Convenience is the main reason students take online courses. Instead of making the trek to a campus a city, county or even several states away, you can learn from the comfort of your own home. While using your personal computer as a virtual classroom can help people juggling full-time jobs or family obligations find the time to earn a degree, you should know that not all online courses work the same way. Some will require you to commit to scheduled class times, while others allow you to complete your coursework on your own schedule.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Courses

Online courses fall into two scheduling categories: asynchronous and synchronous. Synchronous means that the class is occurring at a certain time. To succeed in a synchronous course, you will have to log into your virtual learning platform at a set time to view video lessons, watch slideshow presentations and participate in virtual class discussions. Synchronous courses happen in real-time. Though you don’t have to physically go to a campus, your attendance in these online course events is just as necessary as your attendance at a traditional on-campus class would be.

Asynchronous courses are the opposite of synchronous courses. This is also the type of class that most students think of when they sign up for online classes. Asynchronous courses are the most convenient in that you can complete your learning at whatever time you choose. If you work an unusual schedule, it may be easier for you to peruse lessons and contribute to discussions in the middle of the night, when your classmates are sleeping, or during the day, when those with a nine-to-five schedule are at work. If you have family obligations, asynchronous classes allow you to do your work after you put the kids to bed.

Managing Your Time in an Asynchronous Course

However, even asynchronous courses require some set time commitment from you. There will still be deadlines that you must observe for contributing to interactive discussions, completing examinations and turning in assignments. Additionally, if a course requires students to work together in group projects, you may still face the problem of finding a time to work synchronously with your fellow students even though the course itself is asynchronous, noted Inside Higher Ed.

Time management is especially important in the case of online courses, and even more so when the courses are asynchronous. Keeping organized is important to prevent procrastination. Some students designate their own class times and make it a priority to get their work done at these times, just as they would stick to a required schedule for a traditional class.

You should be able to tell when you sign up for a class whether it is synchronous or asynchronous. Both models have their advantages. Synchronous courses may allow for more engagement, while asynchronous courses allow for more flexibility. Before you sign up for a course, decide which model of study is best for you.