How Are Most Online College Classes Structured?

Though coursework in most online college classes is the same as in live classes, the structure of online college classes is very different. The structure of online courses lies in their apparent lack of traditional structure. Read on to find out more about how these classes are structured.

How Online College Classes Are Structured

Many online college classes are structured in such a way that students work at their own pace, at times that are convenient for them. At the same time, students of online college courses receive the same education they would from on-campus settings. The following list contains the elements around which online college classes are structured:

  • Instruction
  • Assignments
  • Student interaction

Important Facts About Online Learning

Programs Online classes may be offered in standalone format or as part of an online or on-campus degree or certificate program
Online Availability Classes may be offered fully online or in hybrid format
Credit Both for-credit and non-credit enrichment classes are available online
Continuing EducationSome online classes are designed to help fulfill CE/CEU requirements


The structure of online college classes does not allow for the same student-instructor interaction one will find in traditional live classes. Many online college classes are structured so that students can access lectures and notes at any time, with no set class schedule. In these cases, lectures are often recorded and accessible on the school's website. Other online college classes are structured so that instruction is delivered through a live audio chat, though this method does reduce a student's level of scheduling flexibility.


Assignments are typically delivered to the student in online college classes via e-mail or through a course management system such as Blackboard. These systems, in essence, become virtual classrooms. Instructors post assignments or announcements on a bulletin board or other discussion forum, adding due dates to a calendar feature. Completed assignments are typically e-mailed to an instructor, though in some cases either a student or instructor may prefer assignments to be mailed as paper copies.

Student Interaction

Some online courses involve cooperative learning activities such as group projects. Groups of students can interact via chat rooms or other online student forums. Students might also communicate through online group mailboxes or message boards. Many online classes are also structured as cohort classes, in which groups of students move together through a series of classes until an entire program is complete.

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