How Much Time Should I Spend on My Online Course Per Week?

Jordan Coleman
Published by Jordan Coleman
Last Updated On: December 8, 2021

Did you know that there are millions of students pursuing a degree online?

With this new way to pursue a degree, more and more people are embracing the world of online learning.

While there are many positives to an online class, many online students are asking themselves how many hours should be spent on an online course? As a teacher, I’m here to give you insight into this question and more.

A woman holding her laptop and books

With over 6 million Americans pursuing a degree online, it's important to know how these programs work [1].

The majority of college courses are based on credit hours, with most online courses being 3 credits. So let’s compare an online environment to a traditional face-to-face class.

Students really should give themselves 3 hours a week to listen to or read the online content for that course [2].

However, this doesn’t include how much time should be spent on outside assignments like papers or tests.

A good estimate for an online course is:

  • 4-5 hours per week doing related reads, writing papers, etc.
  • 3 hours per week reading the online content
  • Total of 8 hours a week
  • 1 hour per day for each course
A woman studying in their living room

Similarly to the undergraduate level, a master’s course is based on the credit hour.

The majority of your online courses will be three hours, with only a couple being one hour.

A graduate level online class will be much harder than a bachelor’s course because of the harder content.

Because these classes are more demanding, we recommend students do three hours of work for each credit hour.

That would break down to the following:

  • 3 hours per week of reading online content
  • 9 hours of related readings, papers, study
  • A total of 12 hours a week on each online course
  • Roughly 2 hours a day for their courses

7 Tips for Online Learning

A student studying on her table with her laptop and notes

Online courses look different than the traditional classroom. So to get your degree, you’ll need to follow these tips on the best way to pass an online class.

1. Treat It Like Normal

An online student will need discipline and the ability to follow through because you don’t have the professor counting attendance demanding you show up each week.

What most people love about online courses is that they are more flexible and you decide the number of hours to spend on each class.

An easy way to make sure you do the work is to remind yourself of the payments you are making.

Online degree programs aren’t free and they cost just like in-person classes.

You will need to ‘show up’ in order to get the value from the material.

Treat these programs like a traditional classroom or even a job. How many hours you dedicate to it will depend on what you normally do in your job or regular class.

One credit hour could be two three hours of study for a math course or five hours for a science course.

2. Keep Yourself Accountable

A keyboard with a notebook and a written goals

Goal setting is an important part of online learning. Many programs will partner students with a mentor that will do weekly check-ins to see how their progress is going.

Unlike that traditional class, you won’t have a professor giving your verbal reminders to upcoming work.

Students need to create their own schedules that follow their own pace while making sure they are staying up to date with assignments.

If you find that this is an area of weakness for you, consider pairing up with a classroom or getting an accountability partner such as a friend or family member.

A virtual classroom requires that you be organized and self-aware, especially as the degree level gets higher.

3. Have Good Time Management

Many school and university students love that online learning means creating their own schedule and picking how many hours they are studying. However, that freedom can come at a cost if time management skills are properly utilized.

How an online university student manages time will vary depending on learning style, schedule, and personality. But here are some tips that can help anyone improve:

  • Deep read the syllabus. Make notes of big assignments and tests and create a schedule that works for you toward their completion. Schedule in your non-school commitments so you have a clear picture of what your life looks like.
  • Successful students create a weekly schedule and follow it. Set aside certain hours per week to do the readings and studying. While some college students can pass a course with fewer hours, most will need that hour or two a day to pass.
  • College students do well with time-blocking. This is a system of setting aside time for each task and only working on one thing per block. There are even programs that can help you do this sort of schedule.

Read More: How Much Time Should You Dedicate Daily To An Online Course?

4. Set Aside a Designated Spot

A sweet spot to study with complete school supplies

It’s important that you set aside an area as your designated virtual classroom.

This is where you will always go to complete your school work and helps establish a routine.

This designated spot can be in your kitchen, at a library, or at a local coffee shop.

Use your prior knowledge of what works best for you and find that place. Some individuals do well in a completely silent environment while others need background noise.

Experiment to find your unique place.

This spot must have good internet access because online courses require that you don’t have a lagging connection.

Other things to consider when organizing your study space is:

  • The required books and software for the course
  • The right set of headphones for watching videos
  • The right schedule with study hours per week mapped out

5. Get Rid of Distractions

The hardest part of online programs is the number of distractions you’ll face ranging from social media to web surfing.

What might start out as you setting aside two hours for studying, turns into you using that same amount of time to watch a Netflix show.

A good online student knows how to lessen distractions and complete assignments in the right number of hours. Don’t set aside three hours per week only to get distracted and only get one done.

“Distractions destroy action. If it’s not moving you towards your purpose, leave it alone.” -- Jermaine Riley, artist

Each student is different and will find other things distracting. While one might find it easy to tune out a busy house by turning on music, another student might need to go to a library to avoid the tasks that need to get done at home.

It’s recommended you turn off your phone or place it somewhere where text messages or notifications can’t distract you.

Many online courses recommend downloading website blockers that prevent you from accessing certain sites during restricted periods of time.

When you are starting off, take notice of what distracts you and how much of your study time is being impacted and make a plan from there.

6. Figure Out Your Style

A woman studying at night

Now that you’ve established where you’ll be studying your online courses and how many hours you’ll be setting aside, it is time to think about how you’ll accomplish your classwork.

Are you a night owl or a morning person? Can you handle long study sessions or need constant breaks?

In other words, what time of day works best for you? If you do your best work in the mornings, get up early and do your two hours of studying then. Make these classes work for you.

Not all students learn the same, so think about how you best grasp and retain information.

Are you a visual learner or a kinesthetic one [3]? Use your skills to help complete these classes. By molding your study times and habits to fit your needs, you’ll find it much easier to spend time studying for class.

7. Participate

To take advantage of your online degree, you are going to need to participate in all the things the class is offering, ranging from the forums to live zoom calls.

You can expect the course material to be tougher because you are partially teaching yourself. So take advantage of what the school is offering.

Spend some of your time commenting on another’s students paper or posting a question on a discussion board. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your professors are there to help you and want to see you pass their online courses.

Most schools recommend that you check in once per week with a college professor or mentor. This doesn’t have to be an extended meeting; it can simply look like thirty minutes a week while driving the car. Set your goal and stick to it.

“Personal participational is the universal principle of knowing.” -- Michael Polanyi, academic and researcher

If you feel yourself beginning to fall behind, don’t worry or spend time waiting. Ask for help. Reach out to a college professor or another student and see how they can help get you back on track before the semester ends. This might mean adding some hours a week to your study plan.

Are Online Classes Easier or Harder?

A person in front of a monitor holding his head while taking his master's class

Online schools teach the same material you will find in a regular class, which means the work isn’t any harder.

However, what most students find more difficult is that an online class requires more reading and intensive indirect communication. How much time you spend emailing professors per week will be more intensive than a typical school setting.

During a typical subject class, you would take notes while listening to a lecture and answer questions asked by the professor. In the online setting, you are reading and studying on your own, which means more hours in studying each week for each credit.

If you are someone who has strong reading and writing skills along with self-motivation and time management, then the online school may be perfect for you.

Can you dedicate certain hours per week to studying without needing to be reminded or told? How much time can you spend on homework while also maintaining your daily life? Do you have the knowledge or focus to listen to lectures and retain the information?

The takeaway is this: coursework is the same but you’ll likely spend more hours per week studying.

4 Factors that Will Affect Success

A business deal between two companies

Here are some factors that will make or break success when a student chooses to pursue an online degree. The degree to which you succeed depends on the number of hours you spend pursuing your degree.

1. Self-Motivation

Doing well in an online school program as a student requires a lot of self-motivation. You will need to motivate yourself into doing the homework and dedicating hours of study to get everything done.

The hardest part about earning a degree online is that there isn’t a campus class to go to or set aside time for coursework. You have to learn to set your own timetable and find the time to do your schoolwork independently.

Here are some ways to get yourself motivated:

  • Focus your energy on one subject. Spend an hour on homework or dedicate a week to just working on your program coursework.
  • Break large goals into smaller steps. If your goal is to pass your class test. Start by setting two hours of study a day for a week. By starting small, you are setting yourself up for success.
  • Manage your expectations. This online degree program and its classes aren’t going to look the same as one taken on campus. Come to terms with the fact that the homework or coursework might be harder and adjust accordingly.

2. Workload

An exhausted person from her workload while still holding her coffee

The workload of online programs might be more intensive than your traditional on campus class. That means you need to be prepared to do six to twelve hours of study each week.

A semester or some degree programs might be easier than others so take advantage of those easier college classes.

Spend less time studying for this credit and use that time to rejuvenate before beginning the next credits.

Go into these degree classes with the right mindset of knowing that school programs do require work. It won’t be easy, so don’t go expecting a cakewalk.

3. Lesson Delivery

Depending on the subjects you are taking, you’ll need to learn to adapt to the different types of lesson delivery.

While over half of your classes will be delivered through straight reading material, some might have you watching lectures or doing extensive assignments.

Science programs might have you doing virtual labs and corresponding coursework which might be harder to do independently.

Others might require that you come to campus for a few weeks during the summer while doing the other online courses at your own pace.

Being willing to adapt to the different scenarios is important for your success in an internet program. How much time you'll need to spend on a course may vary.

4. Group Work

A group fist bumps symbolizing teamwork

You will find that even online programs will require some form of group work among students.

This means you’ll need to learn how to work with a community of students from across the country to get coursework done.

Half the battle will be learning how to communicate and align your hours of study time to get things done.

Unlike regular school where you all live in the same place, this group work will take more effort on everyone’s part.

Honing your ability to stay calm and problem solve is crucial for completing these kinds of tasks. The faculty is also here to help if you need it.

How Many Hours a Week Should be Spent on an Online Course?

There really is no perfect number to how many hours you should study for your online school courses.

How much you study depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Number of credit hours
  • Personal schedule and one’s own pace
  • Amount of study time you have available
  • How quickly you want to complete the credits

College is anywhere from two to four years of commitment that shouldn't be taken lightly  [4].

Whether you decide to take a semester in person or classes online, it is important that you prepare.

Take advice and get prepared to pursue and achieve the career of your dreams.


  1. https://www.utep.edu/extendeduniversity/utepconnect/blog/january-2018/the-who-what-when-and-why-behind-online-education.html
  2. https://www.stetson.edu/administration/academic-success/media/STUDY%20SCHEDULE.pdf
  3. https://educationonline.ku.edu/community/4-different-learning-styles-to-know
  4. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=569

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