Distance Education FAQs

Students and schools often have common questions concerning online distance education. 

Click on a question below to show/hide the answer:

1. Is online learning for me?

You need to determine if the advantages of online learning outweigh the disadvantages.
Advantages: Convenient, flexible, 24/7 course access, unlimited online resources, independent working schedule.
Disadvantages: Technical skills needed (see next questions), face-to-face contact is limited.
Generally, self-motivated, self-disciplined individuals with good reading and comprehension skills will do better in an online course than others. But this is also true of face-to-face courses.

2. What type of computer skills do I need?

Online students are expected to have a basic knowledge of how to work with their computer and its operating system and a basic knowledge of software applications such as word processing, email, internet browser, and search engines.

3. What type of computer hardware/software do I need?

Each institution will have its own set of computer hardware/software requirements. Please see their website for specific information.

4. How do I enroll in an online course?

Enrollment is usually handled online through the institution’s website.

5. After enrollment, how soon can I access a course?

Once registered for an online course, two things must occur before you will be able to access your course online. The institution needs to create a user account for you and your course instructor needs to make the course available to students. About a week before the start of the course your account will be created. Several days before the start of the course your course instructor should send you information on how to access your course online.

6. How much does it cost to take an online course?

Check with the institution that is offering the course, but usually the tuition charged for an online course is the same as a face-to-face course. However, there might be a small technology fee per course.

7. Do I need to purchase a textbook or materials for an online course?

Many online courses will use the same textbook used in a face-to-face version of the course. However, some online courses access all course materials directly via the internet at no additional cost. Prior to the start of an online course the course instructor or school should send you the course syllabus which will contain the materials that you need to purchase for the course as well as information on where you can purchase them.

8. Do I need to come to a physical campus to complete work for an online course?
Almost all online courses do not require you to come to a campus. Some courses might be “hybrid” courses, which means a week or two will be on campus in a face-to-face format and the rest of the course will be online. Any requirements for online courses should be clearly indicated in publicity available through the institution.
9. When do online courses begin/end?

Online courses generally follow the same schedule as the on-campus courses for beginning/end dates. Each school should clearly indicate course start/end dates for its students.

10. What is the time commitment for an online course?

As a general rule of thumb, the time commitment for an online course is expected to be similar to the time commitment if the same course were taught in a traditional face-to-face classroom.

11. How do online courses work?

Online courses at most institutions are accessed through the Internet. Once students enroll in a course they are given a username and password that allows them to access the course website. Institutions use a learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle, D2L, Blackboard, or some other LMS to facilitate their online courses. Students do not install the LMS on their computer; they simply use its tools directly from the LMS website. A typical course is divided into a series of lessons, similar to a face-to-face course.

12. Do I work through the course independently?

Not usually. Often other students will be taking the course at the same time and you will communicate with them and the instructor via the discussion tools in the CMS. The instructor sets specific deadlines to complete each activity, but students usually do not need to access the course at a specific time each day.

13. Do I have to be online at a certain time every day?

Most online courses are offered in an asynchronous format, which means students and instructors do not all have to access their course at a specific time each day, but can access and work on the course at times that are convenient to them. In most online courses it is extremely important that students participate in the course at least 4-5 times per week. Specific requirements for participation will be laid out by your instructor.

14. What does a typical online lesson look like? T
The instructor will break the course down into a series of lessons and will provide a “lesson guide” to lead the students through each lesson. A typical lesson might include reading materials from a textbook or an online source, discussion of the material with other students and the instructor via a discussion forum tool, and assignment type activities that each student completes and submits to the instructor via an assignment tool. Many online courses also have self-correcting online quizzes/tests.
15. How do online courses compare to face-to-face courses?

Online courses are treated the same way as face-to-face courses and are held to the same academic standards. 
The content will be similar, if not identical. Online courses can include assignments, presentations, discussions, projects, tests, etc. The course materials will often be reworked for online delivery, but the content remains the same. High school and college transcripts usually make no distinction whether a particular course was completed online or face-to-face. 
The difficulty level of the course work is intended to be the same. Do realize, though, that you do not have the “imposed discipline” that accompanies a face-to-face course (for example, “the class meets in room 25 every M-W-F in the 3rd hour”).  Being successful in an online course does require an extra measure of self-discipline.
Time commitment is expected to be similar between an online and a face-to-face course. (See the answer to What is the time commitment for an online course? for a more detailed answer.)
Main differences between an online and a face-to-face course are that scheduling of class/study time is more flexible, communicating with instructor and classmates is electronic, course materials have been reworked for online delivery, work is submitted electronically, and no travel is required, making them more convenient for the student.

16. How do I get technical help?

While it is usually the responsibility of students to seek local technical help with the computer and software they need to take an online course, technical assistance on accessing the course and working with the Course Management System should be available through the institution offering the course.

17. I am new to online learning. Is there an orientation session available?

Yes. Once you have registered for an online course an account will be created for you. About a week before the start of the course you should receive instructions on how to access a free online orientation that will lead you through working with online activities commonly used in online courses.

18. If needed, will I be able to access library resources?

Online students should have the same online access to the school library as on-campus students. Often the school library will be accessible from off campus and you will be provided with a username and password to access various resources.

19. Do online course credits transfer to other schools?

Whether a course was taken online or in a traditional classroom environment should have no bearing on whether the course transfers in to a school or not. Ultimately, it is the school that you want to transfer the course to that needs to determine if the course will be accepted or not. Hence, it is always wise to check with the receiving school prior to starting a course.