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How Online Courses Work

The definition of online courses varies, depending on the education level you’re at and the type of course you’re taking. Obviously, at all levels, e-learning involves taking a course via a computer. An official definition would be a "network-enabled transfer of skills and knowledge using a computer." In reality, this is accomplished in a few different ways.

Master’s degree courses, particularly business and nursing programs are often set up in "cohorts." This means that you’re assigned to a team of students, who work together on papers or projects.

Webinars or webcasts form the definition of online courses at some schools. On a webinar, you generally watch a presentation by the teacher (or sometimes a group of teachers) in your computer browser. The sound may come either through your computer or through a phone line. Webinars are the preferred technology in most cases, because they allow students to interact with professors by typing in questions. Webcasts are a simpler type of presentation, where you watch and hear a class without the ability to respond while it’s in progress.

"Synchronous" courses are the closest thing online to traditional classes. They require students and teachers to go online together at specific times. But because teachers must keep in touch with all students via email, an online synchronous course will usually accept fewer students than a class at a bricks and mortar school.

Some schools, by the way, are not offering “blended” courses, which allow you to take some of your classes online and go to the school for others. (read more about synchronous and asynchronous class formats)

How to estimate online degree costs

Top Schools Specializing In Online Degrees:

Ashford University
Iowa-based school established in 1918, Ashford offers a vast array of online degrees online across the range from associate to bachelor and masters, in addition to it's campus-based programs. (Ashford University is accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission, 985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100, Alameda, CA 94501, 510.748.9001, Degrees available in:
- Business Management - BA & MBA in 19 different specialties
- Early Childhood Education
- Marketing
- Health Care Studies
- Homeland Security
- Psychology
- Sports Managment
Get information on Ashford's online programs

DeVry University
DeVry is an Illinois-based school with solid accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools that has over 60,000 students on multiple campuses and enrolled in online degree programs. It was founded in 1931. The university has five colleges, and offers a vast array of online bachelors, associates and masters degrees in subjects including:
- Web Graphic Design
- Accounting
- Business Administration - 15 different specializations
- Computer Information Systems - 10 different specializations
- Communications - 5 specializations
- Criminal Justice Administration - 5 specializations
- Technical Administration
Get free info on DeVry University

Grantham University Founded in 1951 to help World War II veterans get a new start in life, Grantham is one of the earliest online-only colleges in the U.S. It's accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), and has an exceptionally low tuition rate of $265. per credit hour for undergrad degrees and $325. per hour for graduation degrees -- one of the most affordable tuition rates our research has been able to turn up. Grantham offers a good variety of career-focused degree programs online:
Associates's degrees:
- Business
- Criminal Justice
- Medical Coding
- Computer Science
- Engineering Technology
Bachelor's degrees:
- Accounting
- Business
- Computer Science
- Information Systems
- Nursing
Get free info on Grantham University


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