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.

View popular schools

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.

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

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.

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 of 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.

    • 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
    • MS in Psychology - General Psychology
    • Master of Science in Psychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology
    • Master of Public Health
    • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
    • 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
    • AAS in Business Administration - Business
    • AAS in Legal Support and Services
    • AAS in Business Administration
    • AAS in Business Admin-Office Management
    • AAS in Criminal Justice
    • AAS in Accounting
    • Psychology
    • Certificate in Human Services
    • Medical Office Administration Certificate
    • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
    • Pathway to Paralegal Postbaccalaureate Certificate
    • Medical Billing and Coding Certificate

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Dual Master of Jurisprudence in Corporate and Business Law / Master of Business Administration
    • Master of Business Administration
    • Master of Business Administration - Business Process Innovation
    • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    • Hybrid Dual Master of Social Work/Master of Education, Human Sexuality Studies
    • Master of Social Work
    • RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing

    What is your highest level of education completed?

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • 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?

  • What is your highest level of education?

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • MSAP - General Track
    • MSAP - Industrial/Organizational Technology
    • MSAP - Community Psychology
    • RN to BSN to Master of Science in Nursing
    • MSN - Clinical Nurse Leader
    • MSN - Nursing Management and Executive Leadership
    • RN-BSN - RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Science in Communication
    • Master of Science in Education in Special Education
    • Master of Science in Engineering Technology
    • Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management
    • Master of Public Health
    • Master of Science in Education in Learning Design and Technology

    What is your highest level of education?

    • B.S. in Business Administration
    • B.S. in Legal Studies
    • B.S. in Business Administration / Accounting
    • B.S. in Finance
    • B.S. in Management / Entrepreneurship
    • B.S. in Management / International Management
    • A.S. in Criminal Justice
    • A.S. in Legal Studies
    • A.S. in Management
    • A.S. in Accounting
    • A.S. in Marketing
    • Certificate: Paralegal (Legal Studies)
    • Certificate: H.R. Management

    Education Level:

  • What is your highest level of education?

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?