What to Expect in an Online Lab Course | BestColleges (2023)

Once thought impossible to offer digitally, science labs pose unique logistical challenges. But technology advancements and innovative instructional strategies now allow students to successfully complete lab assignments at home in subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and anatomy/physiology.

Online science lab classes often incorporate a combination of tools and strategies, including what's referred to as "kitchen chemistry" — using items that are either already in your home or easy to find. Your professor may also conduct demonstrations via video for you to watch and respond to in discussions and other assignments.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

These days, at-home lab kits, as well as digital simulations and virtual labs, are becoming more common as colleges continue to offer online courses that began in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

What to Expect in an Online Lab Course | BestColleges (1)

At-Home Lab Kits

Did you have a chemistry set when you were younger? Or maybe a circuit-building electronics kit? Using a special kit for your online science lab can be similar to these, only it'll be designed to help you learn college-level scientific principles.

A lab kit gives you all the necessary equipment to conduct experiments at home.

What to Expect in an Online Lab Course | BestColleges (2)

Lab kits allow you to conduct experiments at home and include some of the same basic equipment found in a laboratory classroom on campus. Hands-On Labs, eScience Labs, and the Carolina Biological Supply Company are just a few companies offering at-home lab kits designed for use in online college classes.

Lab kits can be tailored to meet the needs of nearly any science curriculum. If your professor decides to use one or more of these kits, they'll usually coordinate what they require with a specific company before the class starts.

What's in a Lab Kit?

Science lab kits include three basic types of items. The table below contains examples of what you can expect to receive in a kit. Note that the exact items you get will differ by company and any customization coordinated by your professor.

Safety Equipment

(Video) Taking Your Anatomy & Physiology Lab Course Online

Because some of your investigations may include caustic materials such as acids, many lab kits come with items like safety goggles, an apron, and gloves to keep you and your work area safe when conducting science experiments.

Lab Equipment

The exact equipment you need will depend on the science classes you take. Online physics labs typically require different items than do online biology labs. For example, basic biology kits often include things like graduated cylinders, beakers, pipettes, test tubes, and a thermometer. Additional materials may be required as well, such as a dissecting kit or a microscope.


The materials you use will vary depending on the lessons included in your course. For a biology class, that could mean a specimen to dissect and related implements. By contrast, an online chemistry lab might require an array of liquid solutions and solvents, such as acetone, hydrochloric acid, and potassium iodide.
(Video) Teaching a lab class online

Many of these pre-assembled kits include instructions and worksheets for specific experiments. Your instructor will tell you what you need to complete and when. Be sure to check your syllabus for details and ask questions if you aren't sure about something.

How Much Do Online Lab Kits Cost?

One drawback of at-home lab kits is often the price. Depending on the number of experiments you do and the types of topics you cover, a basic kit with supplementary experiment packages can really start to add up.

The cost of a starter lab kit ranges from $30 to more than $200.

What to Expect in an Online Lab Course | BestColleges (3)

These costs vary by company, with starter kits ranging from approximately $30 to more than $200. What's more, prices for specific lesson kits for topics like cell structure, blood typing, light refraction, or groundwater analysis can vary widely.

Plan for these costs as you would for textbooks or other required class materials. If you are receiving a scholarship or some kind of financial assistance that covers textbooks and course materials, see whether science lab kits are covered.

Before you buy a kit, make sure you know exactly what the professor has selected and where to order it from. You can check with your college's bookstore, which may have the kit in stock or may be able to share other ordering instructions. As with a textbook, allow time for shipping and delivery.

Safety First

Campus-based laboratory classrooms house plenty of safety equipment. The companies providing at-home lab kits are aware of this and include materials they've tested and selected with safety in mind. You may be required to complete a module on lab safety before you conduct your first official experiment.

As you prepare for your online lab course, consider where you will work. You'll need a safe space to set up your kit and complete your assignments, as well as a place to store your kit and all related materials when you aren't using them.

As you prepare for your online lab course, consider where you will work. You'll need a safe space to set up your kit and complete your assignments.

What to Expect in an Online Lab Course | BestColleges (4)

(Video) Can I take lab science online? | ASU Online

Think about who could access your kit, such as any young children, and secure it appropriately. Some items might need refrigeration or other specific conditions for safe storage.

Always follow the instructions for each investigation you conduct, and always use the protective items that come with your kit, whether that's goggles, gloves, or an apron.

What to Expect in an Online Lab Course | BestColleges (5)

Simulations and Virtual Labs

Simulations and virtual environments let you conduct a wide variety of scientific investigations without the expense or safety issues related to lab kits. That said, these experiences are further removed from the hands-on work you'd perform in a laboratory setting.

The terms "simulation" and "virtual lab," which are sometimes used interchangeably, encompass an array of tools and interfaces that allow you to explore scientific principles on your own.

What Is a Simulation?

In the context of an online science lab, simulations are digital presentations used to show you how something works. Examples of simulations include demonstrating a law of physics, illustrating a chemical reaction, or exploring the effects of gravity.

Simulations typically use graphics and animations to present specific topics.

What to Expect in an Online Lab Course | BestColleges (6)

HHMI BioInteractive and the University of Colorado Boulder's PhET Interactive Simulations project are two sources of scientific simulations. Browse these sites to learn how they work and what to expect if simulations are part of your lab course. Most simulation interfaces use graphics and animations to present each topic.

Some simulations are like videos — you simply click play and watch the simulation take place — whereas others are interactive, allowing you to manipulate variables in the simulation to discover different outcomes. For example, PhET's pH Scale simulates testing the pH level of various liquids, which you control. Other simulations use a game format.

What Is a Virtual Lab?

Virtual lab applications are similar to simulations in that you view them on a screen to explore a specific scientific topic; however, these tools typically provide a more immersive experience. The use of 3D models and in some cases augmented or virtual reality allows you to become a more active participant in the simulation.

Labster, Visible Body, and CloudLabs are three examples of virtual lab tools focused on science and math topics. According to Labster, virtual labs "allow students to work through real-life case stories, interact with lab equipment, perform experiments, and learn with theory and quiz questions."

Your course may also let you build your own digital models using applications like Sketchfab. Mobile versions are available for many of these virtual lab tools.

(Video) How to ACE your lab practical

Questions to Ask Before Your Online Lab Class Begins

Below are several questions you can ask your instructor or other school employees if you're worried about what your online lab class will entail. Use these as a starting point to find out what you should expect and how you can prepare yourself to succeed.

  • Is a Course Syllabus Available?

    Some schools make their syllabi available online for review, but if not, ask the academic department for a copy of the syllabus. Look for details about what materials you'll need to buy and descriptions of class assignments.

  • Is There a Course Demo?

    Demos can show you more clearly what to expect in an online lab. Oregon State University's Ecampus, for instance, includes an online course multimedia showcase. The virtual microscope lab, augmented reality sandbox, and virtual boat field trip show students examples of the virtual tools used in online labs.

  • What Support Is Available?

    Once your class starts, find out whom you can direct your questions to, such as your professor or teaching assistant, and get help troubleshooting the specific tools your class will be using by consulting lab kit companies or your school's help desk.

  • Are Group Projects Required?

    While many of the tools required for online labs are designed for students to use on their own, you should expect the possibility of working in a small group to share, discuss, and collaborate on class topics and assignments.

  • How Will You Be Graded?

    You'll likely have different types of assignments and tests in your online science lab, making documenting your work with lab kits, online simulations, and virtual labs highly important. Find out the expectations for these tasks and how to submit your work.

    (Video) The Affiliate Lab Review (By Matt Diggity) Best SEO Course Online?

Contrary to what you might think, even a science lab can be a successful online course. These environments require a lot of coordination and generally a lot of supplies, but as long as you know how to prepare yourself, you can walk away with a worthwhile learning experience.

Take the time to find out about online lab courses offered at your institution. And don't be afraid to embrace the opportunity to engage in science at a distance.


What is an online lab class like? ›

Students engage in conversations about lab experiments, reading assignments, and other topics via online discussion boards. Participation in these discussions is usually a mandatory part of the course and is factored into the student's overall course grade.

Are online lab classes hard? ›

Lab-based courses typically require specialized equipment and supplies, making them among the most difficult types of courses to transition into an online format.

What do you learn from lab courses? ›

In laboratory experiences, students may learn to use the tools and conventions of science. For example, they may develop skills in using scientific equipment correctly and safely, making observations, taking measurements, and carrying out well-defined scientific procedures. Understanding of the nature of science.

What are lab classes like? ›

Usually lab classes are scheduled at a separate time from the lecture period. During lab courses, students get a hands-on experience of the subject being taught during the lecture. College labs are most often attached to science and pre-med classes.

How do you prepare for a lab class? ›

Preparing for the Laboratory Class
  1. Know the concepts: Refamiliarize yourself with the subject you will be teaching. ...
  2. Clarify concepts: Be able to clearly state the primary goal of the laboratory and how it relates to the lecture theory. ...
  3. Know the procedures: Perform the laboratory activity at least one week in advance.
Mar 3, 2023

What are the challenges you faced in taking online laboratory courses? ›

The students do not attend the laboratories in person, but also if the classes are asynchronous, which can hinder the interaction between laboratory colleagues who do not have internet access at the same time.

What is the most difficult part of online classes? ›

Having a time management system is perhaps the most difficult challenge for students to overcome because it depends entirely on self-motivation. Students need to be serious about their education, learn how to manage time, set their daily schedule, and study despite constant distractions.

Are online courses more difficult? ›

Probably not. But they are different and those differences can sometimes make them more difficult for individuals. It's important to remember that online education is more self-directed. Students who know how to stay motivated and study at their own pace could find great success in this type of education.

Are lab classes easy? ›

It all depends on the university. Some lab classes are the easiest credits you'll get and other lab classes are unreasonably difficult.

What are 2 advantages of a laboratory study? ›

- Results of laboratory experiments tend to be reliable, as the conditions created (and thus results produced) can be replicated. - Variables can be measured accurately with the tools made available in a laboratory setting, which may otherwise be impossible for experiments conducted 'in the field' (field experiments).

What is lab technician course all about? ›

B.Sc Laboratory Technology is a science-based programme, which trains students in the techniques needed to run laboratories. The students are trained in minute measurements and analysis of cells of living things, as well as analysis of elements, atoms and molecules.

How should I dress for a lab class? ›

Clothing: Wear long pants or skirts and closed toed shoes, and tie back long hair. Do not wear shorts, short skirts, sandals, loose clothing, or dangling jewelry. 2. Lab coat: Wear a lab coat that covers the arms.

Are there exams for labs? ›

Do labs have final exams? It depends. Every lab will typically have some type of final “project”. For general chem and intro bio, that is a final lab report.

What is the easiest lab class in college? ›

It's very much likely that biology is the best easy science course for you. That's because it focuses on the study of living organisms and how they are able to meet the challenges of living in their respective environments. Various things make biology one of the easiest college classes for just about anyone.

What are 3 things you should do before starting any lab procedure? ›

List 4 things you should do before starting a lab experiment i) Wear proper safety equipment and clothing (goggles, gloves, aprons). ii) Keep lab benches clear of books and clothes iii) Keep hair tied back and do not wear loose clothing. iv) Notify teacher ahead of time if you wear contact lenses.

What is the first thing you should always do before starting a lab? ›

Plan Your Work. Before conducting any experiment, you should access the hazards related to the work, including; what are the worst possible things that could go wrong, how to deal with them, and what are the prudent practices, protective facilities and equipment necessary to minimize the risk of exposure to the hazards ...

What is one challenge that a student should expect when taking an online course? ›

Due to the lack of face-to-face interaction, some students find it hard to focus during online classes. The physical absence of teachers or classmates takes away the sense of urgency and motivation that students need to attend classes on time, meet deadlines, and make progress.

What is the most common challenge faced by you during online classes? ›

Lack of in-person interaction

We are humans and interacting with others is one of our basic needs. Without interaction, we tend to feel miserable and bored. This is exactly how students feel in an online education environment. However, all the students do not feel the same way.

What are the stressful aspects surrounding online learning? ›

Increased workload. Online learning comes with the expectation that a student will understand and properly navigate new technologies such as Zoom or WebEx. Physical strains. Staring at a screen all day, perhaps lacking a proper chair, squinting through glare — these can take a physical toll.

What is the easiest online class to take? ›

Easier Courses to Pursue Online
  • Social Science.
  • Health Education.
  • Art/Music Appreciation.
  • Basic History.
  • General Education Courses.
Jan 8, 2019

What students should not do online classes? ›

  • Don't sit yourself around distractions. ...
  • Don't snack without muting yourself first. ...
  • Don't turn off your camera for long periods of time or frequently to get up and go do things around your house/space.
  • Don't wait for the teacher to ask you to go on mute. ...
  • Don't post links and memes in the chat.

What to expect on a lab practical exam? ›

This type of exam is timed, as students must rotate simultaneously to answer questions. Lab practicals are also highly visual, and may involve things like identifying a structure, a type of stain through a microscope, a problem with a preparation, reading biochemical test results and answering safety questions.

Can you miss a lab in college? ›

What do I do if I miss a lab? All the labs must be performed in order to pass chemistry. That means you will get a failing grade if the labs are not made up. Try to attend lab unless you find yourself in a dire emergency.

How long should an online course take? ›

The length of online classes varies. Some can be completed in as little as five weeks, while others take longer. On average, online courses last eight to nine weeks, especially those offered through universities.

What are the 10 disadvantages of online classes? ›

Ten Disadvantages of Online Courses
  • Online courses require more time than on-campus classes. ...
  • Online courses make it easier to procrastinate. ...
  • Online courses require good time-management skills. ...
  • Online courses may create a sense of isolation. ...
  • Online courses allow you to be more independent.

Why is learning online classes so hard? ›

The physical distance between students and teachers due to the online learning environment has made it difficult for students to be able to connect with their teachers. When working online it is much harder to show your teachers exactly what you are struggling to learn.

What is the hardest science class to take? ›

It shouldn't surprise you that organic chemistry takes the No. 1 spot as the hardest college course. This course is often referred to as the “pre-med killer” because it actually has caused many pre-med majors to switch their major.

Why are lab classes 3 hours? ›

Since labs are assumed to be done almost entirely within the allotted class time with little to no outside work, those combine to form the 3 hours (actually 2:50) of actual school work you're doing for each credit hour you earn.

Are labs really 3 hours? ›

Hahaha Yes they typically do run nearly 3 hours long. When you get to organic chemistry it will be often nearly 4 hours. But it will vary from week to week, and then vary only slightly on who your professor is and how quick you are at labwork.

What is a disadvantage to laboratory studies? ›

Requires laboratory facility, equipment and highly trained staff. Reagents need refrigeration. Need venepuncture to obtain sera. Time to result = 3–4 hours so patients need to return for results.

What is the most important thing in a laboratory? ›

Safety Equipment

Safety is of the utmost importance in a laboratory.

How many years is a lab course? ›

Lab technician Course after 12th - Bachelor's in Medical Lab Technology (BMLT) BMLT/BMLS is a 3-year long programme respectively including 6 month internship period towards the end.

Do you need math to be a lab technician? ›

The position requires an understanding of biochemistry, math, and medical laboratory technology and often requires passing a certification program or completing an associate's degree program.

Do lab technicians earn well? ›

A mid-career Lab Technician with 4-9 years of experience earns an average salary of ₹2.8 Lakhs per year, while an experienced Lab Technician with 10-20 years of experience earns an average salary of ₹4.6 Lakhs per year.

Are leggings allowed in lab? ›

Do not wear leggings/yoga pants or similar tight-fitting pants since they offer no barrier between you and the chemical with which you are working, and chemicals can easily wick through and contact the skin. Looser-fitting jeans, khakis, or even medical scrubs are preferred.

Can I wear sneakers in lab? ›

Wear closed-toe shoes at all times in buildings where chemicals are stored or used. Do not wear perforated shoes, sandals or cloth sneakers in laboratories or where mechanical work is conducted. These shoes offer no barrier between you and chemical and physical hazards.

Can you wear Crocs in a lab class? ›

Tie back long hair before entering the laboratory, don't wear dangling jewelry. Sandals, flip-flops, Crocs, open-toe and open- top (i.e. ballet flat) shoes and canvas shoes (i.e. Toms) are not appropriate. These are not going to protect your feet if you drop a piece of glass with a liquid chemical reagent in it.

Are lab classes hard? ›

They're not necessarily hard, as long as you show up to class every week, don't fall behind, and complete the assignments on time.

What are 3 tests done in a lab? ›

Different Types of Lab Tests
  • Urine test.
  • Blood tests.
  • Tumor markers.

What are college lab classes like? ›

A lab course is a smaller, individual course component that supplements larger lectures. Labs allow for hands-on, practical exposure to subject matter. For instance, a biology lab may require students to dissect a frog and record the results in a journal.

Which lab course is best? ›

Some of the courses at diploma level are :
  • Diploma in ECG Technology.
  • Medical Imaging Technology Diploma.
  • DMLT (Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology)
  • Radiography Technology Diploma.
  • CVT Technician Diploma.
  • Diploma in Medical Laboratory Assistants.
  • Diploma in Clinical Analysis.
Jan 23, 2023

What can students learn from virtual labs? ›

Virtual labs incorporate various pedagogical techniques that help learners to better understand the theoretical information. These techniques include visual learning, active learning, recall-based learning, gamification & storytelling.

What are the objectives of virtual labs? ›

Virtual Labs enable the students to learn at their own pace and enthuse them to conduct experiments. Virtual Labs also provide a complete learning management system where the students can avail various tools for learning, including additional web resources, video lectures, animated demonstration, and self-evaluation.

What is the advantage of virtual laboratory? ›

Virtual labs will allow users to perform experiments on educational fields, such as Physics or Chemistry or biology in 3D multiuser worlds where users are represented by avatars and they are offered a wide range of communication and collaboration on services in order to simulate efficiently a real learning experimental ...

What are some positive things about virtual learning? ›

Advantages of Online Learning
  • Flexibility. ...
  • Reduced Costs. ...
  • More Free Time. ...
  • Increased Course Variety. ...
  • Career Advancement Opportunities. ...
  • Increased Collaboration. ...
  • Personalized Education. ...
  • Enhanced Time Management Skills.


1. Medical Lab Assistant Training Program
2. What to Expect on Your first Lab practical
(Kelli Roberts)
3. Top Ten Online Lab Simulators, IDE & Virtual Lab for taking Online Lab Classes | Learning With Amit
(Learning With Amit)
4. Medical Lab Tech Q&A
(Dereka the tourist)
5. Online Biology Lab. A Lab Like Any Other - Nick Butkevich
6. LSAT Lab Review (Best Budget Prep Course?)
(Test Prep Insight)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Trent Wehner

Last Updated: 05/08/2023

Views: 6297

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Trent Wehner

Birthday: 1993-03-14

Address: 872 Kevin Squares, New Codyville, AK 01785-0416

Phone: +18698800304764

Job: Senior Farming Developer

Hobby: Paintball, Calligraphy, Hunting, Flying disc, Lapidary, Rafting, Inline skating

Introduction: My name is Trent Wehner, I am a talented, brainy, zealous, light, funny, gleaming, attractive person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.