Distance Learning Education in Organizational Psychology

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

Those who specialize in organizational psychology use research procedures and principles of psychology and apply them to the workplace. The goal of this field is to improve the quality of work life and productivity of employees.

Organizational psychology is also described as industrial psychology, work psychology, personnel psychology or industrial-organizational psychology. Online degree programs in this field are available from both traditional universities or colleges and private distance education schools, and they may be offered in online-only or hybrid formats. Most of these programs are at the graduate level, since industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists need at least a master's degree to practice in the field and be eligible for state licensure. However, there are also bachelor's and doctoral degrees available. To enroll in a graduate-level program, students need at least a bachelor's degree.

Distance learners studying I-O psychology online generally have the freedom to view lectures, get assignments and talk with peers or instructors at a time that fits their schedule. Online classroom environments contain course materials as well as communication tools like discussion boards and chat rooms. Some programs may use web conferencing to facilitate class interaction, which requires students to meet virtually at a set time. In master's degree programs, students are also expected to participate in on-the-job experiences, while doctoral programs typically require residencies.

Bachelor's Degree in Psychology

An undergraduate degree may be acceptable for some positions in organizational psychology, such as administrative assistants for psychologists or marketing researchers working for business, government or other organizations.

Course Topics

In addition to general education classes, these four-year programs typically contain courses in the following areas to provide a foundation in psychology in general:

  • Psychological research methods
  • Developmental psychology
  • Theories of personality
  • Cognition
  • Social psychology
  • Behavior change

Opportunities for bachelor's degree holders who do not choose to continue on with a master's or doctoral degree are more limited than those available to individuals with advanced degrees.

Master's Degree in Organizational Psychology

Students who have a bachelor's degree may be ready to enter a graduate program in organizational psychology, which might also require possession of a certain number of undergraduate credits in psychology as well as GRE scores. A master's degree in this field typically requires two years of full-time study including a thesis, and even online programs mandate some type of practical experience in the workplace.

Course Topics

Common coursework at this degree level may include the following:

  • Applied psychology
  • Measurements in organizational psychology
  • Personnel psychology and selection
  • Organizational change
  • Training and development

A list of recognized master's and doctoral programs in organizational psychology can be found at the website for the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology (SIOP).

Doctoral Degree in Organizational Psychology

Organizational psychologists who choose to practice independently usually must obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) and meet all necessary licensing requirements. A limited number of institutions offer online psychology degrees at the doctoral level, and these programs tend to include some level of on-campus work, such as short residencies held during scheduled weekends.

Competition for entrance into any type of doctoral psychology program, online or otherwise, is high. Students must have a master's degree that often needs to be in psychology and/or includes relevant coursework in business areas.

Course Topics

In addition to completing a dissertation, students may take online classes in areas such as the following:

  • Change management
  • Organizational planning
  • Psychological practices in human resources
  • I-O psychology principles
  • Quantitative analysis

Generally, it takes about three years to earn a doctoral degree but schools may give students up to seven years to complete program requirements.

Career Info

Organizational psychologists often perform research to solve problems of marketing and management, including the reorganization of work sites. Personnel psychologists may counsel, screen or conduct training for job applicants and employees. Industrial psychologists might analyze the productivity of existing personnel and develop recommendations for improving the overall level of team performance. Very large corporations may include organizational psychologists as part of the management staff, but more commonly, these psychologists act as consultants to solve specific problems as they arise.

Organizational psychologists typically hold a master's degree or a doctoral degree and are licensed to practice in their state of employment. Graduates who have completed a recognized course of study from an accredited institution may sit for state and national examinations for professional practice in psychology to be licensed within a specific state.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the outlook for I-O psychologists is positive ( Businesses and organizations are seeking ways to boost employee productivity and rate of retention, and as a result employment of these psychologists is expected to grow 13% in the 2018-2028 decade. The 2019 median annual salary for industrial-organizational psychologists was $92,880.

In online education programs in organizational psychology, students can expect to learn about business and psychology and to develop communication and leadership skills that can help them facilitate positive workplace environments. Although a bachelor's degree program may be sufficient for an entry-level job, individuals looking for more advanced positions generally complete master's or doctoral degree programs before entering the workforce.

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