What is an Online Degree?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Online degrees are Internet based programs that make it possible for individuals to obtain a degree from an accredited college or university. Because many online degree programs are extremely flexible, there is usually not a requirement to attend virtual classes at specific times of the week. This arrangement is very attractive to working adults who must continue to work full time while seeking a degree in the discipline of their choice.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

The online degree program has evolved since the development of the first few offerings of the late 1980’s. Where once the individual sessions that composed a given course were mainly text, today’s online class sessions often include a mixture of text, graphics, and in some cases video lectures that are streamed across a secure channel. While not offered in a real time environment, these audio and visual enhancements provide the student with a wider range of stimuli to employ in assimilating the information provided in the course.

At the same time, the student can continue to meet the demands of work and family while pursuing the online degree. The class sessions are made available around the clock. This makes it possible to attend the classes at midnight, if that is what fits into the schedule of the student.

At one time, the type of degrees available through online attendance was severely limited. To a degree, this was due to limitations in the technological tools available for use in a virtual classroom setting. As Internet capabilities continued to expand, the ability to adapt a wider range of common educational tools and techniques to an online environment became possible. As a result, it is now possible to obtain an online Bachelor’s degree in many more disciplines that was possible even as recently as 2000.

However, there is still some degree of opposition to online degrees. A portion of the education community still considers this approach to learning as inferior to actual classroom attendance. This has led some employers to also think of degrees obtained from online attendance to not be as comprehensive as traditional learning situations.

The truth is that an online degree obtained from a fully accredited university or college requires that the student comply with the same criteria as a traditional student attending a brick and mortar institution of higher learning. The student is still required to attend classes on a weekly basis, interact with the instructor regularly, complete homework assignments and take exams within a specified period of time, and to participate in virtual discussions with the other students taking the course. Online degree programs today make all this possible, making use of all the communication technology currently available via the Internet.

While some examples of an online degree program feature accelerated coursework to allow the working adult to obtain the online degree in a shorter period of time, many programs follow the same quarter of semester approach as traditional settings, including limiting the number of courses that may be taken during the period.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


As the article stated, online programs are very flexible, but flexibility should not be confused with easy. A full time online student will spend just as much time in class and completing homework as traditional students. Online courses in sciences and mathematics involving lab sessions can also be completed online; although, the more advanced science and math courses are still usually taken in a face-to-face setting. Many schools also offer traditional students the opportunity to complete some of their pre-requisite and elective courses in an online setting. In this instance, these courses are taken simultaneously. This can be a good option for a student that wants to take the maximum allowable credit hours per semester. It gives the student the flexibility to complete the work for the online course when s/he has time. The flexibility afforded by taking one or two online courses can be the difference between successfully completing 18 credit hours and becoming completely burnt out. This can also be the difference between earning a college degree in three years instead of four; saving the student a years worth of college expenses, and thousands in interest. The savings from graduating one year early can be the equivalent of nearly two years salary when the benefits of hitting the work force a year early are taken into account.

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