How do Time Zones Affect Online College CohortsOne of the new trends in distance learning is the use of online college cohorts to keep students motivated and on-track in their education. A cohort is a group of students who are banded together from the beginning of a degree program until graduation, and many people believe that this model helps them feel connected to the school they attend, even though they never see it in person.

Making Distance Learning Easier

In general, online colleges do a good job of coordinating students’ schedules and making deadlines and appointments easy to meet, but there can still be some adjustments to make when dealing with people across time zones. In the United States, there are only four time zones, so students of any online college will never be more than four hours apart from each other. However, administrators of online schools usually try to group students in geographic locations so that time zone issues have a minimal impact on learning.

To attract students and keep them satisfied, online schools typically offer customer service touches that aren’t offered by traditional schools. The goal of every college is to maximize learning outcomes and student success, but traditional public colleges often save money by doing away with unnecessary student luxuries. In general, public colleges put the focus on efficiency and economy instead of customer service, although they do spend money on student comfort and campus beautification. In contrast, for-profit online colleges treat students more like customers, and they spend money on student satisfaction surveys to continually improve their customer experience.

How Members of a Cohort Help Each Other

Online college cohorts were introduced recently as an alternative to the self-paced distance learning model. Most people are not self-learners, and they respond better to group interaction than to solitary book study. A few students are the exact opposite, and they perform poorly in a cohort-based model.

Depending on the school you choose, your online lectures and labs may be held in another time zone, and you may have to adjust your schedule slightly to attend them. A cohort system doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with class attendance, though. Your cohort is simply a group of students on the same degree track, and you can use it as a resource for studying and clearing up confusion. Communication between members of a cohort is mostly text-based, using email and chat rooms to stay in touch. Chat room times have to take into account all the members of the group, so they will always be fair to everybody.

It is very unlikely that time zone issues will have a negative impact on cohort communication or distance learning in general. These issues are the same in any event scheduling that deals with different parts of the country. Additionally, your school won’t assign you to a cohort that doesn’t work well for you. Whether you attend a non-profit or for-profit online college, you can always request reasonable accommodations for your education.


Distance learning is becoming more popular every year, and although it costs more than traditional college, it offers features that public schools often don’t. If you’re worried about time zones affecting online college cohorts, talk to a counselor at your school to request a more convenient arrangement.

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