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Online Education – A Student’s Reference Guide

online education learners using mobile devices to access online learning

A couple of decades ago, remote learning was almost impossible and non-existent. Everyone who wanted to get an education had to go to a brick-and-mortar school with an instructor in front of the class and other students seated in the same classroom. While traditional schooling has served its purpose to a large extent, it does not cater to the needs of every learner. Fast-forward to today, online learning has grown in leaps and bounds, and the impact of Covid-19 on the education sector has also helped push the online education movement. Whether you are looking to earn an associate’s degree or move up the professional ladder with a master’s degree, online education is a viable option.

Perhaps you have questions about distance learning and how it could help your career goals. This comprehensive guide to online education addresses everything you need to know about learning online.

To get you started, we answer, “What is online education in the first place?”

What is Online Education?

Online education is a versatile learning modality that includes all types of education that ‘’takes place’’ over the internet. With online education, educators can reach students who would not ordinarily be able to enroll in their traditional classroom courses. This type of learning also allows students to study at their own pace and schedules.

The number of online degrees is gradually increasing. More schools are beginning to tap into the unlimited possibilities of distance learning. However, students looking to earn online degrees need to be very careful about their choice of institution.

Why Do People Choose Online Education?

With better technology and innovations, online education has become an exciting way to earn a degree because it gives the learner a level of flexibility that is unattainable in the traditional setup. Global internet availability also means that students can access information wherever they are in the world. Contrary to some objections, studies have revealed that online students learn as effectively as in traditional classes.

There are so many reasons why people choose the online learning method. According to the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning report, students opt for online and blended education for three significant reasons.

  • Life circumstances and interests
  • Social-emotional safety and health
  • Academics

Some of the reasons why online education has become attractive include:

  • Students can now take ownership of their education by selecting the courses that match their learning goals and needs.
  • Online education is flexible and allows learners to schedule and accommodate other obligations such as work, family, health, and sports.
  • Distance learning is engaging and interactive. Technology has provided new ways for learners to gather and interact.
  • Students can connect with other learners from different geographical locations, backgrounds, and experiences in a safe environment.
  • Learners can measure their progress against goals they’ve set for themselves. They can also pace their learning and complete assignments faster or slower.
  • Distance is no longer a barrier as students can access a wide range of resources and materials. Additionally, learners can ask for extra support outside of school hours.
  • Education is now accessible to even underserved populations. Students are no longer limited to a few choices because of their zip codes.

Tips to Succeed as an Online Student

Every student who enrolls in an online course benefits if they have a motive behind their choices. For example, students with goals such as graduation and promotion are more likely to succeed than those without specific goals.

Many online instructors believe that students who have a rich and successful online learning experience share some essential characteristics. These are a few of them:

Great Time Management

Unlike in traditional schools, online students have to regulate themselves to make the most of their studies. Without any supervision, students need to create and sustain a regular study schedule that spans the semester. Those who struggle to manage their time effectively tend to be unsuccessful with online learning. Learners must prepare and commit to a weekly studying schedule.

Effective Communication

Learning via the internet means that students may not see their peers and instructors face-to-face. But this does not take away the importance of effective communication. Learners must be able to ask for help when they are stuck and to communicate effectively through text messages, email, discussion boards, and over the phone.

Independent Study Habits

There is no direct supervision in online courses, and students must be able to complete assignments and study course materials on their own. This self-discipline is crucial to success as an online student.

Academic Readiness

Whether you choose the traditional approach to learning or the online style, it is vital to have the basic writing, reading, and math skills needed for that level of education. Also, computer literacy is necessary as most of the learning involves computers and computer-related devices.


Students must have a strong desire to acquire knowledge, learn skills, and complete assignments in their online courses. Self-motivation often stems from a more important goal like better pay, employability, and promotion. The student’s ability to focus on this goal will increase their level of motivation.

Technological Adaptability

Technology is constantly evolving, and advances from a couple of years ago might now seem obsolete. Students must adapt to technological changes as they learn. The Standards for Students is a publication from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), designed to help students and put them in the driver’s seat of the learning experience.

Choosing an Online School

After deciding on an online education, picking a school or program is one of the most significant decisions for learners. Although the medium and technology are different, online schools share similarities with traditional learning centers. Most online schools share the same educational mission and provide the same academic standards as their conventional counterparts.

However, one must be very careful when selecting an institution, as many degree mills and fraudulent organizations are parading as online schools. Students must know what they are searching for while choosing an online school. Here are some tips to help you pick the ideal school.


Accreditation is perhaps the most important factor to look for in any school. A reputable or regional association should accredit the school you settle on. Accreditation means that the school has met academic requirements and that students can transfer credits they earn to other institutions.

A school without proper accreditation can cause many problems in your educational pursuit and future employers. It is not enough to check that the school is accredited. A handful of accrediting associations do not carry out thorough reviews of the schools and will endorse any institution for a fee. Ensure that the accrediting association is approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Quality of Instructors

The nature of online learning makes it more variable than traditional classrooms. Still, the core of a good program is an excellent faculty. One way to gauge the quality of instructors available at any institution is by visiting their website and looking at the qualification and experience of the faculty. The quality of education should not suffer simply because it is delivered online. In many community colleges, the teachers typically have a master’s degree in their disciplines. In contrast, university professors have at least a Ph.D. Decent online schools should have a similar structure.

Degree Programs

Students need to learn about the academic programs available at an institution and ensure that it aligns with their higher education goals. With so many schools offering distance education options, students have the luxury of choice. They can compare the same programs from different institutions. Some questions to ask while selecting a program include:

  • Does the school offer professional certification?
  • Do other higher education institutions recognize the school?
  • What are the required courses for a degree?
  • What are my total costs?
  • Do the classes fit into the field of study?
  • How does the curriculum compare to similar programs in other institutions?

Schedule and Requirements

It is advisable to understand the class schedule and academic requirements of a program before committing. These factors vary from one program to another. While some courses allow students to work at their own pace, others have deadlines. Some online classes also require that students participate in live virtual classes or interactive sessions.
Additionally, the student also needs to carry out self-evaluation.

  • Do you perform better with deadlines and structure, or are you self-motivated?
  • Are you an auditory learner or a visual learner?
  • Does the program require physical visits, or is it 100% online?

Understanding these requirements and schedules is essential to ensure a smooth learning experience.


Online education is a dynamic market, and some of the time, quality does not match up with the cost. It is important to have many options to choose from in your search for an online school. Look for other schools with a similar tuition fees and compare the following:

  • Experience of the instructors
  • Quality of degrees
  • Number of available degrees
  • Feedback from students and alumni of the institution

Evaluating these factors can help you find the best option. Students should understand that online education is typically cheaper than traditional learning. They can compare costs with other schools. Also, students should look out for extra fees or hidden charges.

Class Size, Office Hours, and Graduation Rate

Generally, schools with a higher enrollment rate are preferable. This is because established schools attract a lot of new students. The same applies to experience. Schools that have been in business for a longer period are generally better than those with little experience. The quality of instructors and programs also matter, but the experience is usually a more important factor.

Apart from the enrollment numbers, the graduation rate is also important. Intending students should look into schools with a better record of academic success. Other things to look for include student/teacher ratio, average class size, and instructors’ office hours. Even though the classes occur online, every student will benefit from a healthy dose of individual attention from the lecturer beyond the classroom. Students with access to mentoring and tutoring opportunities find it easier to deal with issues outside the classroom. The good thing is that many online teachers keep fixed “office hours” where students can discuss any challenges online. A good way to find out about these aspects is by talking to students of the school.

Software, Hardware, and Textbooks

Students can use the software of the online learning platform for free; however, they might have to buy specific software in other cases. Most schools also have basic computer requirements. While students do not need to own expensive supercomputers, they need an updated device to handle most common online activities and word processing. However, in some specialized courses, learners might need to use high-end hardware dedicated to the course topic. While online education does not rely heavily on textbooks like traditional schools, students may have to buy these books depending on the course. Before selecting a particular school or program, it is a great idea to have the cost estimates for textbooks, software, and hardware. These things all add up to increase the overall cost of online education.


Although online and traditional education have different delivery methods, they are very similar in academic requirements. Be sure to check out any program’s academic and experience requirements before enrolling. This will help to guide you on the right path.

Is Online Education Easier?

We have all come across phrases like “Earn your master’s in your pajamas” or “Get a college degree without leaving your living room.” Online programs offer more flexibility than learning at a physical location; however, these catchphrases draw people into believing that getting an online education is easy.

On the contrary, completing a degree online is no walk in the park. Distance education is more flexible, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Earning an online degree involves a lot of effort, time, and commitment. Even though they offer an unrivaled level of convenience, quality online education is just as rigorous and challenging as what you can find in traditional institutions. Some students are more likely to succeed in traditional classrooms than in online classes, which boils down to personality type.

The Challenges of Learning Online

Online education has broken down distance barriers for many learners and provides a flexible portal for many others to learn. However, there are still some drawbacks to the system.

The major complaint from many online students is isolation. Most students can only communicate with their peers through email and chat. The use of two-way video communication channels is rare. This limits the collaboration opportunities for students and takes away the traditional school feel. Some schools have managed to find a way around this issue. Still, even students in the best online programs face the feeling of isolation.

Another challenge is that online education produces fewer graduates than residential programs. There are many opinions on this, but it largely depends on the student’s level of self-motivation. Access to technology can also be a hindrance to effective learning.

Is Online Education Effective?

Online education has proven to be very effective, especially for those with access to the right tools and technology. Research has shown that students can retain up to 25-60% more material in online classes compared to a relatively low 8-10% in traditional classrooms. Students can learn faster online as distance learning requires 40-60% less learning time than conventional classrooms. This is because students can pace themselves, go back to read concepts they do not understand and skip concepts they already understand.

Advantages of Online Education

There are so many benefits of online education, and students with the right attitude to learning stand to gain a lot. Some benefits include:

  • Students can take classes when it suits them best and work at their own pace
  • No parking or commuting hassles
  • Online learning gives students a sense of responsibility for their own education
  • Students can easily share their opinions and debate issues with other learners during group discussions
  • Submission of assignments is convenient and easy
  • Students can learn from anywhere without geographical restrictions
  • Online learning is more engaging
  • Feedback is more frequent and faster
  • Online education is less expensive
  • Online education prepares students for a changing workforce

What to Expect in an Online Classroom

Online education is gradually becoming the most popular way to earn a degree or complete job training. However, not everyone is convinced. These are some things you can expect to experience if you enroll in an online course:


Students in online classrooms can interact with other students and their classmates using instant messaging platforms and chat rooms. Here, they can share ideas and ask questions without attending a physical classroom. Students and teachers can also communicate frequently through conference-calling technology.

Group Work

Group work is an essential part of any learning experience, and it is also present in online education. For this, students use web broadcasting technology, emails, and instant messaging to collaborate on project ideas and assignments.


Students can submit assignments as email attachments or on a dedicated website. Most programs have deadlines for projects, and students can not submit assignments after the due date.

Reference Materials

Reference materials for online courses such as books and documents are mostly provided online for students. Students can access them via the resource center. This means that students do not need to go to libraries for research.

A Word on Massive Open Online Courses

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a popular way of getting information. You can learn from lecturers at elite schools through MOOCs free of charge. These courses are a great way to gain knowledge. Still, it is essential to note that they are not substitutes for conventional courses. The difference between conventional online courses and MOOCs is that there is very little assessment or accountability in MOOCs. Additionally, MOOCs do not offer college credits. So if you’re looking for a way to earn a degree, you have better options than MOOCs.

Myths About Online Education

There are common misconceptions about online education that many people hold, preventing them from exploring e-learning to its full potential.

Assignments Have No Deadlines
Students can indeed complete their assignments at any time of the day. Still, most online courses have fixed deadlines, and students must complete their projects by the due dates. Students can check the class syllabus for a breakdown of their class assignments and due dates.

There is No Interaction in an Online Class
Due to the isolating nature of online learning, course creators specifically design remote classes to be highly engaging. Students typically participate in discussions and other group activities with others.

Online Classes are Easy
The truth is that online classes are not any easier than traditional education. In some cases, online courses are more demanding and can take more time to complete. Students must fulfill extensive reading requirements and manage their time to succeed in online classes. For some students, it is an easier path. For others, it can be more challenging.

The School Provides Computers
There are few instances where schools provide learners with computers, but this is rare. Students must have access to a computer and reliable internet service to undertake an online course.

Computer Instruction is Part of Online Education
Schools do not offer technical support or teach computer usage in online classes. However, if the course requires specialized software, instructors provide specific training for that software. Students must, however, be confident in their computer skills before enrolling in an online class.

Is Online Learning Right for You?

Online education is excellent for self-motivated learners who can work without supervision. Online courses are also great for students looking for flexible schedules and those who do not have the time to visit a traditional campus for classes. With online courses, students have that flexibility where they can complete coursework at any time of the day. Choosing a good online school is also crucial as it can significantly affect the learning experience. Here at, we review top online schools. You can also get more information about careers and schools when you visit our educational resource center.

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