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Online Learning Degree Programs: How Do They Work?

Online degree programs are geared toward students who, for various reasons, do not wish to physically attend a campus. Many of these degree programs are accredited and allow a student to turn in assignments online and complete all courses remotely.

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In an online degree program, students can take advantage of learning opportunities that are facilitated through web-based platforms. Before enrolling in a program, it can be helpful to learn about degree options, course material delivery, class communication methods and technological necessities for online learners.

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How Online Programs Work

Online learning degree programs allow students with computer and Internet access to complete some or all degree program requirements without attending classes on campus or in person. Course content is available on the school's website through course management systems designed to optimize online learning. Just like regular courses, the curriculum often includes:

  • Lectures
  • Interactive exercises
  • Quizzes
  • Assignments

Degree Options

Students may earn a variety of different degrees online, from undergraduate associate and bachelor's degrees to graduate master's and doctoral degrees. Many subjects are available for online study, such as:

  • Health sciences
  • Communication
  • Criminal justice
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Education

Once all degree requirements have been met, graduates of online degree programs receive an equivalent award to that which their on-campus peers receive.

Online Lectures

Instructors and professors can teach their courses using online videos or through downloadable PowerPoint presentations. Some courses might even offer podcasts to help their students connect with course material. Other programs include discussion boards where students can interact with their instructors and peers.

Completing Assignments and Tests Online

Assignments are typically completed offline and are submitted through the online learning degree program's course management system. Student testing may take place online if completed according to predetermined time limits. However, other schools require students to take proctored exams at approved testing centers.

Communicating Online

Students enrolled in online learning degree programs are able to view or work on course material at any time of day or night. Instructors and students typically communicate with each other through forum postings, e-mail and live chat. Students may be required to log on simultaneously for real-time, synchronous discussions.

Technology Requirements

Technology requirements vary according to the program, but schools generally require students to have computers that meet basic hardware and software requirements. The required features can include a computer that has the following features:

  • Recent Windows, Mac or Linux operating system
  • High-speed internet access
  • A certain amount of memory
  • Office software
  • Antivirus software
  • Web camera
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Microphone
  • CD/DVD drive

The content of an online degree program is usually the same as that of the on-campus version, but the course material delivery, class communications and assessment methods may differ.

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