how does online college work

How Do Online College Classes Work?

In 2020, the push for digital learning was propelled by social distancing mandates from the Coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, most college classes previously held in a physical room, quickly transitioned to virtual instruction.

That same year, during the fall postsecondary semester, 75 percent of undergraduate students (11.8 million) were enrolled in at least one online course. Simultaneously, 44 percent (7.0 million undergraduate students) were solely enrolled in online college classes, as stated by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Yet despite the rise in remote learning, many prospective students seeking accessible academics may still question, “How does online college work?”

Thankfully, as time advances, so do the technology and tools that enable digital learning. And, especially today, a growing number of students are empowered to earn the same education they once did in a physical classroom, but now from the comforts and conveniences of home.

Read on to discover the realities of distance learning — including how online college classes work, why specific students excel in online environments, and examples of online programs available across degree distinctions.

Learning Management Systems Facilitate Online Learning

Online learning is made possible through learning management systems (LMS), also known as virtual platforms or education portals.

When remote students log into their learning management system, they can access:

  • Collaboration tools (discussion forums and videoconferencing) for classmates and professors
  • Course reference materials — audio and video files, PDFs, slide shows
  • Exams and quizzes
  • Grades
  • Live or recorded lectures
  • Progress reports
  • Syllabi, and
  • Technical support services

With a sound internet connection, online students are well on their way to college and career success.

Types of Online College Classes

Typically, there are four format options in online learning environments. *

1. Asynchronous

Asynchronous courses are conducted independently and are available to students on-demand. This makes asynchronous online learning flexible and self-paced. College students study on their own schedule while adhering to class deadlines.

2. Synchronous

Synchronous courses are scheduled, taking place as live sessions. During set virtual classroom hours, students log into video conferencing platforms, complete assignments, interact with peers, and notate live lectures.

3. Hybrid

Hybrid courses are a blend of online and on-campus classes. While online courses are primarily written work based in theory, on-campus courses are typically held for clinical experiences, hands-on practice, laboratory work, or immersion weekends required for a specific profession, such as nursing. This provides students the flexibility of online learning, as well as valuable practical learning experiences to prepare for their careers.

4. Accelerated

Some online learners can complete their education quickly, by enrolling in an accelerated degree program. For example, Master’s in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) students at Goodwin University can opt-in to seven weeks of online courses (as opposed to the standard 15-week schedule), and earn their degree in as few as 20 months part-time. The accelerated option is a great path for those looking to get into the workforce fast.

*Please note that online formats vary per program.

What to Expect in Online College Courses

Overall, online coursework offers the same, quality and robust education as you’d find in the classroom. Of course, there are some differences between the traditional classroom and online course experiences. For example, online students can expect to find:

  • “Closed book” quizzes where students are required to respond to test questions from memory
  • “Open book” exams where students can reference their learning material
  • Electronically monitored exams
  • Virtual group projects
  • Instructor-directed questions on digital discussion boards
  • Reading requirements
  • Research papers
  • Remote presentations

In many online programs, students can even earn additional credits toward their degree for applicable personal events, completed professional development, or military experience.

How to Succeed in Online College Classes

Driven, motivated degree-seekers do best in online environments. Organized students with self-discipline and time management techniques also excel in remote settings.

For learners who need a little extra time to grasp class content, remote courses provide the ability to pause and re-watch lectures as many times as needed.

Enrolling in online college courses can develop a student’s aptitude for adaptability, critical thinking, technology, and essential problem-solving skills — all transferable competencies for a student’s future career.

Top 3 Advantages of Online Classes


  • Accessibility
    Whether on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, online classes can be completed anytime, anywhere. Studying remotely enhances attendance, no matter the climate, possible car trouble, or potential cold.


  • Flexibility
    With an online college program, you can still work full-time, spend time with family, and take care of other responsibilities.


At Goodwin University, our convenient courses are designed with students in mind. From flexible class scheduling options to undergraduate and graduate programs available in hybrid and online formats, Goodwin makes earning your education as easy as possible.

Whether you’re a prospective associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree student, you can obtain an excellent online education. Online college classes can work well for you. All you have to do is log in, connect with your professors and classmates, tackle your to-do lists, and be prepared to enter a profession you love.

Are you ready for the opportunities that await online? Get going on your career goals. Learn more about Goodwin’s online programs today!