What is Online Class Like?

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Healthcare MBA

A student chats with a classmate from an online course.In its early days, there were doubts about online education and its ability to replace traditional in-classroom instruction, since students would not have face-to-face interaction with an instructor and might not have the self-discipline to stay on track and complete all assignments.


Today, internet-based learning is the norm for millions of students who see substantial personal and professional benefits from it. According to the latest National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 6 million individuals were enrolled in at least one distance learning course, and 2.8 million were taking such classes exclusively. That’s a small number compared to total postsecondary enrollment, but a large number in absolute terms, and one that’s still growing.

When designed well, an online degree program can provide high instructional quality with much greater flexibility than an on-campus equivalent. Still, many students may feel unsure about enrolling in an online degree program, especially ones — like the Healthcare Master of Business Administration (HCMBA) at the George Washington University (GW) — that are 100 percent online.

To make the decision easier, we’ve put together this FAQ on how online classes work. Read on for answers to some of the most common questions about online learning.

Q: Do I need to be online at a specific time of the day?

A: It depends, but usually, no. Most programs follow an asynchronous format, under which work can be completed at your own pace (note that this doesn’t exclude the need to meet deadlines). However, there may be synchronous activities as well, such as live lectures that require simultaneous participation. These lectures are often offered at alternate times to ensure greater flexibility for students.

Q: How do I submit and receive feedback on assignments?

A: Content management systems (CMSes; alternative learning management systems, or LMSes) are the primary infrastructure of modern online programs. They’re essentially specialized portals that you log into, providing information on upcoming due dates along with access to key course materials. You can also usually submit coursework through the CMS/LMS and have it returned to you with feedback and grades. Student of GW’s online Healthcare MBA program use Blackboard as their platform to interact with professors, instructors and other fellow students.

Q: Can I access this CMS/LMS from any device?

A: CMSes/LMSes are usually accessed from PCs or Macs due to their complex interfaces and desktop-centric designs. However, some variants also have mobile sites and/or apps so you can work on assignments or communicate with classmates from a phone or tablet.

Q: What options are there for communicating with instructors and other students?

A: There’s always email, along with message boards within the CMS, video conferencing, and chat. Discussion boards and video in particular are popular options for assignments.

Q: What kinds of assignments can I expect?

A: The main difference between online and traditional programs is form, not content. Accordingly, you can expect many of the same assignments you would have encountered in a classroom, such as reading relevant materials, writing papers, and discussing topics with classmates and instructors. All of these activities are mediated through the online CMS/LMS.

Q: Are online courses easier than on-campus ones?

A: No, not inherently. Whether a course is offered online or in a physical classroom should not affect the rigor of its instruction or the amount of time and effort you’ll have to commit to it. It’s common for students in online programs to spend as much as six hours a week per enrolled course credit, according to one education executive.

Q: Will I spend any time on campus?

A: In the GW HCMBA, all requirements may be completed online, meaning you don’t have to set foot on the GW campus at any point. However, some other degrees have hybrid setups that necessitate in-person appearances. This is common in nursing programs, for instance.

Q: How do I take a test in an online course?

A: An online exam might take several forms. In a hybrid program, it could be offered at a proctored site. In a fully online degree track, it will likely be administered over the internet, with a few failsafe measures to ensure integrity. These protections might include time limits on completion and in some cases screen-monitoring software or webcam access to deter cheating.

Q: How quickly can I complete an online program?

A: It varies by institution, with many structuring their online offerings in similar time blocks to a conventional degree. For a master’s degree, that means 2-3 years to finish all of the required credits. Competency-based courses may allow for accelerated completion since students can move more quickly through material they already know.

Q: Are online degree programs eligible for financial assistance?

A: Yes. Moreover, programs like the GW HCMBA offer a lot of flexibility for students. There are options for no-interest payment plans, third-party payers (i.e., sponsors who pay some or all tuition), and veterans benefit through the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Q: Will employers respect the online degree I have earned?

A: This used to be a concern since for many years online degrees were relatively rare. However, the initial skepticism of some employers has receded as more institutions have begun offering full-fledged online programs. It is worth noting that the degrees awarded to graduates of GW’s online Healthcare MBA program are indistinguishable from the campus program. Accreditation of institutions offering online programs also makes a big difference in how respected their degrees are. GW has regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Q: What does the GW HCMBA require for admission?

A: The admission process for the GW HCMBA is similar to that of any accredited graduate school program. You will need to provide official transcripts and test scores and also have a bachelor’s degree with several years of relevant professional experience.

Q: Which classes do I need to take to complete the HCMBA?

A: A total of 55.5 credit hours are required for finishing the HCMBA. More than half of those credits are within the program core, which consists mainly of financial topics typical of modern MBA programs. The remaining 24 credits are divided up among electives, which must be split evenly between general and healthcare-focused classes.

Q: Where can I learn more about the HCMBA at GW?

A: Visit the main program page, where you can answer a few basic questions to receive a free copy of our brochure.

Recommended Readings

Online or on-campus: Which Healthcare MBA format is for you?
Tips for Success in Online Learning


Fast Facts
10 Things Employers Think About Your Online Degree