What’s an online bachelor’s degree like?

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Modern technology has changed the way many industries work, and education is no exception. If you haven’t already considered getting a bachelor’s degree online, you should know that online education has advanced careers and expanded the scope of knowledge available to working professionals of all kinds.

Enrollment in online college classes has been trending up for a number of years. A study from Digital Learning Compass found that in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available, more than 6 million U.S. students were enrolled in at least one online education course. This figure represented an increase of nearly 4 percent over the previous year. More people are flocking to online college courses on account of the flexibility and value these classes provide. In many cases, students said they felt the quality of education they were receiving through online courses was similar or even superior to that of traditional on-campus studies, according to the Digital Learning Compass survey.

Student sitting in a hallway on her ipad

How do online classes work?

Online courses are structured differently depending on the expected outcomes of the coursework, the subject matter, the type of institution offering the course, as well as other factors. Generally, students conduct their work through an online learning management system or some kind of virtual portal. Through this portal, students can access just about everything they need for the course, including the syllabus, course materials, tests, video lectures, and a way to communicate with the professor or other students.

A key benefit and differentiator for online college courses is the more adaptable timeline. Usually, students may complete a significant portion of their coursework at their own pace. However, there are often still weekly or monthly deadlines to submit projects or complete certain tests. That setup makes online learning a great fit for people who hold jobs during the day but have time in the evenings or on weekends to devote to coursework.

The advanced technology that has enabled this broader shift toward online learning also makes it possible for classes to include a live lecture or discussion component. Unlike the self-paced coursework, this arrangement might require students to log in at a certain time and participate in a discussion through video conferencing, an instant message platform, or something similar. The balance between self-paced study and time-limited material can vary from one course to another, but is usually outlined from the beginning of the class.

Coursework in online bachelor’s programs often mirrors that of the typical on-campus class. Most of the work tends to be divided among assignments, such as participation in online discussions with class participants, along with taking regular quizzes and writing research papers. Some online courses include the requirement to take at least one proctored exam. Some online courses allow for a virtual proctor process, which would involve a professor monitoring students via webcam or software as they complete a test.

What to know before enrolling in an online degree program

Before you set out to earn a bachelor’s degree online, it’s important to review all the details and requirements of the coursework. It’s also wise to research the institution to certify it is accredited, as well as to assess the school’s reputation among current and former students or potential employers.

While the demands of online college courses vary widely, most advise setting aside around 10 hours per week to devote solely to studying and completing assignments. Again, the flexible, self-paced nature of online education usually gives students a great degree of freedom in terms of when and where they complete coursework. Devoting 10 hours per week, per course, serves as a good rule of thumb. Of course, each class is different and may ask more of students in terms of scheduling or necessary commitments that ensure the best outcome for everyone.

Technology requirements for each online course should also be taken into account before enrolling. Most digital learning programs are designed with the assumption that students have access to a high-speed internet connection and a web-enabled device with a keyboard. It’s also common for programs to impose additional requirements related to specific software, like Microsoft Office. More online courses are also asking students to use devices equipped with a webcam and microphone for certain assignments that function as virtual discussions with professors or other classmates.

Within the specific expectations of the course, online bachelor’s degree students may complete their studies whenever, wherever, and however they see fit. But just like any student, it’s recommended that online learners have a place they can go to focus on their studies. A home office that’s separate from the primary living space is perhaps the most ideal, but many online students find it acceptable or even preferable to complete their work in a public library, coffee shop, co-working space, or something similar.

Throughout any online learning program, it’s important that your expectations for your experience with the course are aligned with the requirements of the professor, curriculum, and academic institution. In the end, this insight all comes down to conducting thorough research into the degree program before deciding to enroll. It might even help to compare the program to similar offerings at other institutions to see how they diverge from one another. Making an informed decision regarding your education is the key to realizing the best possible outcome.

Online business programs at UAB

The online business programs offered through the University of Alabama at Birmingham are designed with flexibility and career success in mind. With an accredited online bachelor’s degree program in a number of key fields of study, the Collat School of Business is leading the way in innovative higher education. Learn more about the available programs, and reach out to an enrollment advisor today for additional insight.

Recommended Readings:
Information Security Management: What You Can Learn at UAB
Information Security vs. Computer Science: Which Degree Program is the Right Fit?

UAB Online Bachelor’s Business Degree Programs
U.S. News & World Report: Online education
U.S. News & World Report: How online classes work
Online Learning Consortium