A few years ago, people might not have understood the meaning of a question like “Is it important to choose an online degree program in your same time zone?” As students, instructors and curriculum designers alike learn how online learning is most-effective, the question of whether or not you should be in the same time zone as your online school or instructor differs depending upon the type of degree, program length and design. You could be part of an online cohort of students who are all in the same time zone, or you could have a program that is designed asynchronously or not time-dependent. The time zone and location you are in is important to consider in online educational program selection.

Online Learning Differences

When online education began, instructors and learners tended to view the program as time-independent and home-based. Some learners thought the biggest advantage to online education was the ability to attend class in their pajamas, while instructors neglected to consider how students are motivated and the importance of inter-personal relationships in learning. While most students enroll in asynchronous (deadline-based, no regular class meetings) classes because of work and family responsibilities, many students are discovering that they are more motivated and have better learning outcomes if they enroll in classes with specific class meetings. U.S. News and World Report highlighted the stories of students who reported synchronous online programs “felt just like being in a real classroom.”

Class Flexibility and Student Support Options

While many students select online learning programs because their work and home schedules mean they can’t take any specific time off to attend class each day, the time zone they are in may influence their online learning program and schedule. Time zone differences could impact when assignments are due, and in some cases, could mean work has to be completed a day or more ahead of time to avoid having a deadline during sleeping or work hours. However, most online learning programs are flexible enough to account for time zone scheduling differences.

Another consideration is the availability of student support services, like tutoring, counseling and financial aid. Some programs offer these services during set hours based on the home school’s time zone. Others offer them 24 hours a day.

On-Campus Meeting Requirements

Many online programs ask that students meet on-campus one or two times a semester. The on-campus meetings may be formalities, or they can consist of project-based learning or tests. If you are considering a degree program online with on-campus weekends, the time zone difference may be a more important consideration than with a program that doesn’t have any meetings on campus.

You may also want to consider when your instructor or subject-matter tutors are available if you want to decide if it is important to choose an online degree program in your same time zone. Students in a series of biology classes study reported better learning outcomes in synchronous or same-time online classes, according to a study published in the MERLOT Journal of Online Teaching and learning.

If you are a self-directed learner, it may not matter whether your online degree program is in your same time zone, but if you are like most students, your program’s time zone is one of your learning considerations.

Related resource: Top 25 Most Affordable Online Business Graduate Degrees