Are Online College Classes Actually Effective?

Student taking online classes

If you’re thinking about going back to school, you’re probably considering taking classes online. After all, online classes are convenient, they’re usually more affordable than in-person classes, and they enable you to access a variety of educational institutions beyond your physical location.

But let’s cut to the big question: Are they any good? 

The answer to that question can vary widely, of course. Even in person, we’ve all taken some amazing classes and some that were not so great. And online it can be even harder to compare the quality of one school or program against another. They all have nice websites, a ton of class offerings, and make big promises about your future. How can you determine where your time and money will actually be well-spent?

The key here is to do your research. This is an investment, after all, so make sure you understand what you’re buying, whether it’s the best fit for you, and how it will benefit you in the long run. Here are four important questions that will help you determine if your online classes will be effective.

What type of online classes are offered?

The first thing to understand is that there are different types of online classes, and one may be a better fit for you. When it comes to online college classes, you’ll see three common options:

Synchronous classes happen live, at scheduled times. This means you’ll interact with your instructor and other students in real time, likely through video and chat platforms. This can feel more like a traditional, in-person class, with live discussion and Q&A. An added bonus is that you can often go back to re-watch class sessions for studying purposes.

Asynchronous classes are pre-recorded, which means you can view lessons at your own pace using online tools, whenever you please. This is a more flexible option for those with busy schedules. But it also requires that you’re good at managing your time and can watch lectures and complete assigned work independently, within certain time frames.

Blended classes may include a combination of both live and pre-recorded elements, up to the instructors’ discretion.

The type of class that’s best for you may vary. Some schools only offer one format; others offer different formats depending on the program or class. But in either case it’s important to have a sense of how you’ll work best and find classes that fit your needs.

For example, if you have a full or unpredictable schedule, you may need to find asynchronous classes that you can do during off hours. Or, if you know you work best with more structure, you’ll probably want to explore synchronous class options instead. The good news is, there are so many online class options out there, you’re sure to find a program that fits both your goals and your work style.

Is the school or online degree program accredited?

If you think about it, anyone can start an online school. Build a website, find some instructors to record some lectures, and boom! Online classes.

Of course, as a student, that’s not what you’re looking for. You want a high-quality education from a legitimate college or university so you can ensure your degree will be respected by employers and colleagues. And the key to making sure that’s what you get is checking the accreditation of the school you’re considering.

Accreditation is a stamp of approval from an outside authority that indicates a school meets certain quality standards. This can affect not just your educational experience, but also your job prospects, as many employers are hesitant to hire candidates who graduated from non-accredited online programs. Another important aspect of accreditation is that other accredited schools are more likely to accept your course credits if you transfer.

Not sure if the school you’re considering is accredited? Do a bit of research to find out.

Another thing to note: some fields require programmatic accreditation that is related to that specialty. This is especially applicable to careers requiring licensure (e.g. nursing). Be sure to ask around to professionals in the field whether programmatic accreditation is needed, before you commit to a school or program.

How does the quality of the online college degree program compare to the on-campus version?

Some schools are online only. But these days, many prestigious brick-and-mortar schools are offering online degree programs in addition to their more traditional on-campus programs.

As a consumer, you might assume that any reputable college or university will offer high-quality online classes that lead to the same respected degree you would get in person. But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

For this reason, it’s important to research the quality of the instructors and curricula for the specific online programs you’re considering. If you want to receive the “same” education as an on-campus student, you’ll want to confirm that’s actually what you’re signing up for.

For example, ODUGlobal classes feature the same instructors and curricula as on-campus classes at Old Dominion University, one of the largest and most esteemed universities in Virginia. As a result, our online classes meet the same academic rigor, and lead to exactly the same degree (your diploma won’t even say “online”).

Does the school offer additional academic support?

When it comes to earning a degree, the experience doesn’t end with classes. Sometimes you’ll need additional help or support; and it’s always nice to have folks in your corner guiding you through your academic journey.

Be aware that the level of support offered by online college programs varies widely. Some offer many resources; others very few, if any. But at ODUGlobal, we know that the more resources you have, the better your chances of reaching your goals.

Our additional support resources include:

  • Academic resources - This includes libraries, tutoring, learning assessments, accessibility support, military support, and more.
  • Coaching and advising - Our coaches and advisors can help you find the right course of study, and then provide guidance all the way until you have your degree in hand.
  • Career services - Whether you’re starting or advancing your career, we can help set you on the right path with career assessments and career development services.
  • Technical support - With online classes come technical questions. Our 24/7 help desk will guide you through any glitches.

Phew, that was a lot! We know this can be overwhelming. We’re suggesting you do some pretty big homework assignments to figure out whether the online college classes you’re considering are going to be effective for you. But in the end, it’s all about asking questions so you can go into your next educational experience with confidence.

Don’t be afraid to ask about class format, program credentials, or what to expect from your experience. Remember that you’re the customer and you deserve to understand what you’re buying.

And if you’re ready to explore ODUGlobal — which checks all the boxes above, has a 35-year history of distance learning, and a high student satisfaction rate — we’d love to talk and answer any questions you have. Get in touch!

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