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How Online Learning Works

Whether you are new to online learning or a seasoned pro, we want you to understand how things work at NC State Engineering Online. Browse some quick tips that will prepare you to have a successful learning experience with us.

College of Engineering student works on a class project at the Havelock campus.

Fully Online Programs and Courses

The courses offered by Engineering Online are completely online.

  • All assignments are submitted and returned online.
  • All lectures are available online.
  • All student-faculty and student-student interaction are done online.

Most of the mid-term and final exams must be administered by a proctor, but proctors are typically available in the student’s workplace or community.

Students are welcome to visit the campus during their program, but there is never any requirement to do so. They are also welcome to attend on-campus graduation ceremonies at the completion of their program.

Semester Calendar

Online engineering and computer science courses at NC State are offered on the same academic calendar as on-campus courses. There are 3 academic sessions per year:

  • A 15-week fall semester
  • A 15-week spring semester
  • A 10-week summer session

Nearly all online courses are 3-credit-hour courses, which traditionally means that they have approximately 2.5 hours of contact time or lecture per week during a normal 15-week semester. Taking a 3-credit-hour course during the summer session results in a faster pace than during a normal semester because the same amount of content is delivered in two-thirds of the time.

Each online course is paced by the instructor to begin when the semester begins and end when the semester ends. During the spring and fall semesters, online students are typically participating in the course along with on-campus students. Both the on-campus and the online students submit homework assignments on the same deadlines and take exams at approximately the same times. During the summer session, there are very few graduate-level engineering courses offered on-campus, so online students are the only ones taking the course, but they are still on the pace set by the instructor.

Unlike an undergraduate engineering program, graduate-level engineering programs typically do not have hands-on lab courses or activities. Much of the project work or modeling of engineering systems can be done through software modeling, which is available to online students via remote access capabilities.

Online Video Lectures and Notes

The Online Lecture Format

Our courses are based on what is typically referred to as a lecture capture model. Much like a traditional on-campus class, a key component of each class is a series of lectures delivered by a member of our engineering faculty. In most cases, these lectures are being delivered to on-campus students during the same semester that you will be taking the course as an online student. The on-campus lecture is held in a teaching studio where we are able to capture everything that the instructor says and presents in class, along with the interaction that occurs with the on-campus students. While the on-campus students are required to attend the classroom lectures on a regular schedule, online students are free to watch the lectures on their own schedule. It is important that online students maintain a similar pace as the on-campus students since assignments and exams will be scheduled at approximately the same time as for the on-campus students.

Other Variations

There are a few variations on this model, but all courses still contain a lecture component.

  • In some cases, an online course may be offered that has been recorded during a prior semester, so there will be no active on-campus section of that course.
  • We also offer a select few courses that have never been offered on campus. In this case, the instructor will record lectures in a small studio without local students and will be available only to online students.
  • Finally, there are a few courses where an instructor has prepared shorter video modules which are being used to offer the course in a hybrid format to both on-campus and online students.

Regardless of the details, the video lecture component will always be an important part of the delivery of each online course.

Streaming Your Lectures

As each lecture is recorded, it will be placed into a catalog and remain available to each student for the entire duration of the semester. If you need to review a portion of a lecture to prepare for an exam, it will be there waiting for you. Our video player supports the standard playback features you would expect, plus you are able to adjust the playback speed of the lectures from 0.5 to 2.0 times the normal speed. This can be helpful when going over challenging material or when reviewing for an exam. Video lectures for our online courses can be streamed from our server, and they can also be downloaded for offline viewing if you need to view them while away from a broadband Internet connection.

Lecture playback is supported on multiple computer and device operating systems including Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. NC State uses Mediasite, a leading educational media platform, to record, store, and deliver video lectures to our online students. In addition to the video lectures being recorded, the notes presented during most lectures are also captured as PDF files and made available to our online students. Many of our professors annotate their presentation slides or work out problems during their lectures using the electronic whiteboards or document cameras available in our teaching studios. By the time that online students are watching the lecture videos, these materials have already been made available for them to follow alongside. This can reduce the time required to take notes during the lecture and ensures that you have the notes exactly as written by the professor.

Online Course Materials

There is a suite of instructional technologies available to NC State faculty to use in the online delivery of their courses. As a group, these tools are known as WolfWareThe Wolfware tools are designed to be used both on computers and on mobile devices so that you can always have ready access to the required course materials.

The primary learning management system in use at NC State is Moodle. Moodle is a robust online learning management system in use at many leading universities. While there are a variety of features available in Moodle, each instructor is free to use the subset of features that they choose for their particular course. Most instructors post course materials and resources using the Wolfware tools so that online students can access them throughout the semester.

An instructor may provide all of the materials required for a course online, or they may also require one or more textbooks for use in the course. The syllabus for each course will spell out the requirements. Required textbooks are not included in the tuition and fees for a course, so students are responsible for ordering those separately.

Interaction and Collaboration

Interacting With Faculty

One of the most valuable elements of a course, especially at the graduate level, is interaction with the professor and collaboration with fellow students. Many of our faculty have taught online courses for years and are very familiar with the schedule and interactivity needs of distance students, particularly working adult learners. They appreciate the perspectives and experience that you bring to the online classroom.

Our faculty actively communicate with our online students via email, message forums, and online office hours. Each instructor is free to set up how they will communicate with students. Review the syllabus for your specific course to understand how communication will take place and what type of turnaround you can expect.


As you might expect, most online engineering classes include the requirement to submit homework assignments or projects. All of these assignments must be submitted electronically. If the assignment is worked out on paper, then the student will need to scan the completed assignment and submit it to NC State. In many cases, the assignment may be created electronically and the resulting file would need to be submitted to NC State.

Some faculty members have students submit their assignments directly to them via email or by submitting to an assignment drop box within the learning management system. Engineering Online also provides a service to instructors whereby students submit their assignments via email to the Engineering Online office and then the assignments are distributed to the faculty or teaching assistants for grading. Typically the teaching staff returns those graded assignments to Engineering Online, and then they are emailed back to the students.


Most course exams are traditional pencil-and-paper exams that must be supervised by a proctor. Engineering Online students nominate a proctor for each course or elect to use the NC State on-campus testing service if they are located near the university campus. All proctors must be approved by the Engineering Online staff prior to proctoring an exam or quiz. In many cases, the proctor can be someone at the student’s place of business or someone in the local community such as a librarian.

Each instructor sets a testing window for each of their exams, which lasts between one and five days. It is the responsibility of the student to arrange a specific time to take the exam with their proctor that falls within the specified testing window. The time and materials restrictions set by the instructor are clearly communicated to the students and the proctors and are the same as those set for on-campus students. Academic integrity is critical to the success and value of our courses and degree programs so each proctor must attest to meeting the requirements set by NC State. There should be no conflicts of interest between the student and proctor.

Tips for Success

Like any academic program, the better you are prepared, the better you are likely to perform. There will be a comprehensive review of your prior academic performance, work history and recommendations as part of your admission to a degree program. However, solid preparation is not all that you will need. With online education, there is an even stronger need for self-discipline than when taking on-campus courses. Because you are not required to be in class to attend each lecture at a consistent time each week, the responsibility to “attend” class is completely up to you. While this time flexibility is one of the great features of online education, it is also one of the biggest opportunities to get behind in your studies. Since most online students are studying on a part-time basis, they have many other demands on their time from both their careers and families.

It is critical that you allocate time to your studies and that time will have to come from somewhere. It typically requires between 10-12 hours per week to successfully complete the requirements of a 3-credit-hour engineering course during a normal spring or fall semester. That is why we recommend beginning with a single course per semester. Once you have experience with taking online courses, you may be able to handle a larger weekly time commitment.

While you may be able to get by with a few gaps in your attention for travel or to handle other commitments, it is important that you stay up to date with the course on a regular basis. If you find that you are having trouble with some of the material, do not hesitate to reach out to the faculty or even other students to get help in understanding the material. Some faculty may encourage collaboration with other students and some may have requirements for your work to be done on an individual basis. Be sure that you understand the requirements and expectations for each particular course by reviewing the syllabus.

Another advantage of taking online classes while you are employed is that you can often immediately apply what you are learning in class to the requirements of your job. Likewise, you may be able to leverage some of your current projects at work and use them as parts of an assignment due for your class. This synergy between work and study can ultimately enhance both your career and your learning experience.

If the Engineering Online program sounds like something that would fit into your future plans, please review the programs, course offerings, and application procedures to get started on your journey.

“The NC State EOL graduate program was a great fit for me to advance my education while also balancing a full-time engineering job and personal responsibilities. The professors, administration, and overarching structure of the program provided the support and opportunities needed to receive a meaningful, robust education while also supporting the flexibility needed to balance school, work, and life. Despite the online nature, I never felt removed from my professors and continued to establish meaningful connections with both faculty and peers. Each of my professors fully embraced the online learning environment while recognizing and supporting those of us who worked full-time while pursuing graduate degrees.”

–David Jones (EOL Graduate Student in the MAE department)

Still have questions?

Our program director is standing by to answer any questions you have about online learning, big or small. Get in touch at or call her at 919-515-5440.

Students in class at MBA classes at RTP.
Students in class at MBA classes at RTP. Photo by Marc Hall