The Ever-Expanding List of Online Degree Options
When online education began, students had access to precious few degree programs. Typically, only classes that required little communication and less hands-on training were candidates for digital classrooms. However, as education technology developed — and as interest in online education grew — students found more and more degrees available over the web.
Today, more than 17 percent of higher education schools offer full-time online degree programs, and the options are incredibly diverse. Nearly every student in nearly every field can find courses available online, bringing the world closer to affordable, attainable higher education. To celebrate, here is a brief history of online degree options — and what we can expect from online education in the near future.
First Came Business School
Aside from computer science courses — which only became valuable well after e-learning was established — business degrees seem the most obvious candidates for online education. First, advanced business degrees are sought primarily by adults already employed in full-time careers; thus, the flexibility of online courses is unendingly appealing to business schools’ core audience.
Furthermore, business classes rarely require hands-on attention from professors, so students can be certain of learning the correct material without bothering to journey to a university campus. Concepts like finance and marketing — as well as skills like selling, recruiting, and leading — can be acquired just as effectively through a computer screen as in a physical classroom.
Business school integrated quickly into online education sites. Today, business learning opportunities are seemingly unending; here are a few online degree options for the business-inclined:
- Business Administration
- Project Management
- International Business
- Supply Chain Management
Then, Humanities Studies
As for-profit online universities gained popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they began experimenting with more programs to offer digitally inclined students. In the previous few decades, correspondence courses proved that many subjects in the humanities were well-suited to out-of-classroom students, so degree programs in “soft” subjects like literature, art, history, and religion made their way to the web.
Like business courses, humanities classes rarely require practical instruction; most often, students read materials outside of class and review those materials with peers and professors. Such experiences are easily completed through an e-learning portal. However, unlike most business courses, humanities studies fail to provide students with obvious careers post-graduation. Thus, online schools adapted to the changing needs of its student body by providing a variety of online student services, to include career preparation and placement, course counseling, and even tutoring.
Today, online humanities degree options are extensive, and giving online students access to the cultural degrees they crave, such as:
- Biblical and Theological Studies
- Latin American Studies
- British Literature
- American History
- Music Theory
- Creative Writing
Now, Engineering Courses
On the opposite end of the education spectrum, engineering degrees require extensive applied instruction. Engineers study complex subjects like calculus and physics and must be able to apply theories to the real world. In universities, engineers are seen to build physical projects: catapults, miniature towers, better mousetraps, etc. Yet, many online schools are integrating engineering degree programs into their offerings.
Less than a decade ago, teaching engineering online was impossible, but thanks to advances in e-learning technology, exceedingly complex programs like online biomedical engineering truly exist. The primary breakthrough was in simulations: Once schools could accurately replicate laboratory conditions in a digital environment, online engineering courses could offer legitimate instruction.
Today, all manner of engineering programs can be found online, and some of the most popular include:
- Biomedical Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Engineering Management
- Mechanical Engineering
Soon, Unlimited Options
In less than a century, classrooms have moved from chalk and blackboards to digital screens. Some experts envision a future where physical learning environments are unnecessary, and where every student attends classes over the internet. Already, 95 percent of universities offer at least one fully online course, and 17 percent of universities offer entirely digital degree programs — and that number is growing every semester as more students clamor for the flexibility and affordability of online school.
Some experts are taking the online learning revolution even farther. Former MIT dean Christine Ortiz argues that the online schools of the future will not be segmented into colleges and majors; there won’t be classrooms or even a rigid lecture structure. Instead, all information will be available online, and students will gain certifications through completed projects.
This vision might seem far-fetched, but as more and more degree programs become available online, students have more options than ever for their educations. Soon enough, online learning will be limited only by students’ time and imagination.