What is a Distance Learning PhD?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen
A woman taking a distance learning class for a PhD.
A woman taking a distance learning class for a PhD.

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is generally the highest level of educational degree that can be received in the United States and has traditionally required extensive education in classrooms, culminating in the writing of a doctoral thesis. Advancements in technology, however, have extended the scope of what is possible for students and results such as a distance learning PhD have become possible. A distance learning PhD is a degree that is earned by a student through a school that the student likely does not physically attend and may even be a great distance away from, hence the term “distance learning.”

Traditionally, a PhD had to be earned by a student who has already received a master’s degree, or has qualified for a master’s degree concurrent to coursework toward a PhD, and is attending classes at a university. A distance learning PhD allows a person to complete his or her necessary coursework without the need of attending daily classes. This can help someone who is not close to a major university by allowing him or her to do the required coursework and learn the material needed to complete his or her education and receive a PhD.

Distance learning programs, such as those involved in obtaining a distance learning PhD, began with the use of cameras to broadcast classroom lectures to other locations. This allowed an instructor to teach a classroom full of students, and broadcast his or her lesson to classrooms in other areas. Improvements in technology, and the proliferation of Internet access, allowed for distance learning to be achieved through Internet classes and coursework done on a computer. With unique usernames and passwords, this also allowed professors to ensure that students were “attending” the virtual classes appropriately, often using discussion boards and forums to replace traditional classroom discussions.

A number of different colleges and universities offer programs to help a student receive a distance learning PhD, usually through online classes. Many of these universities offer students a chance to earn a legitimate distance learning PhD in subjects such as business, education, and psychology. There are some universities and programs, however, that offer distance learning degrees and do not truly require that students perform the necessary tasks or learn materials needed by a degree holder. These universities are typically not properly accredited, and anyone interested in receiving a distance learning PhD should ensure that the program he or she is interested in has been accredited by groups such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United States Department of Education.

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    • A woman taking a distance learning class for a PhD.
      By: Yuri Arcurs
      A woman taking a distance learning class for a PhD.