Q&A: How Much Time Does An Online Class Take?

Question: How much time do online classes take?

Answer: This is one area where many schools can let students down. Most school sites provide answers that are vague and don't really help. They say things like online classes take about as long as on-campus courses. Well, if you've never been to college, how do you know how much time that is?

Here's how to estimate how much time online classes take. Many schools say you should study two hours for every hour you spend in a class for an easy class, three for an average class, and four for a hard class. If you attended class three hours a week, you'd then have 6, 9, or 12 hours of study time per week. Now apply that to online classes. Assume you're going to have to take part in class discussion or do homework to replace the class time. If the class is worth 3 credits, that gives you 9, 12, or 15 hours per week of work (three hours for the actual "class" time and then the additional 6, 9, or 12 hours of study).

Finally, adjust for a different pace. Many online classes take the ambitious nature of online students into account, and accelerate their classes. Some schools offer a 10-week quarter in six weeks. This means you need to multiply the time commitment that will be required. That would be 15 hours a week of class work for an easy online class, 18 for a moderate class, and 21 for a tough class.

Now you have to fit those numbers into your schedule. If you study seven days a week, you'll need to fit at least two hours of studying every day (2.5 for a medium class and 3 hours for a hard class) into your schedule. If you only study four days a week, that would require almost four hours of studying on those days just for an easy class, but nearly five for a tough class. That will require careful planning on your part; this includes the ability to make sure you have the number of hours to study available on a specific day and the commitment to making sure that those hours remain intrusion-free.

Greg Beatty
Greg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.