Online college classes allow students to earn a degree from a top U.S. school, regardless of their location. Online courses differ from on-campus courses in many ways. Distance learners need time management and communication skills. Accredited online courses emphasize self-directed learning.
Online college classes offer benefits such as asynchronous formats. Learners in asynchronous courses complete coursework at convenient times, which makes scheduling easier for working professionals. However, even programs with asynchronous online college classes may require some synchronous components, such as a practicum or internship.
Popular Online College Courses
Types of Online Courses
Types of online courses include OpenCourseware, individual courses, and professional development. Each type caters to a different group of students. Not all online courses confer college credit.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
New online learners often choose a MOOC as their first course. MOOCs can help learners train for a new career, qualify for a promotion, or learn a new skill. Colleges and universities create MOOCs on many topics. Most MOOCs use a self-paced curriculum and last 1-16 weeks. Providers, such as Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn, categorize courses.
Typical coursework includes multiple-choice quizzes and peer-feedback assignments. Students completing a MOOC assess other learners' work. Although MOOCs do not require fees, learners may need to pay for a certificate or college credit.
OpenCourseware via Accredited Universities
Colleges and universities sometimes release a course's syllabus, reading materials, and assignments to the public. OpenCourseware requires no fees, and people can access materials at any time. Like MOOCs, OpenCourseware helps learners develop new skills or explore a passion without committing to a degree or certificate program. Many schools offer OpenCourseware on their website.
OpenCourseware does not confer college credit, as no one assesses learners' work. Provided materials may not cover everything that paying students will learn in the classroom. Learners do not receive teacher support.
Individual Courses Through Vocational and Community Colleges
People who want to earn college credit without committing to a program can take individual online college classes. Vocational and community colleges often allow students to enroll in individual accredited online courses. Some classes fill up quickly, so learners should enroll as soon as possible. State community college systems offer residents the most affordable tuition rates.
Online learners usually follow the same course schedule as on-campus students. Schools generally offer online tutoring and academic advising. Learners who pass a course may apply earned credit toward an associate degree.
Courses Through Professional Development and Community Learning Platform
Many colleges and universities offer accredited online courses for workers in various fields, such as education. Learners take these courses to meet employment or licensure renewal requirements. Most of these courses use asynchronous formats and offer affordable tuition rates, often less than $100. Some professional development courses confer graduate credit. However, this credit may not transfer to other schools.
Community or social learning platforms provide similar experiences. Coworkers join a platform to share knowledge and provide feedback. Employers purchase courses, which employees complete during work hours. These courses improve collaboration while training workers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Online College Courses
Prospective online students often have questions about application requirements, cost, and financial aid. This section answers common questions about accredited online courses.
Anyone with an adequate computer and internet collection can take online courses. MOOCs offer open enrollment and do not require a lengthy application. However, applicants to colleges and universities may need GED scores, a high school diploma, or a bachelor's degree. Application requirements and deadlines vary by school.
Students interested in online college classes can research school websites. These websites may feature a separate section for online degrees. Learners who are not interested in earning a degree can explore MOOC.org.
Depending on the type of institution, accredited online courses may award credit. Online courses from colleges and universities typically confer undergraduate or graduate credit. Learners can apply this credit toward a degree or certificate. MOOCs may award a certificate, which can strengthen a resume.
Many colleges and universities offer individual online classes. These undergraduate and graduate courses cover topics such as history, science, and English. Other online college classes explore best practices in certain industries. These accredited online courses generally require a flat fee and award up to three credits.
Learners can transfer individual online college classes that awarded credit. Regionally accredited schools generally only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited schools. These institutions meet specific academic standards. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides a database of regionally accredited schools.
Prospective online learners must meet technology requirements. Learners often need a high-speed internet connection and a computer with a camera and microphone. Schools post minimum technology requirements on their websites. Online students also need basic computer skills. Learners should be comfortable sending emails, using web browsers, and writing assignments with word processors.
Learners can audit a course to study a topic without worrying about earning good grades. Colleges usually charge the same rate for audited courses and for-credit courses. Learners may be able to convert a semester-long audited course to a for-credit course within the first month. This flexibility allows students to determine their comfort level with the coursework.
Learners auditing a course do not take midterm or final exams, but professors expect them to complete some coursework and participate in class. These requirements vary by school and course. Students should complete assignments to make the most of the experience and to remain able to convert the course to credit.
Online students earning a degree or enrolling at least part time may qualify for federal financial aid programs. Learners submit FAFSA results annually. Requirements for federal aid include U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. Online students can also apply for private scholarships and student loans.