Flexibility in Online Courses

In our blog series on military friendly online colleges, we have explored many topics ranging from choosing the right degree, getting the credit you deserve, and understanding what accreditation is. In this post, we explore some things to consider regarding the delivery of online courses and programs.


One of the main boasts colleges and universities make in marketing and promoting their online program is how “flexible” their programs are. So what is a flexible online program?

The main element to look at when you are determining just how flexible a particular school’s online program really is, is whether or not you are required to be logged in at particular times in order to watch live or streamed presentations or lectures. Let’s face it, we are a society on the move, scheduling our time is challenging, and our schedules seem to be in a constant state of flux. Having the ability to go to college when we have the time, and from wherever we have an Internet connection, gives us the opportunity to pursue our educational goals.

A truly flexible online program will offer their programs and coursework in what is a called asynchronous delivery. Asynchronous delivery is a method of delivering online programs that are available to the student at any time of the day or night, allowing the student to complete coursework on their schedule, not the professor’s.

Time Commitment

Understanding the time commitment needed and required for online coursework is an important element of consideration when looking at schools to attend.  There are two components to this. The first is how much time is needed per week to commit. The second is determining if there is a standard or required number of times per week you need to be logged into your course.

As an adjunct professor and program director, the one thing that seemed to challenge many students, was not having a full understanding of how much time is needed to complete an online course. At the undergraduate level, experience demonstrates the average number of hours per week required for an online course is between eight and twelve hours for programs considered to be academically rigorous. This means that the average course will require between eight and twelve hours of “academic engagement”. Academic engagement is generally defined as the time required to complete reading, researching and writing assignments, and participating in online discussion boards. The other component of time commitment is in the number of times per week students are required to be logged into their course.

Some schools offer self-paced online programs. The student is given all of the coursework upfront and then the student is free to complete the coursework and assignments at their own pace. This may seem like the ideal situation, however, usually there is very little academic engagement between students and professors in such programs. The majority of creditable online schools have login requirements for their students. The reason is to insure their programs are academically rigorous enough to maintain proper accreditation.

The majority of creditable online programs will require their students to be logged into their courses at least three times per week, participating in the discussion boards of their course. Many schools also require the first, or primary post of a student, to be complete before a particular day of the week, and then define how many responses to their classmates are required in order to meet the minimum standards for the course.

Having an understanding of how much time is needed to commit to a particular course, and how many times per week you need to be logged into your course will allow you to better manage your time in an online program. You should be able to find out this information during the enrollment process from your enrollment or admissions advisor.  Also, ask to speak to an academic advisor who may have better insights to both of these.

Next month we will explore the length of online courses.

Posted in : Military Friendly, Online colleges, Online Education
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