What are the Different Types of Distance Education Degrees?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

There are numerous distance education degrees including high school diplomas, associate of arts’ degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and PhDs. Some schools may even offer certificate programs. A distance degree of any kind is only worthwhile if it comes from an accredited school. Fortunately, more and more distance education schools have accreditation, but prospective students should always verify this prior to applying.

Some distance education schools arrange for proctored tests.
Some distance education schools arrange for proctored tests.

Many years ago, the most popular distance education degrees were high school diplomas that could be earned through correspondence schools. People who lacked their diplomas could sign up with these schools, which competed with programs like adult education, so that that they could finish their high school education or train to take the GED. Though pricey, correspondence schools offered pupils a chance to make resumes look more attractive and an opportunity to be better educated.

The development of the Internet created opportunity for a variety of distance education degrees or options that have expanded as speed of the Internet and other forms of communication like two-way video have increased. Correspondence schools are much less common now. Students can now participate in programs where they may earn anything from a certificate to a PhD, and these programs are increasingly competitive.

The specific way in which teaching is offered for distance education degrees varies. Some people are assigned work over the Internet and submit all homework by email. They may not listen to lectures but may merely read books, write papers, and take tests. A few schools arrange for proctored tests, but other allow open book exams. Master’s and PhD students still may need to complete a thesis or a dissertation.

Other distance education degrees are more interactive. Students could assemble in a single location to hear real time lectures from professors. Video streaming can allow for an experience more like non-distance learning, where students can ask questions that are answered directly. Alternately, professor lectures could be available online and viewed at the student’s convenience. Strong programs tend to have well-prepared online material to enhance learning.

When it comes to earning a bachelor’s or advanced distance education degrees, not all subjects are available. When a subject matter requires significant hands-on learning, such as many of the hard sciences and areas like medicine where direct practice is required, there are far fewer degrees offered. Moreover, some distance degrees aren’t viewed with the same kind of respect as degrees earned at a bricks and mortar school. People determining their education path should do some research to decide if a distance education degree ultimately benefits or detracts from a career.

The strongest college distance degree programs are usually those offered through an established bricks and mortar school, and these don’t necessarily have to cost more. A number of state schools have distance education programs, and students pay the usual state college fees for bachelor’s degrees, master’s programs, or PhDs. Students physically attending a bricks and mortar school may also be able to take some online classes as part of their degree.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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