Are online classes right for me?

Online classes can offer a flexible alternative to traditional on-campus learning. Use our self-assessment tools to determine if online classes might be right for you.

Ask yourself the tough questions

If you are a self-motivated learner and able to work independently, online classes might be a great choice for you.

Online coursework can often be the mode of choice for students who need a flexible schedule and do not wish to come to campus to take classes. Because of the format, online classwork can be completed at any time of the day or night.

However, if time management and self-scheduling do not work for you, or if you do not have an uninterrupted location in which to take classes at home, you might struggle to succeed in online classes. Strong time management skills are necessary.

We invite you to talk to an HFC advisor if you are not sure online classes will work for you. You may also choose to use the following resources to learn more and assess your personal learning styles.

1. Online Learning Self-Assessment

Success in online courses requires personal support, motivation, focus, dedicated study time, and effective time management skills. It is also important to know where to go for help when you need it.

Are you struggling with any of the questions below? If so, make a plan to overcome your obstacles. Student resources are available to help you succeed. Answer honestly, as these are the situations you may encounter when taking online courses.

What will you do if…

  • You do not have a place to study?
  • You feel that you lack sufficient time for assignments?
  • You do not have sufficient support from people around you?
  • You need help academically?
  • You need help with reading and understanding course material?
  • You are reluctant to ask for help?
  • You are not free from interruptions?

What are some ways you could…

  • Be persistent and follow tasks through to completion?
  • Manage your time well?
  • Stay motivated?

2. Learning Effective Time Management

One of the biggest challenges you will face while taking online courses is time management. Research shows that successful online learning involves good organization and time management skills.

Want to learn how to better manage your time? Follow these steps.

1. Identify your goals and priorities

Decide what you want out of school and what you must do to achieve your goals. Is obtaining an education high on your priority list? Do you also have a job or a family? What is most important to you?

2. Log your time

Keep a detailed log of everything you do for a week. Account for all activities, such as class attendance, studying, working, eating, commuting, recreation, exercising, and sleeping. Also make note of when you do these activities.

3. Evaluate how you use your time

Evaluate your use of time. Does it line up with your priorities? If not, what changes can you make to align your goals with how you use your time?

4. Develop a plan, and write it down

Start by building a realistic time schedule that fits with your priorities and will help you reach your goals. If learning and getting good grades are high on your priority list, you will need to budget time for attending classes, preparing for class, studying and test preparation, and additional time for completing papers, reports, and other special assignments. The general rule is 3 hours of homework time for every hour of class time. So if you have three hours in a class each week, schedule an additional 9 hours per week for homework and study for that class.

Do not forget to schedule enough time for sleep! Many people do not set aside enough time for consistent sleep every night (or day). Sleep is very important to your success. A good amount is 8 hours per night.

5. Stick to your plan

Some flexibility is necessary to take care of unexpected demands that arise. Still, it will be important to keep track of how you are spending your time and stick to the daily schedule you have set.

3. Tips for Success

Taking classes online requires all the skills to be successful in traditional college classes, plus the self-motivation and discipline to be an independent learner.

Research shows that successful online students are good readers, good organizers, and have good time management skills. Here are a few tips that may help you to succeed.

Completing tasks

  • Be flexible, but remain disciplined with your schedule.
  • Break major projects into small pieces, and tackle them one at a time.
  • Carefully evaluate and eliminate or reduce time-consuming and routine tasks.
  • Consolidate tasks whenever possible.
  • Delegate or negotiate tasks.
  • Do not procrastinate on large or complex tasks. Break them down into steps and complete steps each day.
  • Evaluate personal habits. Are your routines efficient? Could getting up 15 minutes earlier be helpful, while still getting enough sleep?
  • Keep a “To Do” list and prioritize the items.
  • Know and make use of prime working times.
  • Learn to say “no.” It is not possible to do everything. Focus on goal-oriented items.
  • Prioritize your tasks.

Studying smart

Commit to a study schedule.
The best way to meet goals for each class is to plan ahead.

Understand assignments and write them down.
Keep classwork in one place to avoid forgetting assignments.

Determine your peak concentration times.
Arrange your schedule to take advantage of these times.

“Studying” includes many different tasks.
When instructors talk about studying, they are referring to reviewing material in advance for class, completing all assigned homework, and reviewing class notes, text assignments, and supplemental material on a regular schedule.

Different subjects require different preparation.
Lecture classes require you to review notes following class and to preview a new topic before class; other classes, like languages and math, require specific study prior to class.

Schedule study sessions to fit your attention span.
Try studying for 45 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break to get up and move around.

Begin each study session with goal setting.
Determine specific goals, and then work to meet those goals.

Study difficult and/or complex material first.
Leave routine or simple tasks for last.

Vary subjects and types of study for maximum efficiency.
Within a study session: Do reading, writing, and memorization, for example, to stay interested and alert.

Schedule periodic review sessions.
To remember material over a long period of time, review the information often. Even small bits of time can be put to use. Always bring something to read or study!

Choose your locations wisely.
If you know you need others around to help motivate you, select a study partner and keep in touch with them for accountability. If you need quiet space, find an uninterrupted location. Keep background noise to a minimum. Even music can be a distraction for some. Use music, play, or recreation as a reward after you have completed a study period.

4. Myths about online learning

Be aware of the following myths (untrue statements) that can sabotage your success.

Myth 1: I can do assignments any time.

You can complete assignments day or night, but classwork must be submitted by the assignment deadline. Check your class syllabus for the schedule of assignments and deadlines.

Myth 2: Online classes do not follow the regular semester.

Online classes follow the same semester as on-campus class. Payment, scheduling, policies for withdrawing, and other procedures are the same for online classes.

Myth 3: I can remain anonymous in an online class.

There are a lot of required discussions and other activities between students and instructors in an online class. This gives you the opportunity to participate in a dialogue. Because these interactions are not face-to-face, shy individuals can participate in a non-threatening environment. But participation is a consistent expectation, and you will need to be prepared.

Myth 4: Personal attention does not exist in an online class.

In most cases, you will have a great deal of interaction with instructors and classmates—sometimes more than a traditional classroom setting. Some online classes have required log-on times or mandatory participation in chat rooms and discussion boards. This helps create a sense of community in the online class environment.

Remember, you can still contact your instructor at any time. Online classes create an important community of learners.

Myth 5: Online classes are easier than on-campus classes.

Online classes are not easier compared to traditional classes. Online classes tend to be more demanding and can require more time than on-campus classes. Extensive reading requirements and time management for assignment deadlines are required for success in an online class.

Do not underestimate the time commitment. Pace yourself and ensure you can nfulfill the demands of an online class. If possible, ask someone about their experience with online classes.

Myth 6: Computer or technology problems are acceptable excuses.

A broken or non-functional computer or network problem is not an acceptable excuse to miss a deadline. You should have a backup option or do your work well in advance of the deadline. Most online instructors will not accept the excuse that a computer was not functioning.

The College computer lab and public library are often locations where a computer is generally available. Advance planning and critical thinking are required in an online class. This extends to making sure you have access to a working computer and internet connection when it is time to complete your assignments.

Myth 7: The College will provide me with a computer for my classes.

HFC can sometimes, but not always, provide students with computers. You must have consistent and reliable access to a computer and internet connection to take online courses. Some classes may be taken with a Chromebook, but others require a more high-function computer.

Myth 8: I will receive computer instruction as part of my online class.

Instructors do not provide technical support or demonstrate computer usage for online classes. If a class requires use of specialized software, the instructor will make sure you receive instruction on how to use that specialized software. But you must be confident with basic computer skills prior to beginning any online class.

Myth 9: Procrastination is okay in online classes.

Procrastination is a bad idea. Procrastination in online class can often cause more problems than procrastination in a traditional class. You will need to be independent, motivated, and a self-starter. You must be able to set and follow your own schedule, as well as manage the flexibility of an online class.

Myth 10: I can cram all my work into one study session.

You must login and do your work regularly -- preferably every day. Most students learn best when they have an opportunity to learn smaller amounts of material and reflect on that material before learning more.

Many instructors require regular participation in online discussion. Not only does this discussion help you to understand new concepts, in some cases points are awarded for regular class participation. Grades can suffer in many ways if you only log in intermittently.