Is Online Learning Right for You?

By Carolyn Siccama, Ed.D.

Are you a working professional looking to advance your career or change careers? If so, have you considered taking an online course to help you meet your professional goals?

There are numerous benefits of taking online courses for working professionals who are trying to balance the demands of work, home, and school. Online learning allows for flexibility and convenience in learning, while maintaining academic rigor and high expectations of students.

You may not need to be online at any particular time when taking an online course, however, it is expected that you are online almost daily to complete your required course work and meet all course due dates.

Before enrolling in an online course, it is best to determine if learning online is the best environment for you. A good place to begin is to review the following four indicators of student success in an online course: time management, support, communication, and computer access.

Time Management
Time management skills are critical to success in an online course. If you fall behind in turning in your work, it is difficult to get caught up. As with on-campus courses, instructors will have policies on how they handle late assignments. Some instructors may allow extensions and some may not. The best approach is to schedule adequate time throughout the week to dedicate to your online course so you can turn all your work in on time and not fall behind.

At the beginning of the semester, make note of all due dates for coursework so you do not miss any assignments. Instructors expect regular – almost daily – participation and contribution to the class. For a three-credit course, expect to spend at least 5-20 hours a week on course related readings, assignments, and discussions, depending on the length of your course.

Recent research has reported that students tend to stay in online courses, and not drop out, when they have the emotional support of their family, friends, co-workers, and online classmates. Whether you commit to take one course or enroll in a fully online certificate or program, it’s a big commitment of your time and energy. Having support can make your life less stressful as you manage your coursework.

Communicating Online
Most of the communication in an online course is in written format. Online communication may take place via email, discussion boards, blogs, wikis, journals, or written papers. Instructors often have high expectations for how students participate and what they contribute to the class. Be sure to read and review your course syllabus carefully for your course participation and communication guidelines.

Communicating online is one way that instructors can assess your learning. In an online course, students should feel comfortable communicating with their instructor and class peers. Communicating outside of your course may also be necessary at times. If you need to request technical assistance, talk with an advisor or with a reference librarian.

Computer Access
Taking an online course requires regular access to a computer with internet access. Online courses are rigorous and can take anywhere from 5-20 hours per week. Having regular access to a computer while you take an online course can help you achieve success.

Are you ready to learn more about distance education? Visit

Carolyn Siccama, Ed.D., is an instructional designer for UVM Continuing and Distance Education.