times during a 6-week session. Live, virtual classes happen in the evenings to help working students attend class around their schedule.


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Even if courses have set meeting times, the best online college classes will offer alternative assignments for students who cannot attend class at those times.

Do Online Colleges Have In-Person Requirements?

Some online colleges also have a physical campus where students can attend classes. These courses are called hybrid classes, which combine both online and in-person components. You may also be able to alternate between taking courses online and in person, or take the two types of classes in tandem, if it fits your schedule or your learning preferences.

How Do I Keep Track of My Progress?

Progress is typically tracked in an online dashboard that a student is given access to once enrolled. The website has a gradebook that shows the percentage of assignments completed and grades for completed work, as well as upcoming deadlines. Having all of this information in one place makes it easier to manage your time. 

Will I Be Able to Interact with Other Students?

There are multiple ways students can interact with each other. During virtual meet sessions students will participate in discussions over video conferencing, while outside of class, discussion boards are also used.

Group projects are common in online college classes. Students can reserve online meeting rooms, communicate over email or schedule conference calls to discuss projects and create presentations.

When it comes to connecting with your peers, you get out what you put in. Take initiative to reach out to other students, even when it’s not mandated. Your peers can offer you a support system, new perspectives and valuable networking opportunities.

How Do You Take Exams In Online Classes?

There are two types of exams in online college classes. The first type is online quizzes or exams. These are accessed through the course website and students are given a set amount of time to complete the assessment. The second type are proctored exams. Some courses require you to take an exam at an in-person testing center or assign someone at your organization as a proctor who can administer the exam. 

What Technology Will I Need?

The basic requirements are a computer and internet connection. It’s also helpful if you have a computer with a camera to participate in video conference calls. Some courses will require you to purchase software for a class if a specific tool is required to complete coursework.

6 Tips To Fuel Your Success in Online College Classes

Online college classes are a serious commitment. To be successful, you need to be just as dedicated to attending classes and completing assignments as you would be for an in-person class. 

Here are some of our top tips for setting yourself up for success:

  1. Organize Your Calendar: Time management is absolutely essential to success in online college classes. Set up milestones for key assignments, set aside time for scheduled classes, and block out regular work time so you don’t get behind. 
  2. Find Your Space: Create a space where you’ll be most productive, alert and attentive. It doesn’t have to be an office—just make sure it’s a quiet area that’s free of distractions.
  3. Actively Participate in Classes and Assignments: You get what you put into your classes. Never sit on the sidelines. Actively participate in discussions, lead group projects, and put your all into every assignment. 
  4. Go The Extra Mile to Build Connections: Online college classes aren’t just a way to gain new skills, they’re an opportunity to grow your professional network. Spend extra time getting to know your instructors and peers. Take advantage of shadowing and mentorship opportunities. All of the connections you build in online college can benefit your career in the long run.
  5. Develop a Support Network and Use It: Don’t go it alone. Online college classes can be challenging, especially when managing your other responsibilities. Whether it’s a friend, family member or colleague, find people who can help motivate you to succeed.
  6. Don’t Overcommit Yourself: It can be tempting to take multiple classes at once to speed up getting your degree. However, an online college class can take the amount of effort of a part-time job. Make sure you have enough time to commit to get the most from each online class.

Find the Right Online College Classes for You

Online college classes are not all created the same. How online classes work will vary from college to college. Do your research and find out which educational approach will best meet your needs as a student.

Franklin University offers a student-centered online learning experience. At Franklin, online college courses are designed with both the flexibility and support working professionals need to be successful. Franklin’s multiple start dates, variable course lengths, and balanced learning approach—where coursework is evenly distributed across the length of a course—make it easier to work college into your schedule. Support from admissions, advisors, and faculty are also offered after 5 p.m., as well as a range of services like tutoring or writing support.

Explore all of Franklin’s degree programs to find the right program and start taking online college classes.

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