How do online degrees work?


12th Aug 2016


Online study

This week we’re taking it back to basics with an overview of online degrees.

Although distance learning has been around for over a hundred years, online degrees are still a mystery to many people. However, the latest research1 shows that this flexible method of study has actually experienced a 263% increase over the last 12 years.

So how do online degrees work for people? Is there more to a typical study week than reading books and writing emails?


The admissions process

At University of Essex Online, our online degree courses begin with the admissions process. Just like applying for a degree on-campus, we need to be confident that you have the skills and abilities to complete your studies. You should know why you want to study for a particular degree and what you hope to gain by doing so. Whilst previous qualifications (such as A-levels) show your aptitude, we are happy to take your wider experience (particularly relevant work experience) into account when you make your application.

All of our degrees are split into levels of study (4, 5 and 6) equivalent to the three years you would spend on campus if you were a full-time student. Each level is broken down into several modules, typically running over 9 weeks with a minimum study commitment of 10-15 hours a week. It does take longer to achieve your degree online compared to full-time on campus (75% at the fastest speed), so expect to complete in four years rather than three.


A typical study week

After you’re through the enrolment process, you’re ready to start the welcome week of your online course. At this stage you will be sent a login to our Virtual Learning Environment — this is a members-only website where you access all of the learning materials, live class sessions and module assignments that make up your course.

A typical week’s study could include:

  • Familiarising yourself with the overview of your new module. Look through the content and take notes of the dates and times of the online seminars.
  • Finding out what background reading you need to do. This could be chapters in your textbook, lecture notes or journals and other texts found in one of the online libraries.
  • Attending your online seminar and afterwards interacting in an online discussion, posting your initial contribution and responding to other student’s postings.
  • Starting to plan your assignment by drawing on the readings, learning activities and discussions to show your knowledge and understanding.
  • Interacting with your fellow students in the student lounge.
  • Emailing your tutor with any questions you have about your assignment.


Working towards your degree

As you might have now realised, online degree courses are surprisingly interactive.

Our class sizes are normally kept to groups of 20, though there may be several groups starting the same module at the same time. You will also be allocated a Student Adviser at the beginning of your studies who will act as a regular point of contact and mentor throughout your degree. You will be made aware of your current provisional grade right from the start of the course, allowing you to track your progress from module to module. Assessment is done throughout each module and there are no exams to sit.


The benefits of online learning

So, why would you want to study an online degree in the first place? Well, there’s the flexibility for a start. You can choose when and where you study and at a speed to suit you; courses start throughout the year (not just September); there’s no travel involved and learning resources are available 24 hours a day. Adding to that, affordability – part-time student loans are available for students living in England – and entry requirements that recognise your work experience, and you can see that online learning is far from a ‘second best’ option.

Finally, upon successful completion of your course, you will receive a University of Essex degree and be invited to attend a graduation ceremony at the University’s Colchester Campus. It’s the only part of your journey where we believe it is still important to attend in person… because virtual champagne just doesn’t taste the same as the real stuff!