How E-learning Works

Finding and Taking E-learning Courses

Students can take online courses wherever they are like this NYU student .
Students can take online courses wherever they are like this NYU student .
Mario Tama/Getty Images

E-learning is readily available, whether you're already taking college courses or not. Let's take a closer look at how you can find and take advantage of online learning opportunities like online classes. This e-learning process is easier than you may think.

If you're already enrolled at a college, the process is very easy. Just check your school's online course catalog to see which online courses you can take. If you're looking to enroll at a college or take some courses, there are plenty of online resources that you can access without leaving your home computer.

The U.S. News E-Learning Guide provides links to 2,800 colleges and universities with online courses, and offers information to online learners, connecting them to 169 schools offering online learning.

Both sites can help you learn more about online learning -- and both offer interactive searches allowing you to see what courses or subject areas are available online from which schools. You could, for example, search for all online degrees or courses offered at George Washington University, or you could search for any school offering online nursing courses.

As you hunt for a school, you'll want to avoid so-called "diploma mills" that award worthless degrees. How can you recognize these organizations? Here are some suggestions from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:

  • Make sure the school is accredited. This means having met the standards required by a known college accrediting board, such as the Council for Higher Education. A diploma mill may claim to be accredited but not actually be. The U.S. Department of Education lists accredited colleges and universities at
  • Pay attention to the school name. Diploma mills sometimes use names that sound like those of legitimate schools, so research "sound-alike" names carefully online.
  • Be wary of offers that make completing a course or earning a degree seem too easy. This could be the offer of a degree for a flat fee, one that you can get in a few days or weeks or one that doesn't require studying, exams or attendance.

[source: Federal Trade Commission].

Once you've selected a course and school, make sure you have the required technology. For an online class at the University of Massachusetts, for example, you'll need a personal computer with 256 MB RAM, an Internet connection (with DSL or broadband cable) and an e-mail account [source: University of Massachusetts].

Also check the school's Web site for information about what you can expect in an online class. UMassOnline courses, for example, include exercises, projects and collaborative assignments. They feature audio lectures, photo materials, discussions, chat rooms, readings, illustrations and video conferencing. You interact with the professor and other students primarily through e-mail and online forums. At schools including UMassOnline and UMUC, you can even "test drive" a sample online course from the school Web site.

Finally, you'll need to register, which you usually can do online. But keep in mind that online classes generally follow the same schedule as the school's traditional classes. If you decide to take a class in October, for example, you'll need to check available classes and wait to register at the right time for the winter or spring session.

Net Generation students know e-learning goes beyond the personal computer. Keep reading to learn about e-learning opportunities that use MP3 players, smartphones, podcasts or blogs.