Are Online Classes Harder? [2024 Guide]

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Are online classes harder than traditional classes? Online classes can allow you to work within your own schedule. There are some other factors to take into consideration when deciding between on-campus classes and online classes.

Are Online Classes Harder

Consider how online classes work, how many classes you plan to take, your financial aid opportunities, accreditation, and your needs to decide if online college courses are better for you than traditional classes.

Making the choice to attend online courses requires the same research as deciding to take campus courses.

How Do Online College Classes Work?

student studying on her computer on a sofa

When you enroll in an online class, you should learn the same or a similar curriculum as an on-campus class in the same subject. The main difference is that you’ll likely have more flexibility for completing the coursework.

Rather than learning in a classroom, most of your work can be completed right from your own laptop. And there are online schools that provide laptops as part of their student support offerings.

Asynchronous coursework means that you can complete the assignments for your online class at any time, day or night. However, the assignment still has a deadline.

Your online class might also have synchronous components. This means there are specific times for you to sign on to the learning site. You might watch live lectures or add to discussions using your computer’s camera and microphone.

You will likely spend about three hours per credit taken. For a four-credit course, you’ll probably need about 12 hours per week on the assignments for your class. This is the typical time required for a traditional class.

In an online class, you might spend additional time reading directions, navigating the website, waiting for others to post their work so you can respond, or waiting for your teacher to answer your questions.

Some colleges offer accelerated online classes. Accelerated programs have shorter online classes. A traditional college class is usually 16 weeks, but an accelerated bachelor’s program offers courses in five, eight, or ten-week sessions.

group of students studying together in class

Of course, you should still be expected to complete the same amount of work during this shortened time frame. You may have to study more hours per day on course work if you take an accelerated class.

Your tests will most likely also take place online. You might write essays, take multiple-choice tests, or answer open-ended questions.

Although you may have more flexibility to complete your coursework, you’ll also have more responsibility to stay on task to meet your deadlines. Time management is a key factor in succeeding in your online courses.

Are Online Classes Hard?

student studying on his computer at home

Your workload in an online class should be comparable to a traditional class. Your online class should cover the same or similar material as a traditional class in the same subject. However, your online class may require more from you in the form of motivation, time management, and proactive problem-solving.

Your ability to motivate yourself to do the work is essential for success in your online class. Is it difficult for you to stay motivated when you’d rather be doing something else? When you work on the computer, do other websites pull your attention away from school work? If no, then taking online courses may be an excellent choice for you.

Time management is another key to success in an online class. Do you spend your time wisely? Are you good at meeting deadlines? If yes, read on to learn more about the benefits of taking online courses.

Just because the coursework is more flexible, doesn’t mean the deadlines are. Assignments and tests are due along the way, not in one lump by the end of the course. If you struggle with time management, an online class may seem harder for you.

Last, to succeed in your online class, you must be a problem-solver. You’ll need to navigate the online learning platform on your own, deal with any internet connection difficulties, and navigate assignments on your own.

Yes, you can ask your instructor for help, but he or she may not respond for up to 24 hours. No matter what happens, you’re still responsible for making those deadlines. If you frequently make excuses, online classes will probably be difficult for you.

The Benefits of Taking Classes Online

Benefits of Taking Classes Online

The potential benefits of taking an online class are plentiful. Online classes have the flexibility for busy students who balance school with work and family life. The flexibility of an online class is often great for professionals looking for career development, parents looking to support their families, and students looking to save time and money on the commute to school.

Students taking online classes tend to do the same or better than those taking traditional classes. The curriculum and timeframe are typically similar, if not the same. The main difference is the presentation of material. In your online class, you have more flexibility to read and view the material at your own pace.

As you read and view material online, you’ll have the time to re-read, research more, and communicate one-on-one with your teacher. If English is your second language, you’ll have more time to translate and focus on meaning.

If you tend to get lost during traditional lectures, an online class can give you the ability to re-watch the material as you take notes.

Finally, online classes have the potential to save you time and money. You won’t commute to school, spend time finding a seat, deal with other students’ drama, or otherwise navigate campus life. Even if you’re sick, you can still attend your online class, although you might choose to reschedule your work.

You would have the ability to do so in an online class.

When Should You Take Online vs On-Campus Classes?

students studying in university and studying on his laptop

Online classes may be a great way for you to earn a degree or certificate if you have the time and aptitude to do the work on your own. As you read the following checklists, look for your characteristics as a student to see what type of class is best for you.

Students who typically succeed in online classes:

  • Are self-motivated
  • Have excellent time management
  • Are willing to ask for help
  • Accept responsibility
  • Can read large amounts of information
  • Minimize distractions
  • Avoid procrastination
  • Actively participate
  • Communicate in writing respectfully
  • Have grit or the tenacity to stick with it when things get hard.

You will find that whether you are taking classes on campus or online, hard work and determination are fantastic characteristics that can get your far.

Students who typically succeed in traditional classes:

  • Have strong listening and speaking skills
  • Are social learners, collaborators, and group members
  • Are curious about others
  • Ask questions
  • Follow oral and written directions
  • Can take notes while listening to lectures
  • Ask for help from peers and instructors
  • Participate in discussions
  • Come to class prepared
  • Are eager to learn

Of course, your life situation is one of the biggest factors in the decision to take a class on campus or online. Do you currently work full time, care for a family member, or have responsibilities or health issues that may make it difficult to attend regular classes in person? If so, an online class may be a good option.

college students studying in library

If you intend to be a full-time student, and learning will be your main pursuit, then a traditional class may be a good fit for you. You can immerse yourself completely in learning as you attend classes, get to know your fellow students, and advance through courses with them at a steady pace.

If you intend to learn part-time in addition to your other responsibilities, an online course may be a good fit for you. You might complete a certificate at night to advance in your current job or finish a degree online while you tend to your family.

You might work on your degree over a longer or shorter time than traditional college classes offer, taking advanced classes when you have chunks of time to devote to intense study.

Accreditation for Online Classes

impressive university campus

Accreditation is one way you can avoid being scammed by a fake online school. Regional accreditation means an outside organization has made sure your school or program meets a certain standard of quality.

Employers will most likely check that your education comes from an accredited program. When your school is regionally accredited, you can trust it is real and valuable.

Be careful; some online courses are not accredited. Although the website might look official and the cost may be the same, or more, if it’s not regionally accredited, then employers may not acknowledge the credits from that school.

To make sure your courses are regionally accredited, contact either the U.S. Department of Education or the nonprofit Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Don’t trust a website that claims the school is accredited. Go the extra step to check with an outside organization to be safe.

Financial Aid for Taking Classes Online

Financial Aid for Taking Classes Online

The Department of Education awards approximately $120 billion in financial aid to students every year. If you qualify for federal financial aid, you can apply it toward the cost of an online, regionally-accredited college course.

Federal financial aid can make a significant difference. Public universities charge in-state students an average of $9,000 and out-of-state students $25,000 per semester. With financial aid, you can lower these costs.

To receive financial aid, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, also called the FAFSA. You can also apply for state aid in the form of scholarships and grants.

Meet with your academic advisor or the bursar (financial office) of your school to get more information on your specific financial aid options.

Can You Cheat on Online Classes?

student studying on her laptop on couch

The risk of cheating in an online class is the same as the risk of cheating in a traditional class. To combat cheating, many instructors use higher-level questions. These are questions that require reasoning, justification, and explanation, rather than questions that can be answered by a quick internet search.

Many instructors also use anti-cheating software. For example, they might check for information copied and pasted from another source (plagiarism), or they might run a program that checks to see if your computer has multiple browsers open during a test.

Do Online Courses Work?

Yes, online courses do work. You might do just as well, or better, in online classes, as long as you stick to the scheduled coursework. Online classes have the same or similar curriculum and time frame as traditional classes. The format in which the information is presented is the main difference.

The format of an online class works well for many students. If you need more time to review material or talk with your professor one-on-one, an online class will probably work better for you. If you need the flexibility to work on assignments late at night or early in the morning, an online class may work well for you.

And last, if you have strong reading and writing skills, as opposed to listening and speaking skills, and online class may work well for you.

Are Online Classes Better than Traditional Classes?

group of students studying online at home

Online classes are better than traditional classes for some students. The content of the classes is the same or similar. The time frame is usually the same (unless you choose to take an accelerated course online). So, the deciding factors for success in an online class come down to your flexibility, time management skills, and self-motivation.

If you need a flexible class schedule, but you can motivate yourself to do the work on time, then online classes may be better for you than traditional classes.

Are Online Classes Harder in College?

college student studying on her computer

Because online classes cover the same or similar material, typically in the same amount of time as traditional classes, they are not harder. The only thing that can make an online class seem harder is the amount of reading and communication they require.

In a traditional class, you might listen to a lecture and take notes. As the teacher asks questions, one student might answer each question. However, in your online class, you will likely read large amounts of information and study on your own. When the teacher asks a question, every student is responsible to answer.

If you have strong reading and writing skills, strong self-motivation, and strong time-management, then an online class may seem easy to you.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.