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Online College Courses and Classes: Options and Requirements

Nowadays, the vast majority of colleges and universities offer courses online. Continue reading to learn more about online course options, as well as requirements.

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Overview of Online College Course Options

While many colleges and universities offer full online programs that culminate in certificates or degrees, others may offer individual classes online. Many schools offer a combination of the two, with some degree programs available fully online and other degree programs available through on-campus and distance learning, giving students options to learn on a schedule that fits their lives.

How Online Courses Work

Colleges and universities that offer full programs and individual classes online typically deliver the class materials to students electronically. Students may receive lectures in text form via email, while others log in to a secure site to view professors delivering lectures on video. Blackboard is a common electronic interface for transmitting course materials as well. Students log in to receive lessons and submit completed assignments for review. There are also opportunities for students to interact with fellow learners through email, discussion lists, chat rooms and discussion forums.


Most college degree online courses and classes are semester or trimester based, in keeping with on-campus classes. Typically, courses offered online are not tied to a set schedule. Often students can obtain lessons and turn in assignments at their convenience. In some cases, an instructor might require one or two class participation activities online at a set time, like a group chat. Exams are usually mailed to the student. Students arrange for a proctor to monitor the exam, which is then mailed back to the professor for scoring by a pre-set date.

Online college students may have the option of choosing a program of individual study or an alternative, known as cohort study. In cohort study, all students beginning a degree program at the same time move through the courses together.

Technology Requirements

Technology requirements vary by program, but generally include a reliable computer and Internet access, at the very least. Some schools offer an introductory class to help new online learners. Many schools offer tech help regarding their online classes, and most have basic help desk support available to distance learners experiencing trouble with online course interfaces or hardware. In addition, some programs and courses may require students to purchase special software and/or hardware.

Residency Requirements

Most online classes can be completed virtually. Some programs, most likely those taught at the graduate level, do have a residency requirement for online students. This may be anything from a single week spent meeting and working with classmates and professors to several weekend meetings throughout the semester.

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