There’s no such thing as in class physical discussion in online education, but online discussion boards provide a valuable alternative. While discussion boards have pros and cons when compared to in class discussions, the fact is that if you want to succeed to your fullest, you need to know how to participate in discussion boards. In fact, many online universities will assign part of your mark to how effectively you engage in online discussion boards. To help make the process a little easier, here are 5 tips for using discussion boards.

1. Answer in paragraphs, not sentences

When professors are marking and evaluating your online presence, they are going to be looking at how deeply you engage with the subject matter. If you provide only quick, short answers, you give off the appearance that you have simply glanced over the subject matter. Your answers should be in paragraphs, unless otherwise stated by the professor, with an intro, a single key point, and evidence supporting your claim. This is your chance to show that you have engaged critically with readings and material, and to use specific points to backup your thoughts.

2. Make note of unclear concepts and bring them up

Discussion boards are a great opportunity to get your questions answered and to clear up issues you have had with your material. In addition to getting answers, you will also show that you are doing your best to understand the materials. When you are going through your readings or studying, take a note of the concepts which are a little bit fuzzier than others in order to bring them up in the next discussion.

3. Learn by explaining

When others are unclear with a concept that you have a firm grasp on, speak up! Not only will you gain a reputation as a helpful student, you will reinforce concepts through the explanatory process.

4. Practice proper etiquette

It can be easy to feel alienated and like you are just talking to a computer when you are studying online. The danger of this is that you will act less polite to others than in a real, face to face interaction. The basics are simple: be polite, don’t use all caps, stay on topic, and realize that your comments can be seen by the public. A helpful tip to personalize others is to create a mental picture of your classmates through their postings, as this will give you a gauge of their personalities and help you find like minded individuals to reach out to. Just remember, everyone else is creating a mental picture of you: so be polite, articulate, and on topic.

5. Read through other peoples responses carefully before posting

It can be incredibly easy to misconstrue what someone is saying in the online format when nuances of non-verbal communication are unavailable. The onus is on you to carefully dissect their points to avoid embarrassing mistakes. As well, this will prevent you from repeating points that others have said, which is a surefire way of being docked marks. There’s nothing worse than replying to someone and then realizing you completely misread their comment!

Whether you are graded on your participation or not, online discussion groups are an invaluable resource to understanding the materials and to engage with your peers and professors. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the format, follow these tips, and put yourself out there. You will find that if you engage in discussions you will feel less alienated and more on top of your studies.


Especially for new students to online universities, the first week can be hectic. This is your chance to set yourself up for success for your entire term, and these 7 tips will help you do exactly that.

1. Reach out to your professor

Professors have so many students it can be hard to tell them apart. The onus is on you to make an impression, especially in the online university world where you do not have the luxury of talking to your professor face to face. Once the rush of first day emails has subsided, take a look at the syllabus and email a brief introduction of yourself and any questions you have about the year ahead.

2. Read your syllabus and make a study schedule

The first week of class is the easiest time to set great habits. Your syllabus will outline what assignments you have and when they are due, and there is no excuse to be up till 4am the night before deadline trying frantically to turn something in on time. Take a look at your schedule and find some free time that you can set as your study hours, and plan to be working extra the weeks before big assignments are due. By knowing and marking down when everything is due, you can space out your work and avoid getting overwhelmed.

3. Decide if you are committed or if you need to drop a class

Online university students are often extremely busy with families, jobs, and other responsibilities, and balancing these can be a juggling act. The first week is the time to decide if you need to cut some courses- dropping out quickly will allow you to often get your money back and keep your record clean of fails which can hurt your education in the future.

4. Connect with your peers

Online universities can be an isolating experience, as you cannot rely on making friends with the people you are sitting next to in class. Exchange your email address with other students, and participate in a friendly manner on discussion boards. Putting in those first few comments early will help you feel relaxed with the online discussion format and help you engage with your courses.

5. Get those textbooks- and do your readings!

Getting your assigned textbook and doing your readings is one of the most essential ways to succeed at your education, online or not. The cost of textbooks can be prohibitive, but there are options to get them for less. Many times textbooks can be found online through online libraries or institutions such as Project Gutenburg. If you cannot find resources for free, you can often get your textbooks used from former students or through internet retailers such as Amazon or eBay. Once you have your textbook, don’t let it sit around collecting dust! Keep up to date with readings and assignments, and pose questions to your professors whenever you get lost.

6. Get familiar with the technology needed for the course

You will want to acquaint yourself with the technology needed for your online course, from word processing to uploading your finished assignments. Obviously, you will need to check if your computer can run everything! In addition to specific software, online universities require a general proficiencies with computers, and getting to know the course format and what is required of you is essential to avoiding future roadblocks.

7. Get started!

Last but not least, get your butt in gear and get a head-start on your readings and assignments. The first week or two are usually the easiest, and when it gets to crunch time you will be thankful you put in work already. Follow these 7 tips and you will be well on your way to success.

Many universities provide access to course materials and the curriculum for some of their degrees, and when a prestigious school such as MIT offers theirs, I feel the need to point them out to prospective students. One note of caution, however. While these courses may offer a great deal of information to people taking them, these courses does not give you any certification or undergrad credit for your efforts. It is purely an exercise in improving your background knowledge.

MIT basically posts all the content and provides no discussion boards or active interactive feedback. While I intend to provide links to all courses that to which MIT provides access, here is a taste of what hey have to offer in the educational space.

Introduction to Education

Educational Theory and Practice

Learning Seminar: Experiments in Education

Go forward and learn, oh seekers of knowledge!


For the most part, any online university wants you as a student. During the application process they are vetting you more to ensure you will be a good paying customer as the expense of serving students is considerably less than a bricks and mortar based university, and the cost of acquiring a new student is high. Students are money in the for-profit distance learning niche, and more students equals more money. If you meet the not terribly stringent requirements, you should be accepted, however certain degrees do require the proper background (e.g. certain prerequisites) and if you don’t meet the criteria, you will not be accepted. This is not to diminish the value of an online degree or online universities in general; for many purposes they may be exactly what you need, and I am not making a qualitative statement about a degree acquired through a distance learning program. But they are competing with other online universities for the same students, so school X is going to try to get you, a viable lead, to enroll with them before you can go off to school Y, hence the push to get you enrolled once they have all your application materials.

Keep in mind that just as much as you are being interviewed, you are also doing the interviewing. You have not just the right to be inquisitive, but to make sure you are choosing the right school. You have to do your due diligence to make sure you are getting a decent value for the cost of your degree.

1. Interview your interviewer.
Feel free to ask your interviewed any sensible questions so that you will have a good understanding of the school, what is has to offer, and what would make it a good choice relative to another school. This will also make you look good as a prospective student as if you are inquisitive and interested, they will consider you a good candidate.

2. Ask your interviewer why they work for their school.
Before I even worked in the distance learning space, I applied to about 20 different online schools so that I understood the market, and how the schools applications worked. While they were all different in terms of their process, the one thing I found valuable was asking them why they work for their employer. If the interviewer believes in the mission statement of their institution, it may be insightful as someone who is just there for the paycheck may be an indication that they are just looking forward to your tuition and have no developed a culture of academia. Finding a school that views itself as a school rather than a company will go a long way.

3. Ask what makes their degree more valuable than their competitor.
I once asked this question while chatting with the adviser on the phone and it was met with silence. You would think that they would at least have been supplied with talking points, but not so. Any good school should know what differentiates them from their competitors, whether it be cost, the quality of their faculty, or their ability to assist you in the job market after you graduate. If they cannot tell you why their school is worth your time, it may not be the place for you.

4. Ask about their current and past students.
Do many of their students go on to jobs at top notch companies? Do they track their alumnae and provide any information about their career opportunities or do they have a strong emphasis on a particular industry? This can be valuable information for you if you have a specific type of position in mind after you receive your degree.

5. See if they have deals or assistance through your employer for tuition reimbursement.
Do they offer any deals on tuition for up front payment of your tuition? Will they work with your employer on volume tuition discounts (you would be amazed at how often this actually happens, particularly employers who operate in very tight niches).

6. Be attentive and ask questions.
You don’t need to go overboard, but if your interview is a snooze-fest, they will be less likely to be helpful when it comes to tuition questions and logistics of applying, being accepted and enrolling.

7. Prior to the interview, determine how formal it will be.
For some online universities, the interview is a formality and they place their emphasis on your background and educational/employment experience. For others, a formal interview is part of the process, and you may be declined admission if your interview is poor.

8. Be prepared for some of the basic questions so you have an answer.
Your interviewer may ask simple questions such as “why are you looking at our university?” Do a mock interview with a friend or family member and brainstorm what may be simple questions so that you won’t be stumped when it comes time to sit in the interview seat. Review the school’s website and read its mission statement, look at the courses, and be informed. You want to look like someone who does his or her research rather than someone who just wants a piece of paper, even if the latter really is the only reason you are applying.

9. Speak clearly and offer complete answers to questions.
“Yeah” is not an answer to a question. When you are talking to your interviewer make sure that you speak well and offer something in return when asked questions. You don’t have to sound like you’ve memorized the dictionary, but you should be articulate enough that they will know that you have the skills and the desire to earn your degree. They don’t want to waste their time on students who drop out after one or two classes, so being an active participant in the interview rather than acting like a fly on the wall will take you a long way.

10. Don’t lie.
It’s not worth it. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, or about your background, don’t try to bluff your way through it or hide something that they can find out about you. They will value honesty and devalue dishonesty. You don’t need to disclose any more than you have to if you have made a mistake in the past, but if they don’t trust you, and have good reason to, they will not want to let you to enroll as they will see you as a potential problem, rightly or not.

While there are many more tips to share, those are the fundamental tips that should provide enough for you to get through any interview. You need not be nervous, as long as you don’t do anything completely off the wall, and you meet their requirements, you shouldn’t have a problem being accepted. And you have a duty to yourself to ask your own questions and make sure that institution is the right one for you and will help you achieve your goals.


1. Not using all available online resources

Just because you are not attending a physical school with a physical library does not mean that there are not resources to help you learn and to cite in your projects. Reputable online universities will have a subscription to online databases such as Jstore, Academic Search Complete, Web of Science, and CBCA complete. Many students do not fully use these resource, which are a great way of finding the perfect source for research projects.

2. Letting the online format alienate them

Online universities get it. You have a busy life, and you are taking online courses to achieve your goals. But don’t let the online format of the teaching alienate you from your peers and professors or rob you of your university experience. Engage in discussion groups, reach out to peers, and communicate with your professors. Do you very best to put a face on your peers and mentors, and to give them a face and a voice to know you by. Courses which offer instructional support are the best way to get extra help, and do not be afraid to contact your professor when you are feeling like a concept is not quite under your grasp.

3. Failing to balance their personal life and school

This fault is especially common in those who are taking an online education in order to be able to work at their own pace, fitting in school in their hectic life. When it comes to balancing a job, family obligations and other concerns, your studies can take a hit. If you want to succeed as an online student, you need to make your studies a priority by scheduling out your life and ensuring that you have enough time (and energy) to get your studies done.

4. Getting tricked by shady accreditation

There is a dark side to everything, and diploma mills have popped up, trying to take money from students in return for worthless degrees which devalue online institutions as a whole. These diploma mills use a common trick by setting up their own bogus accreditation institutes. There are six legitimate accreditation agencies in the US, depending on your location.

5. Not setting a study spot

While it is true that you can get an online education in your pajamas, doing your work in bed is not a great idea. Not only will you start to associate what should be a restful place with work, you will have a hard time concentrating on your studies. And while the bed may seem like the only place you are able to find a quiet spot to do your studies, there are other options out there. Libraries, coffee shops, and quiet places outside can be a perfect place to focus on your studies away from your obligations of home life. If you do prefer to work at home, designate an area for your studies, and make sure you have everything you need to succeed- water, office supplies, and a seat that is not distracting by being too comfortable or too harsh. Once you have your set study spot, use it only for your schoolwork and make it known that when you are hitting the books, you are not to be disturbed.

6. Thinking that online degrees are easier than traditional degrees

Many students go into an online course feeling like it will be a cakewalk, doing the work on their own time and motivating themselves to succeed. The fact is, online educations are just as challenging as their physical counterparts, and can be even more so because of the amount of self discipline it takes to get your work done on time. Not taking an online course seriously is a rookie mistake, and a pitfall which many students fall into. While it is true that online universities can be easier in that they suit your specific learning style better, they should never be taken lightly.


A general rule of thumb is to leave at least as much time for studying as you spend listening to lectures. In an ideal world, this is possible, but for those who are looking into online universities, there are often pressures of work, family, and other concerns that have lead the prospective student towards the flexibility of online courses. In these circumstances, it is crucial to be able to be efficient and effective in your studying and homework. So, how do you study for online courses? Here are my five best ways. They might not work for everyone, but you should be able to pick out one or two that work for your particular learning style.

1. Know yourself and your schedule

When you are just easing into your course, you will want to take a note of how you are spending your time. Map out your week by looking at where you have activities that need to be taken care of, and how much time you spend relaxing or on leisure. Then, check this schedule for 1-3 hour blocks that can be designated study times. Set these in stone as your study blocks and get into a routine. Getting into good habits now are essential to succeeding as a whole!

2. Now that you know your schedule… is all that tv time necessary?

While not all of us watch tv, we all have our guilty pleasures that can take up way too much of our time. And while rest time is important, electronics can wind us up even more. You may find that you are spending too much time on distractions, and be able to free up some much needed study time by cutting them back.

3. A great tip for those with babies

Often, those with small children will read to their babies until they fall asleep. If you want to free up a little time, try reading your textbooks or study notes to your child. Not only will he or she get a “new” story every night, you will get to pack in that little extra study time. The only risk of this tip: it could put you to sleep first!

4. A routine helps, but don’t let it limit you

A routine is essential to studying and working on assignments, but it is not foolproof. You could run into any number of setbacks, including illness or unexpected work. Bank on the unexpected happening, and work ahead on your assignments. If you are finding that you have an easy week and your routine study time is enough to easily complete your assignments, do not allow yourself to slack or slow down. Put in your best effort, and get ahead. Think of it as saving for a rainy day.

5. Put it in writing

It is so easy to think to yourself, I will do it later, or another day. A way to avoid procrastinating (as well as forgetting assignment dates and having to pull an all-nighter) is to write down every due date and assignment that you will have to do for the term. Using a whiteboard or calendar is a great way to do this. Do not just limit yourself to putting down the due dates, and write down when you will start an assignment, when you will get the first draft done, and when you will have the finished project. Try to have everything done at least a few days before the due date! Writing this info down sets a contract with yourself, and makes you more likely to be successful.

For online students to succeed, they need to be motivated and self reliant. By structuring your study time using these tips, the whole process may be much easier.


Online education has allowed many free institutions to pop up with the goal of educating the world. While at this point in time one is unable to achieve a degree at a free university, there are options to gain certificates and even credits towards a degree. These courses are taught by instructors who include in their ranks some professors from prestigious universities and instructors with PHDs. Just because the education is free does not mean that there are no world-renowned professors teaching!

Many free online universities will partner with traditional universities who have willing professors who want to take the plunge into the online medium which allows them to educate sometimes hundreds of thousands at a time. These universities are often meant as a supplement to more formal knowledge centers, allowing students to quickly master concepts on their own time rather than to take courses in order to achieve a degree.

The goal of most of these free online universities is admirable. With rising tuition costs, they seek to offer a free, easy to access medium for knowledge. So, why choose a free online university? For high school students, these institutions can be a leg up on the competition and allow you to be introduced to subjects before ever stepping into a classroom. For those who are in college, free online universities can be an aid to understanding difficult concepts, or, in some cases, actually count for credits towards your degree. Free online universities can also be invaluable for professionals who wish to hone their skills and learn new techniques.

While at this point it can be difficult to find courses for credit, many online universities offer certificates for completion. While these do not help towards achieving a degree, they are often offered by state of the art institutions. It is possible to even attain a certificate from Harvard through free online courses! While there are many prestigious universities which offer a few courses online, there are actually universities that have the majority of their courses offered online. Examples of these free online universities are Coursera, Udacity, and University of the People.

So, are there free online universities? You bet. While they do not serve the same purpose as online universities which offer degrees, free online universities can be useful for broadening your knowledge and skills, and to provide a strong foundation going into your degree courses. In the past, a university education was out of reach for many. Now, with free online universities, access to higher education is becoming more and more feasible for the world. And that is a very good thing.


No one ever said that a college degree was cheap or easy to get. Online universities are trying to change that, however, and with both for-profit and non-profit online colleges available, the advantage still skews only slightly more favorably towards the student. In December, the National Bureau of Educational Research published a paper on “The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low Income Students” where they indicate that two-year for-profit schools spend 87 percent less per student than the most selective colleges, but for low-income students, they cost almost 200 percent more.

While the data used for the study is available in the appendix, the following graph indicates the relative cost per student versus the resources spent on each student is often inversely proportional, particularly in the for-profit sector. You are getting less bang for your buck, so to speak. Particularly for prospective students, to whom the value of a college degree is important, this changes the dynamics of not just how one acquires a degree, but the quality of the degree and the knowledge base one can add to one’s skill set.

Cost of CollegeCost of College

One would presume that schools that charge higher tuition would cost more for all students and therefore spend the most per students while the data indicated that schools with more capital and that cost more tend to charge higher tuition. Instead, the costs it turns out, are paid in full by some students, while have more money to reduce the sticker price for low-income applicants, yet they do not. The result is that high tuition prices create a mental block for low-income students, since it’s advertising a price that has nothing to do with end cost.

This has therefore led to the rise in distance learning, where people of every background are able to acquire a degree with more flexibility and often at a lower cost. While online universities have their own benefits and downsides, the increasing cost of a campus based education is a large factor in pushing more and more students to seek online degrees. This is yet another reason why it is so very important to understand what one is getting into while vetting prospective online universities.

Thank you for visiting the Online University FAQ. This section is devoted to news and other, more timely information for prospective students who are interested in acquiring a degree from an online university. Distance learning is an industry that is growing rapidly, and with changing standards, new regulations, and a plethora of information constantly being updates, we feel that a blog, along with the static information on the website, is a perfect way to share tips, as well as the changes that continue to happen in this space.

For many, a degree from an online university is a perfect choice as it provides more flexibility for busy students, and can be very cost effective. But keeping up with constant change as the distance learning space evolves can be time consuming. We will be talking about these changes, as well as constantly providing tips and other information to help prospective students with their search for the perfect online school for them. Everyone has different needs, and being prepared is the first step in choosing a school. Please return regularly as we will be sharing a great deal of information about the distance learning space on an ongoing basis. As someone who was a principal architect in creating an online university, I hope that I can provide unbiased and relevant information for people so that the choice is easier.