Having taught both online and on-ground courses (and a combination of both) and also taken several online courses while completing my doctoral degree, I have first-hand experience in online education from both the teacher and student perspective. Students often ask me about the amount of time they’ll need to complete an online course. Many don’t realize that on-ground and online courses have pretty much the same time requirements: about 135 hours per semester. How you get to that magic number depends on whether your course operates in the semester or quarter system.
- Semester: A traditional 3-credit on-ground course meets three hours per week across a 15-week semester. Each student is also expected to spend an average of twice the in-class time performing out-of-classroom activities like reading, responding to chapter questions, researching and writing papers, etc. This brings the total weekly time investment to nine hours, or 135 hours for the semester.
- Quarter: Institutions that offer three terms per year (plus summer), such as Johnson & Wales University, use a quarter credit system, with courses worth 4.5 credit hours each in 11-week terms. The typical ratio of quarter credits to semester credits is 1.5:1, with a 4.5 credit hour class in the quarter credit system equal to a 3 credit hour class in the semester system. So the same 135 total hours is expected, whether online, on-ground, or in any combination. Thus students in an 11-week quarter credit class should spend about 12 hours per week on activities related to that course.
As you can see, how the time is used in each format is what’s different. It’s important to note that there’s usually similar rigor between on-ground and online courses, so ideally, you should learn a similar amount in either format.
U.S. News & World Report cited not budgeting at least 10 hours per week for each full semester course as “a major mistake online students make.” Needless to say, a lot of factors come into play when determining how much time each individual student should invest to successfully complete each class. For example:
- The student’s familiarity with the subject matter via prior education or work/life experience.
- Each student’s individual grade expectations—not everyone wants or expects to earn an “A” in a given course.
- Not everyone works at the same pace, with some students simply taking longer than others to complete course assignments.
It’s critically important for school administrators and teachers to be as upfront as possible with prospective students about the time investment needed to complete online programs. It then becomes each student’s responsibility to build an appropriate amount of school time into schedules that are already very busy. The Internet is full of tips and suggestions on time management for students, but it’s definitely an issue of one-size not fitting all. Each student needs to enter the online learning process with eyes wide open and with a commitment to spend the time needed to get the job done. And that commitment often also involves the support of family members, work colleagues, and others.