Are You Ready for Online Learning?

Online courses differ from conventional courses. First, technology use is required. How it's used varies across courses. Before you enroll, consider how the course will apply technology and whether you are ready technologically. Second, self-discipline is required. Some learners struggle without the familiar routine of face-to-face class meetings. Before you enroll, consider how the course is designed, the expectations of students, and whether you are ready personally. 

Reliable and relatively fast Internet access is essential for success in online courses. You should expect to be online from one to four hours per day for the full duration the course. You will also need at least broadband or high-speed Internet access. This is measured by the amount of information that you can download and upload in a certain amount of time.

Internet Speed Test

Test the speed of your Internet connection from the location where you will be spending the most time online during the course. The upload and download rates are specified in Kbps. You should have at least 768 Kbps for both. Your download speed will be faster than your upload speed. You do not need to specify your email address or zip code in order to use this gadget. Just select Start.

What Affects Internet Speed?

Your Internet speed can vary from moment to moment based on a number of factors. If you share your Internet connection with other devices (e.g., other computers, game consoles), your speed will change depending on what those devices are doing. For example, if your PlayStation3 is downloading a large system update, your computer's download speed will be slower. Your Internet speed is also affected by other tasks running on your computer. If you are watching a Netflix video while trying to access online course materials, your download speed will be slower. If you notice that course-related activities are taking longer than usual, stop any other Internet activity that may be contending for access or wait for these other activities to finish.

Online courses and programs will require you to have access to a reliable and capable computer. Before you purchase anything, check out the minimum standards required by WSU .

Keep in mind that each course or program may also have specific technology requirements (e.g. microphone, web camera for video conferencing, software, etc.). Be sure to consult the Course Detail information when you register and talk to your instructor if you have any questions or concerns.

All online courses require some common software applications that are probably already installed on your computer (e.g., a Web browser). Some online courses require discipline-specific software that you may need to purchase and install. Software requirements are included in the Course Detail information on the registration site and in your online course materials. Direct questions about software requirements to your instructor. The following are general software requirements that apply to most online courses:

  • A suite of "office" tools (e.g., word processor, spreadsheet, presentation)
  • A Web browser, such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox

Office Tools

All WSU students who lease a laptop through the e-Warrior Digital Life and Learning Program have access to preinstalled Microsoft Office applications (e.g. Word, Excel, PowerPoint). Students who are not leasing a laptop through WSU can purchase Microsoft Office at a discounted, academic price. There are also free, open alternatives to Microsoft Office that may be acceptable to your instructor. Be sure to talk with them about potential options.

Web Browsers

All Web-based applications supported by WSU are compatible with the latest versions of both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, configured with default security settings. Online courses may not be fully functional when using other browsers, such as Apple Safari or Google Chrome. Internet Explorer and Firefox users may experience various problems based on custom security settings or other browser modifications (e.g., the installation of plugins). Finally, there are other applications (e.g., LimeWire) that can interfere with the proper function of interactive Websites in any browser and should be avoided. If you experience any problems accessing online course materials and activities via your Web browser, contact the WSU Technical Support Center (TSC) at 507.457.5240 Option #1 or via email at techsupport@winona.edu.

Course-Specific Software

Some online courses require specific software that may not already be installed on your computer. For WSU students who lease a laptop through the e-Warrior Digital Life and Learning Program, many software titles can be installed from the Control Panel (PC) or through WSU Additions (Mac). For those with a personally-owned computer, this software may need to be purchased or free alternatives identified. Many titles offer reduced academic pricing to students. Information about course-specific software requirements are available in your online course materials. Consult our list of supported software for more information about purchase, installation, and alternatives. If you experience any problems installing course-related software, contact the WSU Technical Support Center (TSC) at 507.457.5240 Option #1 or via email at techsupport@winona.edu.


One of the most common technical problems encountered by students in online courses involves accessing audio and video content. Whether watching a narrated presentation, listening to a podcast, or finding YouTube movies for an assignment, you must be able to play online audio and video files on your computer.

Typically, every computer comes with least one multimedia player already installed and configured to play a variety of file formats automatically. If you don't have the required player, you are usually prompted to install it. WSU students who lease a laptop through the e-Warrior Digital Life and Learning Program already have multiple, pre-installed multimedia players. Students who are not leasing a laptop through WSU should install or update the following on their PC or Mac:

  • Adobe Flash Player - This free player allows you to view Flash (.swf) movies and animations, a very common media file format. View a Flash movie, or if you are not able to view it, download the current version.
  • Apple QuickTime - This free player allows you to view Quicktime (.mov) movies and animations, as well as several other media file formats. If you are using a recent version of Apple iTunes, it is already installed on your computer. View a Quicktime movie. If you are not able to view the movie, download the current version.