how does online college work

How Does Online College Work?

The internet has changed the way we do literally everything — from ordering takeout to seeing the doctor — and postsecondary education is no different. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over 6.6 million American students take college courses online, with nearly half of those students taking online courses exclusively. And it’s not hard to see why. Who wouldn’t wanna stay home and learn in their PJs?!

But, if you’re used to in-person learning, it can be hard to imagine taking classes online. And we don’t blame you, as there’s so much to get used to with this format. Do you have to get dressed? Is there video conferencing? Set class times? Presentations? How does it all work? We’re covering all the deets for you here at Tallo so you can decide if this is something you want to consider.

All About Online College: FAQs

Online college, also known as distance learning, allows students to take courses on their own time. This is a good thing and a bad thing, depending on what kind of learner you are. The freedom and less-structured environment mean you’ll need more self-discipline and motivation to carve out class time several times per week. Of course, there are benefits, too. The virtual nature of this kind of learning also translates to more flexibility so you can work a full-time job or pursue other things you love.

Where Can You Take Online Courses?

According to the NCES, both public and private universities offer online courses to millions of students throughout the United States. Community colleges, vocational schools, and specialized career training programs may also offer online learning options, depending on the nature of the program. Because distance learning programs are the norm at so many institutes of higher education, they can be paid for with college scholarships and grants just like any in-person program. (BTW, check out our blog about the difference between college scholarships and grants .)

Does Online College Take Less Time?

online college less time quoteBesides the fact that you’ll have no commute, both online and in-person classes require a significant time commitment. Both formats involve taking time for instruction and time for independent study. However, when you’re taking courses online, you may be able to complete the instruction portion — typically via a recorded video or presentation — anytime you like. In other words, you may not have set class time like you would with a typical on-campus schedule.

Do You Have to Be Online at Certain Times?

It depends on how your professor or school presents lectures and discussions. Some college courses and professors require a component of “live” classroom education, which may involve a livestream of the professor lecturing or a video conference where you must contribute to a class discussion. Others provide you with all the written or recorded materials upfront, which means you’ll have to make your own schedule and complete it on your own time. These two types of learning methods are called synchronous (live) and asynchronous (recorded or self-paced).

Can All Programs Be Completed Online?

Depending on your field of study, taking college classes online may not be too different from taking college classes on campus. Whether you’re earning your master’s, bachelor’s, or an associate’s degree, if it’s a lecture-based course, it won’t vary too much from classroom to computer. On the other hand, not all programs are set up to be completed from a distance. Any program involving hands-on learning or large, specialized, or expensive equipment might need to be completed on campus, such as certain medical certificate programs  and skilled trades like plumbing, construction, or welding.

The Pros and Cons of Online Learning

There are some serious pros and cons to online college, and if you’re considering this route, you need to think about both.


  • You can do it from anywhere
  • You’ll save time with no commute
  • You’ll save money on gas and transportation
  • You may spend less money on food by eating at home
  • The schedule is usually more flexible
  • You can go at your own pace


  • college at home classes quoteIt requires a lot of self-discipline
  • You have to set aside time for learning
  • If you like the social aspect of school, it can be lonely
  • It requires a reliable computer and internet connection
  • You spend less time on campus
  • You may not be able to ask questions in real-time

Give Online Learning a Try

The reality is that millions of students take a combination of on-campus and at-home classes during the course of their college career, so there’s no reason not to give it a try if you find that it might help you reach your educational goals faster and with more success. Chances are, you’ll find online learning to be like second nature, and if you’ve got the discipline to go with it, you’ll be set up for success!

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