One of the frequently asked questions by students new to online distance learning is, “What equipment do I need to take an online class?” There is no answer to this question that covers every situation. Some schools have slightly different requirements than others, and, sometimes it depends on the course you are taking. It is necessary to check the website of the school that you plan to attend to find out what the requirements are. However, there is a general basic list that will be sufficient for most online schools. Most schools try to keep this list to a minimum. One reason many students are interested in online distance courses is because they live and work in a rural area where there are no local colleges or universities at which they can study without traveling long distances. Being in a rural area also increases the likelihood of not having high speed internet service available. Therefore most schools do not require high speed internet service. The following are some of the requirements which are commonly required today to take online courses.
- A computer purchased within the past 3 years: Newer computers generally have the minimum amount of RAM and hard drive space, an up to date operating system, processor, monitor, audio and video capabilities included – but do not forget to check with your school’s list. Some schools have a program in which you click on a button and it checks your computer to make sure it is suitable.
- An internet connection: All schools require a modem with a minimum 56Kbps but almost all recommend having a high speed internet connection such as DSL or cable.
- Microsoft Office: You will need to use MS Word for your written assignments. If you are taking any financial type courses you will need MS Excel; also you may be required to watch and/or use PowerPoint in some courses. Microsoft has a home and student edition that includes these 3 programs at a much reduced rate from the full program. There are also other programs such as Open Office which are free and work for many students.
- A printer: Since online courses require a lot of reading, you will probably want to print out notes or the syllabus for your course. If you do not want to purchase a printer, find a place where you can have the use of one for a minimum or no charge.
- A web browser: You will need to use an up to date web browser that is compatible with your course content system. There is no cost for them.
- Antivirus software: You need it for your computer anyway so make sure you are using one whether you buy one or use a free one from the internet. You do not want your assignment to be blocked by the school’s antivirus software because of a virus detected in your assignment. So get one and keep it up to date.
These would be the minimum requirements for most online distance learning courses in which you may be interested. However, depending on your financial circumstances it will be best to obtain better than the minimum requirements. Having a dial-up internet connection may work if absolutely necessary, but you will save yourself a lot of time if you are able to have a high speed connection. Likewise you will save time if you use a computer with a higher processing speed and more RAM. So splurging a little on your technical equipment if possible may lead to a much more pleasant online learning experience.