If you’re someone who has a basic understanding of your field of study and wants to speed through the rest of your coursework to gain your degree, then this one’s for you. A fairly new format of learning, you could consider self-paced online college classes. 

As the name suggests, self-paced classes are designed for students who wish to pace their education as per their schedule, so that they can study and seamlessly manage their professional and personal responsibilities. While each course may have a maximum timeline to complete, you do get the flexibility to customize your education based on your convenience and learning preferences, without strict deadlines. 

This quick read is designed to help you understand everything about self-paced learning, how it differs from the traditional form of online, instructor-led education, the benefits of this mode of learning and how you can choose the right online course for you.

Related: How to Choose Online Degree Programs for Working Adults

What is self-paced learning?

Self-paced learning is a style of education that gives you the flexibility to set your own learning pace, typically without any precise deadlines. This allows you to to progress through your online course material at your own speed, accommodating your personal schedule and learning preferences. 

Typically, this approach involves access to pre-recorded lectures, online resources, and assignments that can be completed independently. You can review your course materials as needed, spend more time on challenging concepts, and accelerate through familiar topics.

As self-paced online colleges promote autonomy and responsibility, you learn how to manage your time effectively and stay motivated without constant supervision. These online classes particularly benefit students who have a basic understanding of the course material, or are busy professionals juggling work and other commitments, simply by offering the flexibility to pursue their education at their convenience.

Now that we understand what self-paced learning means, let’s move on to understand how it differs from traditional, instructor-led online classes.

Self-Paced ClassesInstructor-Led Classes
If you choose self-paced classes, you can set your own pace and can accelerate or slow down as needed. This allows for a personalized learning experience based on individual progress.In this format of learning, the instructor sets the pace for the entire class. This fosters a sense of community and shared learning experiences.
This style of learning offers flexibility in terms of when and where to study, allowing you to balance education with work or other commitments.These classes provide a structured schedule for consistent learning. By comparison, they may be considered less flexible as some classes are held at specific times. However, quite a few instructor-led online classes support asynchronous learning, allowing you to complete your coursework in a week’s time.
Students may feel that they have limited interaction with instructors and peers. Also, collaborative projects or discussions may be less common.Instructor-led classes offer more opportunities for interaction with instructors and peers. This facilitates discussions and group activities that help develop a community who work on similar topics together.
These classes rely on pre-recorded lectures and self-study materials that allows you to revisit content as needed for better understanding.This mode of learning follows a structured curriculum with live lectures and discussions, offering clarification and explanations during lectures. Instructor-led classes also support asynchronous learning that allows you to study at a schedule that suits your needs.
Self paced learning requires self-discipline, proactive engagement and motivation to stay on track.With traditional online classes, you get external motivation from instructors and peers, offering regular reminders on deadlines to keep you engaged.
Feedback may be delayed or limited. However, self-assessment tools and quizzes may provide some immediate feedback.Immediate detailed feedback on assignments and projects by instructors during class and assignments is the norm. 
You can customize your learning path based on your needs with the variety of resources available to cater to different learning styles.These classes have limited customization and mostly follow a fixed curriculum for all students.

Related: Synchronous vs Asynchronous Classes

In the next section, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a course with a self-paced online college.

Flexibility: Self-paced online learning allows students to study at their own convenience, making it easier to balance education with work, family, and other commitments. Lack of Structure: Online courses that are self paced require a high level of self-discipline and motivation, making it difficult for some students to stay on track.
Personalized Learning: Self-paced online colleges allow you to progress through material at their own speed, where you can spend more time on challenging concepts and move quickly through familiar topics.Limited Interaction: Online learning can be isolating, as it lacks the face-to-face interaction found in traditional classroom settings. 
Accessibility: As online classes eliminate the need for you to commute to a physical campus, it makes education more accessible to those with mobility issues or those living in remote areas. Additionally, online courses often provide recorded lectures and other resources that can be accessed at any time, further enhancing accessibility.Technical Challenges: Online learning requires a reliable internet connection and access to a computer or other device. Sometimes, technical issues may disrupt learning, leaving you frustrated.
Cost-Effective: Self-paced online courses can be more cost-effective than traditional classroom-based courses as you save on commuting, housing, and other expenses associated with attending a physical campus. Some courses also allow you to pay monthly, meaning if you finish your course quickly, you end up paying less than expected. Self-Motivation Required: Self-paced learning requires you to take initiative and stay motivated, and some students may procrastinate or struggle to stay engaged.
Variety of Courses: Online learning offers a wide variety of courses and programs that may not be available locally. This lets you pursue your interests and career goals without having to relocate or commute long distances.Less Feedback: Instructors in self-paced online courses may have limited availability for providing feedback. This can make it challenging to receive timely and detailed feedback on your work.

It’s best to consider these factors before you decide if self-paced online college is the right choice for you. Let’s move forward to learn what you must consider when choosing a self-paced online college. 

How to Choose a Self-Paced Online College Program

Before you zero in on a self-paced online college program, consider the following factors.

  1. Select the right program: The first step in the process is to do thorough research around different self-paced online colleges, programs and courses to find the one that aligns with your academic and career goals. You may want to consider factors like accreditation, course offerings, and flexibility in pacing.
  2. Consider Pricing – Most self-paced online courses are usually economical and don’t need you to drain your savings, it’s always wise to look at the cost of your education before you choose a college. Typically, the cost of self-paced online courses vary by school and degree level, but you should expect to spend anywhere between $300-$1,100 per credit for undergraduate classes at four-year institutions.
  1. Polish your time management skills: While self-paced learning doesn’t come with strict deadlines, it still requires you to have strong time management skills so that you are able to complete your course. To do so, start by creating a study schedule and try your best to stick to it to ensure you stay on track with your coursework.
  1. Limit distractions: As mentioned earlier, when you study at your own pace, it’s important to stay self-motivated. Consider creating a dedicated study space that’s free from distractions like social media, TV, or household chores. This will help you focus better and make the most of your study time.
  1. Utilize campus resources to complete your course: Apart from the college online classes, many self-paced colleges also offer resources such as online libraries, tutoring services, and academic support. We recommend taking advantage of these resources to enhance your learning experience and complete your course successfully.
  1. Seek guidance from academic advisors: Some colleges may have academic advisors who can help you navigate your program requirements, choose the right courses, and stay on track to graduation. If you have that facility available at your self-paced online college, feel free check in with your advisor to ensure you’re meeting your academic goals.

In this section, we’ll detail the subjects that you can study if you choose to pursue an online course through the self-paced learning medium.  

  1. Business Administration: A course in business administration can help you gain skills in decision-making, leadership, and strategic planning for a career in management. Education in this field can lead to opportunities in various industries, including finance, healthcare, and retail.
  1. Computer Science: An understanding of computer science helps you develop proficiency in coding, software development, and problem-solving for roles in tech industries. With a computer science degree, you can work as a software engineer, data analyst, or systems architect.
  1. Psychology: Psychology helps you understand human behavior and mental processes to pursue careers in counseling, therapy, or research. This field offers opportunities to work in clinics, schools, or research institutions. Popular colleges like the Southern New Hampshire University offer a bachelors in psychology that you can pursue via an online medium at your own pace. 
  1. Healthcare Administration: If you opt for a self-paced online program in healthcare administration, you would get to learn all about healthcare systems and policies to manage healthcare facilities effectively. With advanced education in this field, you can land roles as a hospital administrator, health services manager, or healthcare consultant.
  1. Education: If you choose to study education, you would acquire knowledge in teaching methodologies and educational psychology for a career in teaching or educational administration. Knowledge of this field can help you land opportunities as a teacher, curriculum developer, or school administrator.
  1. Graphic Design: With self-paced online courses in graphic design, you can develop skills in visual communication and digital design tools for a career in graphic design or advertising. Graphic designers create visual concepts to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, or captivate consumers.
  1. Criminal Justice: You can pick a self-paced online course in criminal justice and learn all about law enforcement, corrections, and criminal law for a career in law enforcement or legal professions. Graduates in criminal justice can work as police officers, detectives, or probation officers.
  1. Environmental Science: Consider studying environmental science and explore environmental issues and sustainability for careers in conservation or environmental management. Environmental scientists work to understand and protect the natural environment and resources.
  1. Marketing: With a fair understanding of marketing, you can study consumer behavior and advertising strategies for careers in marketing, public relations, or market research. As a marketer, you’ll get to create and implement strategies to promote products, services, or ideas to target audiences.

Self-paced online colleges are a flexible and convenient option for anyone who’s juggling multiple responsibilities. Its biggest advantage is the customization it offers to tailor the course to per your learning preferences, making it a popular choice among most students. This flexibility also allows you to focus more time on challenging topics and moving quickly through familiar ones. With self-paced online learning, there exists no need for students to commute to a physical campus, saving time and money. 

In a nutshell, self-paced online college is a great option for students looking to further their education while managing a busy lifestyle.

Can I mix self-paced and traditional online classes for my degree?

Yes, many colleges and universities offer a mix of self-paced and traditional online classes as part of their degree programs. This hybrid approach allows students to take advantage of the flexibility of self-paced courses while also benefiting from the structure and interaction of traditional online classes. Students can choose which courses to take in a self-paced format and which to take in a more traditional online format, based on their individual learning preferences and schedule. This flexibility allows students to customize their education to fit their needs and maximize their success in completing their degree.

Do I need to take lots of tests in self-paced online college? How would I know when to move on in the course?

In self-paced online college, the frequency of tests varies depending on the course and institution. Some courses may have regular assessments to gauge understanding and progress, while others may rely more on projects, papers, or quizzes. Students typically know when to move on in a course based on their performance in these assessments or by completing certain milestones outlined in the course syllabus. Additionally, instructors or course mentors may provide guidance on progression. The goal is for students to demonstrate mastery of the material before moving on, ensuring a thorough understanding of the content.

Can I get financial aid to learn through self-paced online classes?

Yes, students pursuing self-paced online learning can often receive financial aid. Many colleges and universities offering self-paced programs are accredited institutions, which makes their students eligible for federal financial aid programs such as grants, loans, and scholarships. To qualify for aid, you typically need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The amount of aid awarded depends on various factors such as the student’s financial need, cost of attendance, and enrollment status. Additionally, if you’re a working professional, check with your employer if they offer tuition assistance or reimbursement programs for employees pursuing further education, including self-paced online courses.