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Hardware and Software Requirements for Online Learning

Over the past five years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of distance learning and online programs available throughout North America. If you have chosen to attend some online classes in order to continue your education, you are probably quite excited about the prospect of learning over the internet. But before you can start your online learning, you will first need to make sure that you meet the necessary hardware and software requirements for you classes. The right hardware and software will help you be as successful as possible in your online learning experience.


Learning the Lingo: Computer Terms

Before you can start to get your hardware and software together for your online classes, you first need to become familiar with some computer lingo.

What is Hardware?
Hardware consists of all those parts of your computer that you can actually see and touch. Hardware is essential to your computer – without it, your computer would not be able to process and store information. Your computer hardware includes:


  • your monitor (your computer screen)
  • your system unit (which includes all of the memory and processors that your computer needs to work)
  • your disk drive (CD-ROM, DVD, or floppy)
  • your keyboard and mouse
  • your modem (which allows you to access the internet)
  • your speakers


The right hardware will let you get your class work done quickly and efficiently.

What is Software?
In order to see, access, and use all of your online course materials, you will need to make sure that your computer has the right software. Computer software enables you to perform specific functions on your computer, such as word processing and internet browsing. Software is usually purchased from a store or downloaded from the Internet and installed onto your computer’s memory. Once installed, you can access this software whenever you need it. Common software programs include:


  • your computer operating system (which allows you to use your computer easily)
  • your internet browser (which allows you to surf the web)
  • your word processor



Hardware and Software Requirements

Depending upon the online school that you have applied to, hardware and software requirements may vary. Be sure to ask a representative from your program about the specific hardware and software programs you will be expected to have before classes begin.

Hardware Requirements
Most online courses require a basic level of hardware in order for all course materials to be accessed properly.


  • Processor: Your processor dictates how fast your computer can perform particular functions. Most courses require that you have a Pentium processor that operates at 300 MHz or higher.
  • Memory: In order to store information on your computer, including files and software programs, you will need to have a good amount of available memory. Most courses recommend that your computer have at least 128 MB of RAM (random access memory).
  • Disk Drive: CD-ROM, DVD, or floppy disk drives are necessary in order to download course materials and save information.
  • Modem: A good internet connection is obviously very important when you’re taking an online course. A modem with a baud rate of at least 56 K (baud rate measures the amount of information processed per second) is usually the minimum requirement for connecting to the internet. You will also need an internet service provider to connect your modem. You may use dial-up, cable, or DSL internet access. High-speed internet access will allow you to download information more quickly, and might help to take a lot of frustration out of using the internet.
  • Sound Card and Speakers: In order to hear sound clips on audio and video files, you will need to have a sound card and speakers installed on your computer. You may also want to get some headphones, so only you can hear the sound coming from the computer.
  • Printer: You will likely want to print out some of your course materials while you are taking your class and for this you will need to have a printer that is capable of printing graphics. An inkjet or laser printer are your best bets.


Software Requirements
Software requirements can vary greatly from course to course. Some engineering, art, or math courses may require special software in order to complete assignments and projects. Your online education instructor should provide you with at least some of these software applications. Basic software that you will need for any online course includes:



  • Operating System: You will need an operating system that is relatively up-to-date. If you’re using Windows, you will need Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, or XP. If you are using Macintosh, you will need System 8.1 or higher.
  • Word Processor: Most courses will require that you use a word processor to prepare assignments and essays. Microsoft Word is the most commonly-used word processing program although there are others available, such as Word Perfect and AppleWorks.
  • Email Account: You will need an email account in order to send and receive emails daily. Free accounts are available online.
  • Plug-Ins: Plug-ins are bits of software that allow you to see, hear, or manipulate an image. Your instructor will provider you with a list of plug-ins that will allow you to access video and audio clips, as well as animation. Plug-ins are usually available through free software downloads on the internet.



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