Education without Walls

The scoop on online universities

No classrooms, no lectures, no in-class presentations…what’s not to love about online education? Before you download your application to Virtual U, there are a couple things you should know.

Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar campuses, online education programs rely solely on the Internet as the primary mode of communication. Lectures are taught through downloadable tutorials, discussion forums, and Web-based software modules that supplement print textbooks purchased for each class.

Depending on the program, classes either run synchronously, meeting in a live online chat session, or asynchronously, with students submitting required work any time before a given deadline. In most cases, grades are based on tests (which are e-mailed and open book), long-term projects, and participation determined by how thoroughly and thoughtfully students participated in dialogue forums and discussion threads. For questions and troubleshooting, online profs typically maintain “office hours” when they will be available through e-mail.

Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean it’s not work. Serious online ed programs are just as demanding as their in-class counterparts and often times are taught by the same person. Expect the same brain strain, tough assignments, and tuition costs that face any other college student.

Online universities are built on the idea that the World Wide Web can be accessed anywhere at any time by anyone, and they’re right. While most schools are legitimate institutions of higher learning, the accessibility of the Internet has made it easy for scam artists to promote unlicensed, unaccredited fake schools. Do your research, check and double check an institution’s accreditation (The Council for Higher Education Accreditation offers an online database of legitimate accrediting agencies), and ask to speak with a few students and/or faculty members before enrolling.

For more information on online learning, check out the Distance Education Training Council.


This article was written by Christina Couch

Christina Couch is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia, and Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of Virginia Colleges 101: The Ultimate Guide for Students of All Ages (Palari Publishing, 2008). Her byline can also be found on,, and, and in Wired Magazine.

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