How Have Online Degrees Changed Through The Years?

Although we think of it as commonplace in today’s society, online learning and education is still relatively new and has come a long way in its short life. The internet has played a tremendous role in how we learn. Students can readily complete their coursework anywhere WiFi is available, find web content quicker, and study anywhere they please. 

Although online learning and online degrees are becoming more and more common, there are still struggles for students to work through, such as time management, communication issues, perception of online degrees, and technology logistics. Learn about the history of online degrees and how the internet has shaped student learning. 

The History of Online Degrees

While correspondence learning might seem like a new and novel idea, it’s actually been around for over 170 years. It began in Great Britain with students taking correspondence courses through the mail with their professors. It was a slow process, but it allowed students to take courses without being physically present. Today, we benefit from modern-day technology that has changed the face and speed of distance learning.  Facilitated by the efficiency and advanced connectivity of the internet, learning is possible in real-time from almost any location. 

A Humble Beginning

Imagine hopping on one of your school computers in the 1960s (yes, computers existed then), and listening to recorded lectures or accessing course materials through the school’s intranet system. While that sounds pretty standard (and maybe even a little primitive) today, it was a novel concept when the University of Illinois introduced the idea in 1960 through their internal system, known as Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations—PLATO for short. 

The next couple of decades saw limited growth for online learning outside of systems like PLATO. In 1984 the Electronic University Network (EUN) made an appearance but still relied on an internal network and phone lines to function and connect students. It wasn’t until the internet arrived in full force that online learning saw explosive growth. 

The Advent of the Internet

When the internet took off in 1994, so did some of the first online campuses like CALCampus. CALCampus was the first real-time interactive internet instruction and was revolutionary for its time. Skip ahead to 2009, when online courses gained incredible traction. In 2009 alone there were 5.5 million students who joined the online course craze. 

Clearly, students were eager to pursue their education in an online space, and the response from universities was just as enthusiastic. More and more traditional colleges started adding online courses to their degree programs to meet the growing market. In fact, by 2012, a full 75% of all traditional schools had an online degree program. 

Online Degrees Today

Today, many adults that don’t have a degree are starting to see the benefit of getting an education in order to have better career options or receive higher pay. It’s no secret that traditional colleges are getting more expensive, and many non-traditional students simply can’t afford to leave their jobs and go back to school. Thankfully, more schools are offering online courses and online degree programs than they were in the past. And online degrees are more widely recognized than ever before. 

This is great news for students who have families and jobs, but who still want to pursue their degree. They can take online classes from whatever location is most convenient for them, at the time of day that is most convenient for them in relation to their work schedule and personal responsibilities. There are also more schools offering options for online degrees. A Pew Research study found that 60% of 4-year private colleges offer online classes, and 89% of four-year public colleges offer online classes. 

As online students have increased, so have the perceptions of the value of an online degree. Online degrees and courses are no longer looked at with a critical eye or undervalued; instead, they are considered a viable option for those who wish to pursue an education. Although some students and employers are still skeptical about taking online classes, most employers today view online learning favorably and there are many fields where online degrees have gained a high rate of acceptance—especially in high-demand jobs like healthcare and nursing. 

The Future of Online Learning

As student education migrates to the online space, some people might wonder if traditional colleges will disappear entirely. While there’s no certainty about whether traditional schooling will disappear in the future, it is certain that there are rising numbers of students pursuing online degrees and education. As of 2016, over 6.3 million students took at least one online course, which was a 5.6% increase from 2015. If the trend of online students remains as steady as it has for the past 14 years, we can expect to see many more students pursuing their degrees online.  If you served in the military, there are many additional benefits you can look for, thanks to the chapter 35 gi bill.

How to Get Experience as an Online College Student

Students who decide to pursue an online degree might wonder how they can get real-world job experience while they’re in school. The best way to accomplish this is through participation in an externship or internship. Both internships and externships allow students to get real-world experience that will help them prepare for their future career. Internships and externships can be either paid or unpaid, but don’t discredit the experience on pay alone. Even an unpaid position can go a long way in helping you land the perfect job after graduation. 

There are several benefits to doing an externship while you complete your online degree including: 

  • Applying classroom education to real-world situations
  • Learning about your strengths and weaknesses
  • Gaining a greater understanding of your field of study
  • Consideration for job positions
  • Confirming you enjoy the career you’re studying for
  • Impressing potential employers
  • Networking with professionals in your field 

Talk with your university advisor to see what internship and externship experiences are available through your program. Gaining practical skills and experience outside the classroom will not only help you feel comfortable in your new career, it will also help you network and find potential employers once you graduate. 

Online Degrees through Online Colleges

Since the inception of the online college degree program, technology has come a long way, but more significant than the changes to technology, are the changes to people’s perceptions of online degrees. Online degrees are becoming more and more common and are more widely accepted than ever. No longer are they considered to be lower quality than comparable degrees obtained from a physical university. Instead, 77% of leaders in academia believe that an online education is the same, or better, than face-to-face classroom learning. 
With online college degrees continuing to gain recognition, it’s a great time to start your program and get the skills for a job you love. There are many online colleges you can choose from. Find an online program that works for you. One way to do this is to look for universities that have strong reviews, like Independence University.