What Is Online Learning?

Ready to start your journey?

What is online learning? How do online colleges work? Online education refers to any educational instruction and assessment that happens via the internet. This type of learning may be utilized by anyone – children, teens, or adults.

What is Online Learning

Tools for learning online have come a long way. These days, it’s possible to get your whole education through the internet, from pre-kindergarten through higher education and even graduate degrees.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

Some examples of online education programs include:

  • Homeschooling online learning programs for grades K-12
  • Individual online courses or workshops
  • Collaborative learning programs
  • Internet-based online college degree programs

In this guide, we will focus on postsecondary online education programs.

What Is Online Education?

Student taking an online education

Online learning is a method of education that involves taking classes virtually. While in-person classes require you to be on campus and in actual classrooms, online learning can allow you to learn from anywhere, as long as you have internet access.

Since you don’t have to be on campus to learn online, there are quite a few advantages to taking classes this way. The biggest one may be scheduling flexibility. Not having to commute to campus can help save you time, and you may be able to take classes at your own pace. If you don’t live near big universities, online learning may also give you access to classes and degree options that you may not have otherwise.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

Virtual classes may also be more affordable. The downsides of online learning include a lack of interaction with peers and teachers, which may be difficult if you prefer in-person discussion or tend to be more social. Also, some universities may not offer all their courses online, so there may be some restrictions.

Common Types of Online Learning

Common Types of Online Learning

When it comes to online education, there are different formats to consider, including:

  • Synchronous: Synchronous courses require you to be online at a scheduled time each week to participate in live-streamed lectures, discussions, and presentations.
  • Asynchronous: In asynchronous courses, the lectures, course materials, tests, and assignments are available for you to access at your convenience as long as deadlines and due dates are met.
  • Hybrid or Blended: These types of online classes offer a mix of virtual and in-person classes. Students may have to come to campus occasionally to meet with their peers and professors, but they can also take virtual classes and study from home.
  • Self-paced: These types of courses allow students to study, take classes, and complete exams and assignments on their own time. They typically start and end on specific dates, but the pace of the class is up to each individual student.

Some programs offer a blend of each of these formats to better accommodate students or the material being learned. Some courses may be synchronous, while others are asynchronous. Others may offer the opportunity to complete classes fully online or take some classes on campus in a hybrid format.

How Do Online Classes Work?

student attending online college class

While enrolled in an online education system, here are a few of the components that may make up a typical class.

  • Reading assignments
  • Discussion boards
  • Video conferences
  • Group projects
  • Collaborative writing
  • Quizzes
  • Tests
  • Assignments

To encourage interaction between students, some classes may require participation in online discussion boards, virtual group projects, collaborative writing and editing assignments, and more.

Many classes also include traditional elements, like reading assignments, quizzes, and tests. It generally can be a strategic move to be proactive about reaching out to your teacher if you have questions. Because communication is online, you may get a delayed response.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning

Man attending his online class

If you are not familiar with online learning, it’s important to examine the advantages and disadvantages to determine whether it is a good fit for you.

Pros of Online Education Cons of Online Education
  • Flexible scheduling to fit around job, family, and other commitments
  • May be completed at an accelerated pace
  • Convenient and time-saving due to self-paced coursework and no commute times
  • Can earn a degree from anywhere with an internet connection
  • Often lower cost. No dorm fees, meal plans, parking fees, etc.
  • Must be organized, pro-active, and self-motivated to succeed
  • Need more time management skills
  • Not all degrees can be earned online
  • Fewer opportunities for peer interaction and personalized interaction with your professors
  • Fewer opportunities to network with other professionals

For many, the advantages of taking college classes online outweigh the disadvantages, but it’s important to review different programs and understand the key differences in order to make the right choice for you.

Choosing an Online Degree Program

Student checking an online degree program

There are a wide variety of factors that can go into choosing an e-learning program, but here are a few that you may want to take into consideration:

  • Student graduation rate
  • School reputation
  • Regional accreditation
  • Faculty reputation
  • Types of degrees offered
  • Class format
  • Hybrid, remote, or in-person programs
  • Technological requirements
  • Tuition cost
  • Class size
  • Accessibility to professors

When choosing a program for learning online, it may be extra important to consider the quality of professors at your school. Since you may have less access to them than you would if you attended classes in person, it’s important to ensure you can communicate with your teachers.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Online Learning Financial Aid

When exploring options for an online learning program, you may want to investigate the types of financial aid available. You can learn more about how to apply for financial aid at the Federal Student Aid website.

The first step to applying for financial aid is to fill out the FAFSA. To do so, you’ll need your federal tax information, social security number, driver’s license number, and income information. Qualifying students may be able to apply for loans, scholarships, and more.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

If you’re enrolling in an online program with a flexible class schedule, you may be interested in pursuing a work-study program, where qualifying students earn at least the current federal minimum wage.

What Is eLearning?

Woman attending eLearning classes

eLearning is a method for taking classes virtually. Through online learning, you may be able to consume your educational material in the form of videos, webinars, online documents, or online presentations.

Types of eLearning classes include synchronous, asynchronous, hybrid, and self-paced courses. This can be an advantageous way to learn if you want to take classes from home. You may also get exposure to a wide variety of learning modalities, instead of simply attending in-person lectures and classes.

Is Online Learning Right for You?

Student pursuing online learning

Online learning isn’t necessarily right for everyone, but it may be beneficial for you. To help determine whether you can thrive in an eLearning environment, you may want to consider your adeptness in the following areas:

  • Time management skills
  • Communication skills
  • Technology skills
  • Discipline

Since many online learning classes are self-paced, it can be important to have solid time management skills and discipline when it comes to studying. You’ll also need to know how to use the required technology to view content and communicate with peers and teachers.

Are Online Degrees Respected by Employers?

Woman with online degree, applying for a job

Yes, many employers respect online degrees. Years ago people may have questioned the validity of distance education programs, but today, most employers recognize the quality of online education.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

As long as the school you attend is accredited, a degree earned online is just as valid as one earned on campus. In fact, degrees typically don’t state if they were earned online. Unless you attend an online-only school or you tell them directly, employers will likely have no way of knowing whether you earned your degree from your couch or a classroom.

What Is the Easiest Degree to Get Online?

Man taking a degree via online education

Easy is a relative term. The degree that is easiest for you will depend on your own interests, needs, and prior experience. That said, there are some factors to consider that may help you find a degree easier for you.

These are some factors you may want to consider:

  • Interests: Choosing a degree in a field that you are passionate about may be easier for you simply because you have more interest in it.
  • Graduation rates and average GPAs: Programs with higher graduation rates and average student GPAs may be easier or have more support to help students succeed.
  • Length of program: Programs that can be completed faster may be easier as well, especially in terms of burnout or fatigue.
  • Time required for coursework: Many programs list the average time needed to study outside of class. Programs that require less time on outside studies may be easier to complete.
  • Support programs: Schools may offer online tutoring, online libraries, mentors, or counselors, all of which can help make it easier to succeed.

When it comes to choosing the easiest program for you, it’s important to consider your specific learning needs and interests and compare them to the offerings of the schools you are considering.

Are Online Classes More Expensive?

Man taking online classes

Online education typically costs the same or perhaps less than traditional education. Many reputable colleges and universities charge the same tuition rates for online and on-campus students.

Online learners may also be able to save money over traditional students by avoiding charges like:

  • Out-of-state tuition rates (some universities waive these for online learners)
  • Dorm expenses
  • Meal plans
  • Parking fees
  • Commuting costs
  • Textbook fees
  • Activity fees
  • Athletic fees

Though online students may be charged an additional technology fee, they often still come out ahead!

What’s the Difference between Online Learning vs. Classroom Learning?

College students in a traditional classroom setup

When deciding whether online learning is right for you, it can help to compare the differences between online learning and classroom learning.

Online Learning Classroom Learning
  • Can study from anywhere there is an internet connection
  • Peer interaction, if any, occurs through discussion forums, chat rooms, or online calls
  • Less opportunity for one-on-one interaction with your professors
  • Classes may be asynchronous or self-paced
  • Must commute to class
  • Face-to-face peer interaction occurs in the classroom
  • More opportunities for one-on-one interaction with your professors
  • Classes must be attended at set times and have stricter deadlines

As an online student, earning your degree will be more flexible and easier to fit around prior commitments. You’ll have fewer opportunities to interact with peers and professors, though, and need to be more responsible for keeping yourself accountable for completing your studies.

What’s the Difference between Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning?

Woman attending synchronous classes

Synchronous and asynchronous classes are both available forms of online learning, but there are a few key differences between the two.

A synchronous class:

  • Is at a set time
  • Gets students together in the same virtual classroom
  • Typically involves a professor providing a lesson

While an asynchronous class:

  • Is self-paced
  • Allows students to view educational content on their own time
  • Typically doesn’t provide instant access to the professor

Synchronous classes usually get students and the professor together at the same time, while asynchronous classes provide more scheduling flexibility.

Is Distance Learning Worth It?

student enrolled in eLearning programs

Yes, distance learning is worth it for many students. If you are interested in having more flexibility in your schedule, online learning can be a way to get that. This can be helpful if you have other commitments besides school, like a part-time job.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

With eLearning programs, you may also be able to save money by not having to commute to school or live on campus. Before deciding to enroll, it’s helpful to assess your time management, communication, and technology skills, as well as your discipline with studying.

Getting Your Education Online

student getting her education online

As online learning becomes more popular in an increasingly technology-focused world, students can more easily reap the benefits. Virtual classes can provide flexibility in your schedule, potentially a more affordable education option, and access to a wide range of degree options.

You may want to take into consideration how strong your time management, technology, and communication skills are before deciding to go with this option. For some students, it can be more challenging not to learn in person with their peers or professors.

To take the first step toward your online education journey, you can start by exploring all types of accredited universities today.

Ready to start your journey?
Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.