Within the past decade, online degree programs have multiplied at an astounding rate. While several schools have been based on these non-traditional programs (though, for the sake of neutrality and so as not to unfairly give advertising to one program or another, I will refrain from giving these schools specific mention), many “traditional” brick-and-mortar schools have also begun offering online courses and, in some cases, complete online degree programs. In fact, colleges and universities ranging from community colleges up through Ivy League schools have embraced the use of technology as a learning vehicle; in a sense, this signals maturing of online degree programs.
What spawned this shift in academia? The answer lies in the affordability of computing technology coupled with the improved connectivity offered through the Internet. More people worldwide have access to personal computers and high-speed Internet connections, though identification of accurate statistics still proves difficult. These technologies have enabled schools to provide learning environments that meet modern student needs and accreditation requirements.
Some schools have established evening or weekend programs in an attempt to entice more non-traditional students. Even these programs pose challenges to the working adult, who may have to sacrifice attendance due to work or family obligations. Military students are also ideal candidates for online programs. In the 1990s, deployed service members aboard naval vessels enjoyed onboard college courses from universities that specialized in distance learning. In some cases, faculty members qualified to teach a number of courses were deployed on board the ship, thus offering service members the opportunity to continue studies while deployed.
Online degree programs satisfy most of the needs of current degree seekers, particularly the needs of “working adults.” Society has become faster-paced in the past two decades, and often we are inundated with information and are expected to increase productivity within the fixed confines of a day. As a result, the ability to attend traditional programs can be difficult, if not impossible, for prospective students. Online degree programs eliminate the time constraints, allowing students to avoid traffic, meet work and family obligations, and provide a 24/7 classroom environment. All told, online degree programs afford more students the opportunity to attain academic goals than ever before.
Delivery of online programs varies greatly depending on the school and the specific program. Some schools offer some online courses, but require physical attendance at a local campus for the student to meet graduation requirements. Other schools offer completely online programs; in theory, a student could complete an entire degree program online without ever setting foot on campus. The key to selecting a suitable program depends on the individual, as some students need some physical interaction with faculty and students, while others can complete degree programs completely online from the safety and comfort of their homes. Deciding on the best combination of online coursework depends on the individual. Many of the schools originally founded on online degree programs have established local campuses in major metropolitan areas.
Few can argue that online degree programs are quickly gaining acceptance among employers, students, and traditional academic professionals. Online degree programs will continue to provide a vehicle for students to attain degrees that might not be possible through traditional means. Ongoing improvements in technology offer additional promise in the growth and availability of these programs.