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What is Online Continuing Education?

By B. Miller
Updated May 17, 2024
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Online continuing education refers to the ability to further one's education by taking classes over the web. Online continuing education becomes more common and accessible virtually every day, and many people take advantage of the opportunity to study in their own time. It is possible to just take a single class online, to get a certification, or even to get a complete college degree through distance learning.

Associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, and even a few master's degrees are available through online continuing education. Some colleges take place completely online, and do not have a physical location, while other colleges offer degree or certification programs online in addition to the ones offered in the physical location of the college. It is important to verify that the college is accredited, however, before signing up for classes or a degree program.

Some of the most common online continuing education degrees are those in business, education, and public administration, but there are many different degrees available entirely online. Some online degree programs offer a low-residency format, where the bulk of the work will take place online, but students may be expected to come to campus for one or two weeks per semester in order to get practical experience, develop contacts, and attend certain lectures, labs, or seminars in person. Others are entirely online.

One of the benefits to online continuing education is that a degree or certification program can typically be completed in a much shorter period of time than at a traditional institution. One might be able to complete a certificate program in just a few months, or receive a master's degree in just one year, for example. Online degrees may not be any less expensive, however, than some traditional institutions, and in some cases an be even more expensive when compared to a state school. Be sure to do thorough research ahead of time before making a commitment to any particular school.

It is important for anyone who wants to pursue online continuing education to have the motivation to study on one's own. Classes are generally quite challenging, similar to any other college class, and may have required weekly readings, lectures to listen to, and assignments to complete, in addition to any other studying. Be sure that one will be able to fit the classes in around one's work and family life. When thoroughly researched and considered, however, online continuing education can be a great way to improve one's job prospects and get a great education without leaving home.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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