Online distance learning is a method that educational institutions can use to offer instruction to students that can not or do not wish to visit a physical campus. Virtually any type of credential or degree can be obtained through online distance learning. In some cases the entire program will be online, though other situations require the student to attend a given number of classes on campus or sit proctored tests. When taking advantage of these programs, it is important to verify that the educational institution is accredited. Many schools of all sizes offer online classes, but there are also fraudulent institutions and scam degrees that will not be recognized by other schools or potential employers.
Distance education has been around since at least the 18th century, when correspondence courses were used to teach shorthand. Some of the first university degrees were earned through distance learning in the 1850s. Modern examples have used television, radio, and various implementations of multimedia to instruct students in a variety of subjects. The introduction of online distance learning expanded the scope even further, and the vast majority of large colleges and universities have some type of Internet based course offerings.
Each school offers its own slate of online degrees, though it is typically possible to gain both undergraduate and graduate degrees through online distance learning. Many professionals use this option to study for an advanced degree while working at a full time job. Some professions, such as the education and information technology (IT) sectors, offer pay incentives for particular degrees. This can make it advantageous to keep working at a job while studying for a degree online.
A variety of different Internet based technologies can be used to facilitate online distance learning. Video conferences can be used to watch a lecture without physically attending it, and students can also use web conferencing to interact with each other, which is one of the activities that had previously been difficult to replicate in distance learning. These same technologies can be used for the remote proctoring of exams, if the proctor has access to the student's webcam. Message boards, e-mail, and various proprietary systems can also be used to disseminate information and submit assignments.
Some online distance learning programs allow the student to obtain an entire degree without ever setting foot on a campus or in a classroom. Other programs use a hybrid formula, and some instruction takes place in a classroom setting. Some examples of hybrid structures include science courses where the student has to attend lab sessions, or others that require the student to sit proctored exams.