How Distance Learning Certification Programs Work

Online certificate programs are available in many fields of study and are designed for working professionals looking to advance in their careers, working professionals seeking a career change or recent college graduates. Students enrolled in these programs work at their own pace and train in physical locations relevant to their career goals.

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In distance learning certificate programs, students get career training through online platforms, which can help them get ready for industry certification exams.

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Overview of Distance Learning Certificate Programs

Online certificate programs are designed for professionals who want to continue working while obtaining an education. These programs are also for recent college graduates or professionals seeking a career change. Students enrolled in these programs train under the supervision of professionals in their respective fields, and they may gain hands-on experience in a work setting relevant to their specific educational and career goals. Earning a certificate can increase career opportunities or qualify certificate-holders for increased salaries or promotions.

Program Options

Online certificate programs are available through colleges and universities in a wide range of fields. Some possible topics include:

  • Computer technology
  • Home inspection
  • Child development
  • Accounting

Technical Information

In online programs, course materials are typically delivered through educational platforms, such as Blackboard, eCollege and WebCT. Examinations are supervised and can be completed online at the convenience of the student or at a testing center or other exam location, depending on the program. Communication between students and instructors can occur in many formats, including:

  • E-mail
  • Video chat
  • Audio chat
  • Online forums
  • Message boards
  • Instant messaging


Some online certificate programs allow students to work at their own pace. Programs vary in length, but can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete. Accelerated online certificate programs are also available and generally allow students to complete training in a shorter period of time than traditional online certificate programs.

Certificates v. Certification

Unlike college certificates, certifications are typically offered by third-party organizations, like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or Microsoft. In most cases, applicants can earn these credentials after meeting education and experience requirements, then successfully completing an exam or series of exams. For example, a registered nurse who has practiced for at least two years and has 2,000 hours of experience in gerontological nursing is qualified to apply for the gerontological nursing certification exam through the ANCC.

To recap, after completing a distance learning certificate in an area relevant to their career, students may be prepared to earn professional certification in their area of expertise.

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