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How Does an Online University Really Work?

Online universities and colleges are using the most sophisticated learning technology to educate students.

Online colleges and universities are thriving because 21st-century technology can support nearly every aspect of getting an education—from enrolling in a degree program and applying for student aid to attending virtual classrooms and communicating with faculty and classmates.

“I Fell in Love With Online Learning Right Away”

How Does an Online University Really Work?

Before taking his first online college course in 2009, Steve Gardiner, EdD, graduated from a traditional campus-based college. “I fell in love with online learning right away,” he said. His hectic travel schedule as Montana’s 2008 Teacher of the Year didn’t interfere with his coursework, because he could join the online classroom, submit assignments, participate in discussions, and communicate with faculty from wherever he happened to be at the time.


Distance Learning That’s Up Close and Personal

Far from being a “distant” experience, online college degree programs effortlessly connect you to the resources you’ll need to learn and progress through your studies successfully. Whether you’re at home, out and about in the course of a typical day, on a business trip, or even on vacation, you can be in school at the click of a mouse or tap on a screen. Here’s how it works:

  • Orientation—Interactive webinars welcome new students to the online learning experience, introducing them to how online universities work and the ease of navigating the virtual classroom. You’ll learn about the vast online resources and student support services available to you, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  • Flexibility within a set structure—Even though online degree programs have regular classes and deadlines for submitting homework assignments, you have the freedom to participate in classes when the time is best for you.

  • Student portal—This is your access point to your online coursework, typically found in a link on your university’s website. Once you log in with your user name and password, you have secured access to everything concerning your course.

  • Tests and feedback—Unlike on-campus experiences, you’ll take tests, submit papers, conduct projects, and participate in discussion posts entirely online—often receiving immediate feedback from your instructor. And if you have questions, you can e-mail or call your instructor.

  • Online discussions—As part of homework assignments, you’ll regularly post your thoughts and ideas on student message boards. This type of forum encourages an enthusiastic exchange of ideas, views, and questions—resulting in a better understanding of each topic for everyone.

  • Networking with faculty and classmates—Expand your world view as you network with students and faculty from all over the U.S. and around the globe. In our connected “global village,” international perspectives can help prepare you for a world of opportunities.

  • Field experiences and academic residencies—Many online college degrees include academic residencies and supervised field experiences, during which you can meet faculty and classmates face-to-face. Some programs also offer virtual residencies, providing you with the same learning opportunities as in-person residencies, but without the travel requirements.

A Continuum of Education

As an online university student, you’ll discover that distance learning creates a special environment with a continuous “flow of education” that’s distinctly different from on-campus experiences. Classroom webinars and student discussion forums are available online for an extended period of time so that you can revisit, review, and acquire a better understanding of each topic.

Time to Formulate Your Thoughts and Ideas

In a traditional 40-minute college classroom, students have a finite amount of time to take in lessons and participate in real-time discussions. Although online classes have weekly assignment deadlines, students have more time to think about a new concept, understand it better, ask questions, read classmates’ posts, and formulate an opinion—all without the rush of a limited time frame of an on-campus class.

Making the Impossible Possible

It’s not surprising that 60% of online learners have full-time jobs and another 20% work part time.* For adults balancing jobs and families, an online undergraduate or graduate degree is the ideal way to further their education, advance their careers, boost their earning potential, and make a difference in their lives—and possibly the lives of others.

Explore Walden University’s wide selection of online college degrees to launch, advance, or change the direction of your career. Earn your undergraduate or graduate degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

*, “41 Surprising Facts About Online Students,” on the Internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,