How Much Time Should an Online Course Really Take?

How Much Time Should an Online Course Really Take?

How Much Time Should an Online Course Really Take? banner

Many college students look at online courses as an option to help them save money and time on schooling. While there are money and time savings with many online programs, it’s important that you do not underestimate how much time online training will take. You need to prepare for success, not struggle, by planning the right amount of time for your studies. Here is a closer look at some of the benefits of online education and the amount of time you should plan for your studies.


There are many reasons to consider online degree programs and courses for your college education. Some of these benefits include:

Greater Flexibility

Flexibility in when and where to study is one of the biggest reasons many students choose online courses or online degree programs. These programs can often fit in around work schedules when on-campus programs do not. This can allow a college student to pursue a degree even while working full-time. Online learning can also be a better option for students who have already started their families and need some scheduling flexibility.

Work at Your Pace

Sometimes, online courses allow you the ability to work at your own pace. You can pause a lecture video to really take in a concept, or you can jump into the next lecture or project as soon as you finish one. While you will still have deadlines at the end of the semester or term, you can often work at your own pace as long as you meet that deadline.

Save Some Money

Another benefit of online coursework is the ability to save some money. While the credit hours may be priced the same as on-campus credits at the same school, you can continue living at home and avoid the costs of commuting to campus. This can cut down on gas as well as room-and-board costs while you pursue your degree.

Attend School Far from Home

Online education provides the opportunity to earn a degree and take classes from a school that isn’t near your home. If you have a particular interest in a school that is far from where you live, you have the freedom to earn that degree without the need to relocate. This means access to higher-quality education for many students.

Learn New Tech Skills

Earning a degree or taking a class online may mean you will have to learn some new tech skills. Online students must become adept at using technology like video chatting and online forums to attend class and interact with students and professors. Those skills translate well into real-world applications after school as technology has become increasingly important in the modern world.


The goal of online education is to provide the same high-quality education as an on-campus program in a more flexible format. This means that the courses should not make material sacrifices—either in quality or quantity—in order to accommodate an online format. Thus, many online courses run the same length as their on-campus counterparts.

This means that a semester-based schedule will include approximately 15 weeks of work for 9 hours per week or 135 hours total for the semester for each 3-credit course. If the school follows a quarter-based approach, which has three school-year terms and a summer term, the same type of course would have the same 135 hours, but with 11 weeks of coursework. Thus, the student would spend approximately 12 hours a week on their course activities.

So, where does the flexibility come in? Online courses are supposed to be flexible, but this still sounds like a lot of time spent in the virtual classroom.

With online education, many programs are designed to let students log in and access coursework on their own schedules. Rather than having to be in class at 9 a.m. every Monday morning, students can log in to view course videos and other material when it works for them. While some programs have weekly deadlines for assignments and discussion posts, for many programs, they can earn credit for the course as long as they are completing the full 135 hours by the end of the term.


Online degree programs take the same amount of time as in-class programs for most students. This means an associate degree will take approximately two years to complete, while a bachelor’s degree will take about four. If you take summer courses and a full course load each semester, you may be able to finish a bit more quickly, but these approximate lengths are fairly standard.


The 135 hours of coursework is typically relegated to actual time in the virtual classroom. In other words, this is the time you spend reading materials, interacting in online forums, or watching your instructor’s videos. This is not the amount of time you will spend on your homework and assignments.

According to US News & World Report, students report spending 15 to 20 hours a week on their coursework. However, this can vary depending on the workload. A better indicator of the amount of time it will take to complete the coursework is six hours a week for every credit hour. This estimate includes time to view course materials and time to work on assignments.

Several factors can impact how much time this takes. For example, a student who is taking coursework in an area that they have first-hand knowledge through work or other avenues will spend fewer hours of study time on their coursework than someone who is taking courses in an area they have no knowledge of. If a student has familiarity with a subject, that student will not need to study or research quite as hard as someone with no prior knowledge.

A student’s pace of doing coursework is another factor. Some students read, type, and work on lesson materials faster than others, and this impacts how much time it takes to finish the work. However, knowing these averages can help students plan the right number of hours to finish their coursework and avoid taking on too many credits at once.


To better understand how much time an online class takes, consider a breakdown of what you will need to do each week. Typically, each 3-credit course will require you to spend three hours a week listening to or reading the actual coursework, similar to the three hours you would spend with in-person instruction in a traditional classroom. On top of that, you will need to spend about 3 hours per week reading for the class, which may be a physical textbook or an online text. You will also need to spend 4 to 5 hours on homework, papers, tests, and other assignments. This adds up to 7 to 8 hours a week on top of the classroom hours.


Some students choose online learning in an attempt to complete the degree program faster. The self-paced nature of the program makes it seem like they can finish ahead of their peers who are not doing distance learning.

Sometimes it is possible to take an online class more quickly than the same class in a traditional classroom. This requires excellent time management skills because you will still need to spend the same number of hours studying as you would if you were in the classroom. The difference may be in fitting more study hours into each day. This only works if you do not have lectures to watch that are released on a particular calendar schedule.

Some online degree programs are called accelerated. They are constructed to cover course material more quickly without sacrificing the quality of the education. This requires a self-motivated learner, but it can allow you to complete a bachelor’s degree program in well under four years.

Finally, you can speed up your online learning by jumping into the next term as soon as you finish the first one without taking a long break between terms. If the programs do not have specific start dates, this can help you finish just a little more quickly.

Ultimately, accelerating an online learning program will depend on the options available at the school you choose. Talk to the admissions team about what you can do to earn your degree more quickly if time is important to you.


If you are interested in earning a degree fully online, JWU can help. With both graduate and undergraduate degree programs, we have the flexibility and online class format you need to succeed from home.

Learn about earning your undergraduate degree or graduate degree online from Johnson & Wales University. For more information, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881 or email [email protected].

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