Should I earn a degree online? Now’s the time.

June 09, 2020 · 8 min read · By ASU Online
As the world grapples with uncertain times in 2020, all types of learners may be questioning if now’s the time to earn a degree online. The nation’s unemployment rate has reached a record high and many employees still on the clock have seen reduced hours or income. The future of work after these unprecedented times may also change drastically and require new abilities. So, many different types of learners may feel motivated to gain more education, change career paths or keep their skills sharp.

“Now’s the time to pursue online education for a multitude of reasons,” said Casey Evans, the senior director of strategic learner and program mobilization for EdPlus at Arizona State University. “It’s always a good time to learn and any degree you choose will leave you in a great position to get a job where you can actively change the world.”

ASU Online offers a variety of undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs. These range from the humanities – which teach invaluable communication, critical thinking and exploration skills – to science, technology, engineering and math – which offer the foundation for careers and jobs in technology.

Online degrees vs traditional on-campus degrees

There are many similarities and differences between online degrees and traditional on-campus degrees. ASU Online degrees are taught by the same full-time faculty as the on-campus programs. Many of these exceptional faculty members have received highly prestigious awards for outstanding achievements, extraordinary originality, innovative research and leadership in their respective fields. Online students have access to the same accredited content as the on-campus program. Many of the teaching strategies are the same, too – you only complete them in an online learning environment.

“Online learning levels some of the barriers that prohibit, or make it challenging for, some students to access learning environments,” said Amy Markos, a faculty coordinator for the online bachelor’s degree in educational studies program and a clinical assistant professor in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “In online learning, students don’t have to be in one place, at one time, and can access learning experiences from anywhere at any time. This, in turn, positively affects the communities in which our online students live – locally, nationally, globally.”

Many students want a rich, engaging learning experience with dedicated faculty. This still exists in an online environment. Faculty members are very responsive in an online course. They monitor, facilitate and respond in the discussion boards as well as prearranged office hours via phone or Zoom. Further, faculty members foster collaboration and peer learning among students.

“Our goal in an online degree program is to be student-centered and engaged, with plenty of time for discussion and sharing among peers,” said Margaret Morris, a faculty coordinator for the online master’s degrees in nursing and nursing education, and clinical professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “In a class with students from around the country, you share your experience with a broad audience and learn from each other. It’s very interesting to hear the resources and programs that are already in place in different health care facilities around the country.”

Online learning also offers students a multitude of ways to learn. Since not everyone learns best from traditional teaching methods like lectures and tests, online degrees integrate unique learning experiences, pedagogical changes and support mechanisms to meet the varied learning needs of students. Online students also have access to more information and tools upfront, such as an interactive calendar, a list of modules and all due dates. Further, students have access to tutorials for the learning management system and adequate instructions for all activities, such as quizzes, discussion boards and assignments.

“Employers are increasingly aware of the benefits of online learning, including savvy technological skills like digital learning tools, webinars, virtual teams and content management systems,” said Maura Reilly, a faculty coordinator of the online bachelor’s degree in museum studies and an associate professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “Online students also gain critical-thinking skills that are highly attractive to employers, particularly at museums and heritage institutions worldwide.”

How do online degrees differ from classes hosted online in an on-campus program?

In these challenging times, ASU students have found some of their traditional, in-person classes are now hosted online. These are typically called iCourses. While there are some similarities in iCourses for on-campus students, earning a degree completely online can come with its own unique benefits. For instance, students in an on-campus program may still be limited in the freedom of their schedule. On-campus programs may offer hybrid courses, which take place in-person and online. They may also have a mixture of courses offered on campus or online. Online degrees are offered completely online.

“Online learning has been called a great equalizer because it provides access to learning opportunities to people who otherwise would not have been able to take part,” said Evans. “The ability to learn anything, anywhere resonates with learners who want to be able to be on the go, live their lives, work their jobs, and still acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in their careers, and in life.”

EdPlus at ASU has a team of instructional designers who develop online courses and materials in conjunction with faculty. ASU Online degrees and courses apply adult learning theory and instructional design methodology while utilizing appropriate technology to provide a rich learning environment.

Further, ASU Online students are empowered to succeed with service and support. This is like the support on-campus students receive, but students can use services completely online or by telephone. Online students have access to an individual enrollment coach who helps them get started on their journey and a success coach who helps them balance life, school and work to reach their goals. Additionally, online students can take advantage of tutoring, life services (i.e. mental health counseling and resources for child care), career and professional development, orientation, clubs and organizations.

The team at ASU Online strives to make online students feel like vital members of the ASU community. They also strive to enable students to feel supported and encouraged on their path to earning a degree online.

“I’m proud to be a Sun Devil at ASU Online,” said Zachary Cunningham, who is pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in digital audiences. “The biggest benefits to earning a degree online include a chance to take learning at your own pace and the connection you feel with the university through interactive classroom environments or through the help provided by success coaches, tutors, teachers, counselors and more!”

What is online learning like? Advances in learning technologies?

ASU’s digital immersion, technology-enhanced learning environment brings the online classroom to life. Instructional designers and faculty design courses that integrate online learning technology to provide a rich, engaging educational experience and foster collaboration among faculty and peers.

Students benefit from custom-created online learning activities, through videos, simulations and virtual labs. For instance, the online bachelor’s degree programs for biochemistry and biological sciences host most lab courses completely online with eScience lab kits delivered to students’ homes. The virtual labs prepare students to walk into a real lab and conduct research, just as flight simulators prepare pilots to land a plan or astronauts to land on the moon.

The online learning management system integrates a variety of assessment tools. Faculty can gauge how well students understand the material as they progress through course modules. Conferencing tools, community boards and web-based word processors promote media-rich course discussions. Many faculty also hold real-time, virtual office hours, where students can pop in and ask questions or get feedback.

“One of the great things about online learning is students get more input from their faculty under most circumstances,” said Clinical Professor Samantha Perkins, assistant director of academic affairs in The Design School – a unit within the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “Students usually receive an artifact for each project documenting feedback – a file to work from with the instructor’s comments laid out to follow whenever the student is able.”

Perkins adds, “Faculty tend to spend a bit more time looking at the minute details of online-submitted work in order to provide as much input for the student as possible. More attention equals better comments, which equals a better project direction and a stronger design in the end.”

Academic integrity is promoted through the use of advanced integrative technologies, such as anti-plagiarism software, remote proctoring and unique student biometric identifiers. Accessibility is addressed through closed captioning on videos and screen-reader accessible media for students with visual impairments. Searchable transcriptions for videos can be a powerful study tool for all students.

Students who need help with technical issues can also contact a 24/7 live chat service.

What kind of degrees can you learn online?

ASU Online offers more than 200 undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs in diverse fields and specialties. These include information technology, liberal arts, social sciences and more. Whether you want to transform education, investigate the past, study the human experience, advocate for social justice, shape the world through observation or anything in between, there’s a program to meet your personal and professional aspirations.

Browse some areas of study below.


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