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Online learning has been defined as a program that offers at least 80% of its curriculum online. As of the fall of 2014, over five million students were enrolled in at least one online learning course. 

With more than two-thirds of higher level education offering some type of online learning, an increasing number of students are moving to the virtual classroom for the convenience it offers. 

In fact, convenience seems to be the one of the biggest factors that contributes to this shift in online learning. With a computer and internet connection, students have the ability to start, continue, or finish their education.

They can take courses from almost anywhere: the local library, on a business flight, or from the comfort of their own couch. Students can raise families, work full-time careers or even join the military, all while working towards their degree.

Online Learning From Secondary to Graduate Programs

Online learning provides opportunities for almost everyone, at most levels of education.

High School

Online learning programs at the secondary level give students an alternative educational opportunity. With online learning, high school students may be able to overcome geographical, financial, and learning style challenges.

Students are given improved learning opportunities in the form of increased access to high-quality teachers and flexibility, improved efficiency and innovation.

Undergraduate – Bachelor’s Degree

Attending a highly rated university is not always an option for a variety of reasons. One common limiting factor is Bachelor’s students not having the financial means available to travel across the country.

According to the 2015 Online Learning Report Card, one in four students are enrolled in at least one distance learning course. Online undergraduate programs may provide students with long term technology skills and favorable learning outcomes based on the format and content of the program.

Graduate – Master’s Degree

Perhaps because of the centralized focus for graduate degrees, online graduate programs have increased in recent years. Over 65% of all online learning students are enrolled at public institutions.

However, both private and public institutions see a higher enrollment in their online graduate programs over their undergraduate options, reporting from the 2015 Online Learning Report Card.

As of 2015, over one million students are taking at least one distance education course, increasing over 60,000 students in just one year.

Online Learning

Graduate – Doctorate Degree

At this academic level, there are often high expectations placed on the student. With a focus on research and real-world experiences, online doctorate students can focus more on these experiences than in-class room meetings.


Students pursuing certifications are often already working in their field of interest. They are looking for certifications to improve their job opportunities, increase their pay rate or expand their skills. Attending an online certificate program provides these learners the flexibility they might require to accommodate their current profession.

Degrees You Wouldn’t Think You Can Earn Online

According to the Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017, online enrollment is increasing alongside a decrease in on-campus students.

Even educational requirements that require in-person experiences, such as internships, are offered fully online with the accompaniment of  in-person experiences near the student’s location..

Some online learning opportunities take the place of a classroom. However, for more face to face professions, pursuing an online degree may bring some hesitation.

Online degrees in counseling, nursing, and social work, for example, may provide placements and on-the-ground experiences for online students while their academic requirements are completed in the comfort of their own home.

With some residency requirements, online students in these fields can practice their skills in person with faculty and other peers.

For online graduate degrees in fields like business or analytics, students are able to maintain their work schedule while also pursuing extended learning opportunities to advance in their career.  This could be one reason why online learning has been so successful – for the multitaskers of the world.

Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Professional counselors are tasked with empowering clients to make positive change in their lives. Counseling is just one of the many degree programs that are offered fully online.


 Look for online counseling programs that are accredited from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). Accreditation may help with post-graduate counseling licensure requirements.

Complete a Counseling Internship

The practicum and internship requirements can be completed in an in-person setting, while still fulfilling the educational requirements in an online learning setting.

Online Nursing Degree Programs

 Nurses are tasked with patient care responsibilities, maintaining patient health records, and providing care or consultation, based on their level of nursing certification. Students can take advantage of online learning degree programs to become licensed in their state as a nurse.

Each state has their own licensing requirements and the intended nursing career path will affect the specific program chosen. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, it is estimated that by the year of 2022, there will be a shortage of almost a million registered nurses.

This shortage means it is a great time to pursue an online learning degree in the nursing occupation.

Family Nurse Practitioner-Online Learning

Online Master’s in Social Work Programs

Social workers help communities solve and cope with everyday problems. With over 40 universities offering accredited online MSW programs, students wanting to pursue a degree in social work have many options.

Social work online learning programs are traditionally offered in two models.

Online Learning MSW

An online education program means that all lectures are online and students are not required to travel to campus. This does not mean, however, that they will not be required to complete in-person internships. These in-person internships can usually be completed where the student lives, similar to the online counseling programs.

Hybrid MSW Program

A hybrid MSW model differs from the traditional online learning program in that it usually consists of a blend of both in-person courses and online courses. The exact mix differs, varying from one university to the next.

What Can We Expect for the Future of Online Education

Online learning programs are growing significantly. With increasing advantages to online programs, it is likely that enrollment rates of online learning are only going to increase.

Here are just a few of the reasons online learning will continue to rise in the coming years::

Increasing Student Access

Students have greater access to college programs. Local communities are sometimes left with talent gaps because of student’s inabilities to travel to specific college programs. Online learning can close those talent gaps.

Increase in Degree Completion

Life struggles can easily get in the way and affect graduation rates. Programs that place online learning as a priority tend to see increased degree completion rates.

Online learning will have positive implications to local communities, as well as important economic improvements. Online learning can close the talent gap and influence digital workplaces.

There was a 115% increase from 2005 to 2014 in virtual workforces. This shift will produce important economic growth patterns including less overhead and less talent recruitment restrictions based on geographical location.

With online learning already playing an important role in the country’s academic system, evidence shows that online enrollment is only going to become more prominent.

About 83% of institutions expect their online classes to increase over the next year, leading to an even greater emphasis on online learning in higher education.


Written By
Syrenna Kononovitch is a certified school counselor and managing editor for OnlineCounselingPrograms.com. She creates and organizes supporitve content related to and professional counseling and other mental health careers and graduate educational pathways.

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