How Online Colleges Work

Online colleges, e-learning, distance education. If you’re considering going back to school, you have likely seen these terms while doing your research. But what really is an online college? How do they work and could it be right for you? If a virtual classroom sounds appealing, read on to discover what online education is all about. We all know that education comes at a price so before applying anywhere it is important to know all the facts. Making an informed decision is the first step toward your successful experience.

What is an Online College?

An online college is exactly what you would guess — a merge of the Internet and the postsecondary classroom. Technology has brought the lecture hall to the computer screen, giving students new and exciting options to pursue their degree. Online colleges function the same way as traditional colleges. Students still take tests, debate with their fellow students, and follow-up with professors. The difference lies in the format — Internet-delivery versus face-to-face instruction.

Some online colleges deliver all of their degree programs online, but the majority have a physical campus presence where students can complete lab work, if necessary, or opt to take a few classes in a traditional classroom. Increasingly, traditional universities that are better known for brick-and-mortar classes are offering online degree programs. These include the University of Maryland, the University of Florida, Arizona State University, and much more.

How Does an Online College Work?

Online learning, as defined by the Department of Education, is “learning that takes place partially or entirely over the Internet.” Simple enough, but how exactly do teachers bring the classroom to your computer? With advanced and powerful technology, educators combine traditional instruction with dynamic e-learning software. Platforms such as Blackboard and Angel make it possible to conduct classroom lectures and discussions remotely. Blackboard (Bb) is the primary course management tool utilized by instructors. Thanks to its user-friendly interface, there is little to no learning curve. Students simply log in, click on the course title, and start learning. The homepage conveniently organizes homework assignments, quizzes and tests, and other materials for easy retrieval. Instructors are in regular contact as they have the ability to post announcements and links to additional resources such as the student handbook and course catalog. Check out the list of features below to better understand how Blackboard structures an e-learning environment:

Cool Features:

  • Course Tools: Find course syllabi, professor contact information, and other important data conveniently grouped for easy retrieval.
  • Digital Assignment Submission: Review, complete, and submit all assignments online.
  • Grade Management: Keep track of your progress with Bb’s grade management tool.
  • Online Discussions: Engage with your peers and teachers through Bb’s chat forum.
  • Students Calendar: Organize your online courses and project due dates with the calendar tool.

While Blackboard is certainly capable of supporting all of your online college needs, there are many other applications at student’s disposal. Instructors also connect students to digital libraries and other educational technologies to create a very comprehensive learning experience.

What are the Benefits of an Online College?

Online colleges did not just evolve as a natural next step from the existence of modern technology. The driving force behind their creation was the increased demand of students for easier access to higher education. As more students enroll in postsecondary studies, e-learning has become the popular choice and for good reasons:

  1. Flexibility: Without a doubt, flexibility is a must for students juggling a busy work schedule. Online colleges give students the opportunity to create a schedule that fits their lifestyle. Evening classes or part-time enrollment allow for a more individualized approach to learning and pursuing a degree.
  2. Convenience: Not all students live near a school that offers their intended major. Online colleges offer numerous degree programs in almost every field that can be pursued entirely from home. Attending classes online also frees up a lot of time by eliminating the commute.
  3. Learn at your own pace: E-learning recognizes that students process information differently and at varying paces. Online colleges allow students to personalize their studies without concern for the time constraints of a traditional classroom.
  4. Innovative technology: Blackboard has proven an effective tool in bringing the classroom to the computer. Students communicate with teachers and peers through Bb’s forums and other online discussion tools. This equates to timely feedback and course updates.
  5. Online Teacher of the YearExperienced teachers: Online educators are professionals who possess both advanced degrees and years of teaching experience. The Department of Education recognizes the achievements of online educators with the National Online Teacher of the Year Award.

As the need increases for affordable and convenient options, many students look to online colleges as a way to keep advancing their education and career goals. In the past few years, online colleges have seen an enrollment spike of nearly 30 percent. Some of the largest degree-granting institutions offer online courses and have been recognized as leaders in the field of education.

Is Online Learning Effective?

This is a fair question. How can taking classes online be as effective as sitting in a lecture hall or working in a chemistry lab? The learning process is different for everyone. Taking classes online is not suited for all students, but for those with strong time management skills, online learning can be advantageous. The Department of Education conducted a comprehensive study [pdf] that illustrates the effectiveness of online learning. The study cites numerous positive outcomes for students, highlighting the unique facets of e-learning and what makes it a valuable learning experience:

Here are a few of the noted benefits:

  1. Customized education: Online learning allows students to customize their own learning format. Students with specific challenges or hectic work schedules can personalize their online experience to accommodate their unique needs.
  2. Improved productivity: Researchers report that students who participated in online education spent more time on assignments, boosting performance and achievement.
  3. Innovation: To distribute content to students, e-learning often incorporates innovative technology such as audio/video streaming, podcasts, chats, video conferencing, screen sharing, and much more. State-of-the-art learning tools create classrooms which enhance the learning experience.

Online learning provides students with an effective alternative to pursuing their education. Distance learning is helping to meet the ever-increasing demand for advanced degrees in the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights the importance of education as it relates to career advancement and annual earnings:

Is an Online College Right For You?

Before applying to an online college, it is imperative to consider all your options carefully. If you answer yes to the below questions, then take our self-assessment quiz to determine if an online college is right for you.

  1. Are you self-disciplined?
  2. Are you comfortable with computers?
  3. Are you able to set aside time each week to dedicate to online courses?

If the results reveal that you’re a strong candidate for successful online learning, research our list of accredited schools to find the right program to fit your needs. An online college can be your most valuable partner in helping you achieve your goals.