Traditionally, students interested in earning a doctoral degree needed to devote 3-7 years as full-time students in an on-campus program. Today, many universities offer doctoral programs through their distance learning or extension schools, making doctoral-level study possible for those who cannot commit to full-time study. Some online programs also offer accelerated course options, often requiring seven weeks for a session versus the more traditional 15-week semester.
Online and hybrid programs utilize distance learning platforms to engage students in virtual discussions and provide course content. Students may also use video conferencing tools to participate in their classes. Some courses may be offered in asynchronous format, allowing students to work at their own pace, while others require virtual class attendance at specific days and times.
Many online doctoral programs are intended for those already practicing in their chosen field. Depending on the field of study, on-campus classes, visits with advisors, lab-work and clinicals may be required in an in-person format.
Doctor of Philosophy
The Ph.D. is one of the most common doctorates because it can be earned in many fields. Distance learning Ph.D.s cannot be earned in all fields; areas of study that involve extensive lab work or hands-on research are less likely to be offered than degrees in areas that are conducive to working and researching on the Internet.
Most Ph.D. candidates conduct original research and write a dissertation; distance learning students may need to visit campus to meet with advisers and defend their dissertation before a committee. Other programs may require students to visit campus one or two times per semester for a few days of face-to-face classes. Some of the Ph.D. programs offered online include:
- Latin and Roman studies
- Classical civilization
- Information technology
- Instructional technology
- Public safety
- Technical communication and rhetoric
- Hispanic studies
Educational Specialist (Ed.S)
Ed.S. programs are typically designed for practicing educators. Some online programs may require some on-campus attendance. The distance learning Ed.S. program has several areas of concentration. Some of these concentration areas include educational leadership, higher education administration and educational technology.
The goal of the educational leadership option is to prepare students for administrative positions in public school districts. The educational technology concentration updates students on trends in online teaching, multimedia production for learning and virtual schooling. Upon completion of a doctoral program in higher education administration, students will be able to compete for administrative positions with community colleges and universities.
Required courses may include:
- Educational policy development
- Leading change in educational organizations
- Labor relations in public education
Doctor of Occupational Therapy
The distance learning Doctor of Occupational Therapy program is designed for working occupational therapists who wish to improve their skills, and this program may sometimes be completed in about two years. Some programs may have minimal on-campus attendance requirements. In addition, students may need to complete a doctoral project and portfolio.
Graduates of the doctoral program in occupational therapy will be qualified to apply for leadership roles that require practitioners to develop and design effective responses to a variety of healthcare needs, specifically in the area of occupational performance. Students may take courses in:
- Social policy and disability
- Evaluating clinical theory and research
- Health promotion and wellness
Doctor of Pharmacy
The Doctor of Pharmacy distance learning program is designed strictly for licensed pharmacists. The program is meant to increase students' knowledge of pharmacotherapeutics and develop leaders in the fields of medication therapy and pharmaceutical care.
Many Doctor of Pharmacy distance learning programs require students to attend campus sessions for lab work, as well as completing clinical assessments. These assessments can be completed at the student's place of work while overseen by a university supervisor. Some of the courses required to complete the degree include:
- Foundations of pharmaceutical care
- Renal disorders
- Respiratory disorders
There are a variety of doctoral level programs available that can be completed entirely or mostly online, including options to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy, Educational Specialist, Doctor of Occupational Therapy or Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Doctoral degrees prepare individuals, many of whom are already working in their desired field, to be more competitive candidates for occupational advancement or placement in higher level leadership positions.