How Does an Online Degree Work?

Online programs have become widely available from colleges, as they provide a flexible way for students to learn on their own terms. Online options may be strictly scheduled or self-paced, depending on the type of program. Discover what these degrees entail and what to consider before enrolling. View article »

View 10 Popular Schools »

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

94% college-bound high school students
…said it was important to communicate with colleges during the search process. (Source: Noel-Levitz 2012 trend study)

Select a school or program

View More Schools
Show Me Schools
 Replay
  • 0:04 Online Degree Programs
  • 0:47 Course Formats
  • 1:36 Virtual Classroom
  • 2:09 Class Participation
  • 2:58 Tech Requirements
  • 3:59 Learning Style Considerations

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

Online Degree Programs

When deciding whether or not to enroll in an online learning program, it is important to understand how they work. Prospective students may want to consider course formats, course scheduling, virtual classroom environment, class participation options, technology requirements, and their personal learning style.

Distance learning degrees are available through traditional two-year community colleges, four-year universities, and private online schools. Learn about course formats, scheduling options, the virtual classroom environment, class participation requirements, technological necessities, and learning style considerations.

Course Formats

There are a wide variety of fully online programs, although some schools utilize a hybrid format, which combines online and campus-based classes. Hybrid learning is more common for majors that require hands-on training, such as engineering or allied health fields.

Scheduling options differ between courses. The more traditionally scheduled class assigns and requires students to complete regular assignments and tests by certain dates throughout the semester. A self-paced course allows students to work at whatever pace they may wish, for as long as necessary to complete the course. Many classes fall somewhere in between these two formats and require students to have all work submitted by a particular date at the end of the semester.

Virtual Classroom

Most online classes are presented via a website that integrates forums, an instant messenger, e-mail, and streaming audio and video. Programs also offer testing and real-time assignment review capabilities to create an online classroom environment for students. This virtual classroom makes it easy for students to view class calendars or informational posts as well as the lectures and assignments that teachers have posted, which can include video, audio, or text files.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Business
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Sciences
  • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanic and Repair Technologies
  • Medical and Health Professions
  • Physical Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Transportation and Distribution
  • Visual and Performing Arts

Class Participation

There are a variety of ways in which student can communicate with instructors and other classmates in an online classroom environment. These include email, instant messaging, video chatting, audio conferencing, and message boards.

Because online degrees are not set in a physical classroom, students are required to show some sort of participation, either by posting a certain number of times on the class discussion boards or by completing assignments with other students. In hybrid classes, this requirement may be waived, as students must show up for a physical class on certain days throughout the semester. In continuing education programs or degree programs for working adults, this participation requirement may be less stringent.

Tech Requirements

Schools with online programs usually have specific tech requirements regarding what kind of computer, Internet connection, and software distance learners must have. In general, students usually need to have a computer with the following features:

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

In addition, certain programs could require students to purchase equipment and supplies that traditional students have access to on campus. For example, online graphic design programs might require participants to have their own cameras, editing software, color printers, and scanners. Some schools do have affiliations with corporations to help online students get needed software at a discount.

Learning Style Considerations

Prospective distance learners should make sure their learning style is conducive to the independent initiative that is necessary for the success in online programs. While instructors often provide feedback and have set due dates for work, students must be motivated to complete readings and projects without the benefit of in-person assistance. A basic level of proficiency in using the internet and computer applications is necessary, as are solid reading and writing skills. There are a variety of factors for prospective students to consider when deciding whether to enroll in an online distance program, from their personal learning style to the format of the course.

Next: View Schools

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • BA: Criminal Justice
    • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
    • BA: Liberal Studies
    • BA: Psychology
    • BA: Psychology - General
    • BS: Computer Science
    • AA: Criminal Justice
    • AA: Liberal Arts
    • AA: Business Administration
    • AA: Information Technology
    • AA: Cybersecurity

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Science in Nursing - Doctor of Nursing Practice Path, Executive Leader Specialization
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice
    • Master of Science in Nursing - Doctor of Nursing Practice Path
    • Master of Science in Legal Studies
    • MS in Psychology
    • MBA
    • Master of Public Health
    • MBA - Human Resources
    • MBA - Health Care Management
    • BS in Liberal Studies
    • BS in Business Administration
    • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Investment Career Focus Area
    • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
    • BS in Nutrition Science
    • BSFIN in Accelerated MS Finance
    • AAS in Business Administration - Business
    • AAS in Legal Support and Services
    • AAS in Business Administration
    • AAS in Business Administration - Food & Hotel Management
    • AAS in Business Admin-Office Management
    • AAS in Criminal Justice
    • Medical Office Administration Certificate
    • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
    • Pathway to Paralegal Postbaccalaureate Certificate
    • Medical Billing and Coding Certificate
    • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
    • Executive Leader Graduate Certificate

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Arts - Communication and Media Studies
    • Master of Education - Early Childhood Education
    • Master of Education - Middle Grades
    • Master of Science - Entrepreneurship
    • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership
    • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Communication Management
    • Bachelor of Science - Psychology
    • Bachelor in Business Adminstration
    • Bachelor in Business Adminstration - Accounting
    • Bachelor in Business Adminstration - Financial Economics
    • Bachelor in Business Adminstration - Human Resource Management
    • Bachelor in Business Adminstration - Marketing
    • Associate of Arts - Liberal Studies
    • Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies - Early Childhood Education
    • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
    • Education Specialist - Middle Grade Education
    • Education Specialist - Special Education
    • Post Graduate Certificate - Communication Management
    • Post Graduate Certificate - Finance
    • Post Graduate Certificate - Health Care Management

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Business Administration with a General Business Specialization
    • Master of Business Administration - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise Concentration
    • Master of Business Administration - Finance Concentration
    • Master of Business Administration - Human Resource Management Concentration
    • Master of Business Administration - Hospitality and Casino Management Concentration
    • Master of Business Administration - International Business Concentration

    What is your highest level of education completed?

  • What is your highest level of education?

  • What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Doctor of Business Administration - Management
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
    • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
    • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
    • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
    • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
    • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
    • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
    • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
    • BS in Psychology
    • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
    • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
    • BS in Early Childhood
    • BS in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)

    What is your highest level of education?

    • MA in Communication
    • Master of Liberal Arts
    • MA in Science Writing
    • MS in Applied Economics
    • MS in Geographic Information Systems
    • MS in Bioinformatics

    What is your highest level of education?

  • What is your highest level of education?

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?