If you’re considering an online education, you might have heard that online college has a different structure than a traditional college education – or that it has no structure at all. It’s true that many online courses are asynchronous, meaning they don’t follow a strict course schedule where students have to attend classes on a fixed basis. For some students, this lack of a set meeting time and physical place can make it seem like an online education doesn’t provide enough structure. However, there is still a structure in how coursework is laid out and how online courses progress.

The Outline of an Online Course

The material taught in an online course follows a structure. Just like a traditional course, students start at the beginning of the education objectives and progress through the coursework. They move from the most introductory topics the class covers to the most advanced. Throughout the course, there are textbooks or articles to read, assignments and papers to complete and exams to take. Strictly speaking, it’s not even the case that there is no course schedule to follow. Assignments and tests still have deadlines that students must meet. The only difference is that the students get to choose when to work on those assignments.

Where Structure Is Lacking

Why do some experts talk about the lack of structure in online courses? Specifically, where a typical online course lacks structure is in the course schedule.

Compared to a fully on-campus course, where students have to show up in the classroom at set times each week and attendance is often mandatory, the flexibility of online learning certainly seems to lack structure. This convenience is often stressed as a reason for choosing online learning. However, “not being required to show up at a certain time and place can be frustrating” for students who crave structure, WWLP-22News reported.

The Pros and Cons of a Flexible Online Course Structure

For some students, the lack of structure in an online class is a huge benefit. They need the flexibility so they can juggle their education and other responsibilities, like a job or family obligations. They may enjoy working independently and learning at their own pace. In an online course, students can take as much or as little time learning the material as they need. To these students, studying online provides a sense of freedom.

Other students have a harder time adjusting to the lack of structure common in online courses. Instead of feeling freed by the flexibility of online learning, they feel isolated by it. There’s no reassuring chatter with fellow students or an instructor. Though many online college courses include virtual class discussions, interaction on a forum or chat is different from in-person communication.

The different ways students experience the flexible structure of distance learning courses is one of the reasons online college isn’t for everyone. However, for many students, a course with a little less structure is like a breath of fresh air.