Distance learning
Distance learning

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, online education has had a significant surge in popularity. And it's not just online English schools or fitness courses, but also full-fledged higher education programs. Some experts predict that soon all universities will move to our tablets and laptops. Of course, if surgeons and nuclear physicists get their qualifications while sitting at home, a disaster will surely happen. However, there are a number of professions that can now be mastered remotely without any quality loss.

  • Freedom in time and location. Who didn’t dream of completing tasks, getting comfortable in his room or at a cozy cafe? Or maybe you wished that you could listen to lectures at your convenience, not being restricted by the established schedules. Dreams have come true. In fact, you can now graduate from top universities or just learn the new skills without leaving your home while being anywhere in the world, which opens up additional opportunities for those who can’t attend full-time studies for some reason, for example, students with young children or ones living in remote locations.
  • Combining work and studies. Students of online universities can easily combine full-time work with getting their education without a fear of being expelled for missing classes. As a rule, an individual schedule is built by each student, which allows them to learn at their own pace and without interruption from their work or other activities.
  • Saving money. If we talk about higher education, studying bachelor’s or master’s programs online is much cheaper than similar full-time programs. For example, at Harvard, to get a bachelor's degree online, you need 58,880 USD, a master's program — 35,000 USD, while regular programs cost about 198,000 USD and 95,000 USD, respectivelyfull cost for the whole duration of studies is compared. In addition, the student exempts himself from the costs associated with a visa (for foreign universities), the search for housing, and the arrangement of life in another city or country.
  • Availability of digital training materials. The online format assumes that all the necessary manuals, textbooks, and libraries are not just at hand, but literally fit in one’s pocket. Universities offer their students access to all resources, regardless of whether the student is on campus or thousands of miles away. In this case, it is enough to have only a phone or a laptop with Internet access.
  • New forms of interaction. Traditionally, online learning is associated with video conferencing via Skype or Zoom, which today does not surprise anyone. But online education keeps evolving, and depending on the circumstances, new formats of classes and knowledge control are implemented. For example, today the proctoring system is already widely used to pass exams, and students can practice using computer simulators.
  • Professional mentorship. In some areas (for example, when teaching art), the practice of online mentorships is widespread, in which the student has the opportunity to individually consult with a teacher in free form without any specific training program. Such mentoring courses do not end with a diploma, but offer valuable experience and rapid growth of skills through communication with a professional who can be anywhere in the world.
  • Motivation and self-discipline. When studying online, students have to learn most of the material on their own. Sometimes, if the training involves a relatively free schedule and lack of constant control from the outside, this can be a real challenge. In order to successfully finish a course, a student needs high motivation, willpower, and time management skills.
  • Lack of real communication. There is an opinion that distance learning is an excellent option for couch potatoes and introverts, but it is not at all suitable for active and sociable people. Of course, when studying online the amount of personal communication with teachers and classmates is much less. However, whenever possible this disadvantage is compensated by video conferencing, group online projects, and other forms of interaction.
  • Lack of practice. Online education also cannot provide traditional practical classes. And if for philologists or lawyers this will not be a significant loss, then for doctors or, for example, design engineers, this might be a real issue. In some cases, virtual simulators or a series of offline classes at the university can be used, but it is obvious that there are a number of professions that cannot be mastered remotely under any circumstances.
  • Technical equipment. It seems that in the 21st century, everyone has a gadget with unlimited internet access and skill of using a PC somewhat confidently. But alas, in almost every country there are remote areas that are actually cut off from digital space. “This does not concern me,” a student living in a major city will think. However, here a factor of technical equipment can play a role. For example, organization of video surveillance for exams might cause a lot of issues. Not to mention the usual network failures that happen regardless of the location.
  • Low quality of education. When combined together, all of these shortcomings may result in education that is of lesser quality. But this is not always because of the online format. Indeed, in any learning process, whether it is remote or full-time, 90% of success depends on the effort of the student. It is only necessary to learn how to use all available opportunities, whether it is online communication with a Harvard teacher or access to the electronic library of a regional university.

Guidance in the admission process

Our staff will walk you through the entire admission process: from choosing a university and preparing documents to enrollment and obtaining a visa. We are always in touch and ready to answer any questions. UniPage experts will always objectively assess your situation and suggest the most suitable university options.

Online degree programs rankings

Here are a few lists: the first has programs with the best cost to quality ratio in foreign universities, the second — distance programs of top universities for those who want to get a degree of Harvard without going to Harvard (but note that not all top-ranked universities have launched online training programs yet); the third table describes the top MBA programs, which today are the most popular choice among online programs.

The best online universities abroad

UniversityCountryNumber of programsbachelor's/mater's+doctoralAverage cost (bachelor’s)full cost of the programAverage cost (master’s)full cost of the program
1Arizona State UniversityUSA94 / 8875,480 USD28,935 USD
2University of MassachusettsUSA55 / 5545,600 USD19,650 USD
3Colorado State UniversityUSA12 / 4357,120 USD23,250 USD
4Anglia Ruskin UniversityUK14 / 1317,112 USD12,379 USD
5Central Michigan UniversityUSA15 / 1652,080 USD19,110 USD
6Wismar University of Applied SciencesGermany15 / 1410,591 USD10,058 USD
7Oregon State UniversityUSA31 / 2338,160 USD16,800 USD
8University of DenverUSA6 / 1557,540 USD26,280 USD
9University of ManchesterUK0 / 3723,059 USD
10Norwich UniversityUSA9 / 1835,900 USD27,710 USD
UniversityCountryNumber of programsbachelor's/mater's+doctoralAverage cost (bachelor’s)full cost of the programAverage cost (master’s)full cost of the program
11University of South CarolinaUSA1445 credits in a specialty required / 4165,175 USD20,700 USD
12Ecole Supérieure Ouverte à Distance (ESOAD)France10 / 74,557 USD4,557 USD
13University of LiverpoolUK0 / 821,845 USD
14Boston UniversityUSA152-64 credits required for admission / 2031,360 USD37,000 USD
15Western Carolina UniversityUSA8 / 1122,682 USD22,700 USD
16Suffolk UniversityUK0 / 436,390 USD
17University of IllinoisUSA130 credits required for admission / 4836,810 USD30,848 USD
18University of FloridaUSA25 / 8866,314 USD32,980 USD
19Fraunhofer AcademyGermany0 / 411,084 USD
20University of NorthamptonUnited Kingdom4 / 1016,699 USD7,864 USD
21Pace UniversityUSA4 / 1366,600 USD31,440 USD
22Edinburgh Napier UniversityUK6 / 1210,071 USD9,466 USD
23Alabama UniversityUSA14 / 5245,000 USD12,600 USD

Online degree programs in top ranking universities

UniversityCountryNumber of programsAverage costfull cost of the program
1Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)USA
2Stanford UniversityUSA1160 840 USD
3Harvard UniversityUSA1bachelor's / 2458,880 USD / 35,000 USD
4University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
5California Institute of Technology (Caltech)United States
6Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich)Switzerland12,923 USD
7University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
8University College London (UCL)United Kingdom29.29-29-29-29?2910,728 USDpart-time / 21,347 USDfull-time
9Imperial College LondonUnited Kingdom617,901 USD
10University of ChicagoUSA
UniversityCountryNumber of programsAverage costfull cost of the program
11Nanyang Technological University (NTU)Singapore
12National University of Singapore (NUS)Singapore123,102 USD
13Princeton UniversityUSA
14Cornell UniversityUSA370,710 USD
15University of PennsylvaniaUSA1 bachelor's72,960 USD
16Tsinghua University (THU)China
17Yale UniversityUSA
18Columbia UniversityUSA2667,175 USDmaster's (MS) / 92,423 USDdoctoral (DES)
19Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL)Switzerland13,916 USD
20University of EdinburghUnited Kingdom558,859 USD

Full list: QS World University Rankings 2020

Online MBA programs

The methodology for evaluating business programs, according to the QS rating, includes several criteria:

  • Faculty and teaching (academic reputation, teachers to students ratio, completion rate) — 35%;
  • Employability of graduates — 30%;
  • Class profile (experience and qualifications of students, racial, national and gender diversity) — 30%;
  • Class experience (physical meetups, regular synchronous classes, access to a learning app on a mobile and/or tablet, and 24/7 tech support) — 5%.
Educational institutionCountryScoreCostfull cost of the program
1IE Business SchoolSpain85.252,547 USD
2Imperial College Business SchoolUnited Kingdom82.145,632 USD
3Warwick Business SchoolUnited Kingdom7740,353 USD
4AGSM @ UNSW Business SchoolAustralia73.442,558 USD
5Politecnico di Milano School of ManagementItaly70.832,842 USD
6Indiana University (Kelley Direct Programs)USA69.974,520 USD
7Alliance Manchester Business SchoolUnited Kingdom69.436,408 USD
8USC MarshallUSA67.7108,975 USD
9Florida International UniversityUSA61.942,000 USD
10University of Otago Business SchoolNew Zealand60.535,525 USD

Specialties for online education abroad

Online education has long ceased to be something new and unusual. You can now get a degree remotely in almost any specialty. Below are the programs which are often implemented online:

  • Engineering. Most online programs are taught at the master's and doctoral levels and are aimed at students already working in the profession who want to get a narrower specialization and apply knowledge in project work.
  • Computer Science. The very concept of remote technology is inextricably linked with computer science. Online learning here is largely based on the independent work of the student and is implemented almost without restrictions. Specializations vary from cybersecurity to video games.
  • Business Administration (MBA). Business programs today are in the highest demand among students. Given the extremely high cost of a full-time MBA (sometimes BBA), more and more students are looking for opportunities to obtain an online degree. Fortunately, these programs are easily transferred to a distance learning format without much issue, which allows young entrepreneurs not to break away from their own business and solve applied business problems in the process of obtaining a degree.
  • Finance and Accounting. As with the BBA/MBA programs, finance and accounting education is available entirely online. Online training in the specialty provides all the necessary skills for working in both private and public sectors.
  • Psychology. Distance education in this specialty is often supplemented by internships and group projects, which in most cases can be transferred to the digital format.
  • Medicine. Obviously, a doctor cannot get a full qualification without practical training. Therefore, online education in the field of medicine in most cases is limited to nursing. But even here, given the specifics of the profession, training is more mixed than remote: during the program, students undergo several internships, which can last weeks or even months. The place of clinical practice is chosen as close as possible to the student’s place of residence, but you need to be prepared for the fact that the usual online classes for some time will be replaced by full-time work.
  • Healthcare. The increasingly popular specialty of Health Management / Healthcare Administration is the business administration of medical facilities. Organizing online training here is easier than for medical practitioners. Nevertheless, students also have an offline internship at a medical center or laboratory.
  • Social Work. Practical experience in the field of social work is one of the primary requirements for learning online. Therefore, in addition to remote learning, as part of the educational process, students are expected to work in accredited social services.
  • Education / Teaching. You can get a degree in teaching 100% online, in other cases, you must complete the practice under the supervision of professionals. However, even if there is no such requirement in the program, at the end of training, depending on the country and city, teachers usually need to undergo an internship to obtain a license.

How to choose a distance learning program

Make sure that the university is licensed. Some organizations offer non-accredited Bachelor's or Master's degree programs online. This is most commonly the case with for-profit universities. The quality of education may not even differ from the accredited institutions, but the student does not receive a state-approved diploma. Such documents have no legal force, and this can become a problem in employment.

Usually, it is enough to study the organization's website and find the confirmation on it. But accredited programs have other features:

  • Standardized training courses. Be sure to check if the number of academic hours and required academic credits is clearly stated on the program website;
  • Statutory and organizational documentation. Find out how many years the university has been operating and its real address, also check the official information about it as a legal entity;
  • Transparent terms of the contract. An accredited university will not charge additional fees for taking tests and exams. If in the contract there are some obscure conditions written in small print under an asterisk, this is a reason to think twice.

Mаke use of free university online courses. Universities commonly upload their courses to the public domain, for example, on Coursera or EdX. Free classes last up to two or three months. Before deciding to apply to an online university, research the materials that it has uploaded. It will let you assess its technical capacity, complexity, and organization of distance learning.

Review national rankings. Globally-renowned rankings, such as QS, do not evaluate online Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs separately. They rank universities according to their general score, and sometimes separately review MBAs. That is because many universities don’t offer online learning yet.

Quality of academic degrees within a single institution can vary insignificantly. But to be confident about your choice, pay attention to the rankings made up by locally respected organizations. For example, compare the top-lists for Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in the field of Business Administration in the USA by Best College Reviews. The two lists are vastly different:

Do not rely solely on the university’s name. If a university has been at the top of the rankings for many years, this does not mean that it devotes enough time to organizing online education. The best distance learning programs are often from mid-level universities. You can see an illustrative example in the table above. It’s easy to explain: in order to compete, you need to be able to adapt quickly and offer advantages that others do not have.

The process of admission to online programs

Admission to online programs of foreign universities is almost no different from admission to full-time programs. At the application stage, you will be required to provide scans of the documents and then send them by mail (if necessary). As a rule, the list includes:

However, not all universities (mainly European) accept documents digitally. In some cases (Belgium, Italy, Spain), apostille and notarized translation of documents is required. These procedures may take about 2 months, not including the time it will take for the postal service to deliver them.

Some fields of study require the student to be temporarily present on campus or at the place of employment, which may be difficult for international students. If aside from a diploma, a license is required to begin professional activities (for example, for physicians and lawyers in the USA), access to such programs may be closed to foreign citizens, especially from countries involved in political tensions. It is necessary to check the requirements and restrictions on the websites of universities and ministries of education.

Duration of online programs may vary from 3 to 8 years at the bachelor's level and from 1.5 to 5 years at the master’s level, depending on the specialty, the intensity of studies, and the need to attend some classes physically.

Some programs offer financial assistance, but it should be noted that the competition for scholarships and grants is quite high.

You can study for free in some foreign universities. An example of such institutions is the University of People in the USA. There are 75000 students studying for a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree at that university as you are reading these lines. At the moment, four programs are available — Business Administration, Computer Science, Healthcare, and Education.

How online education at the university is organized

The choice of distance learning programs, which are often called online degrees, is quite wide. There are even entire universities specializing in online education.

The main differences between full-time, part-time, and online programs are as follows:

CriterionFull-timePart-timeOnline
Classes during the semesterFull time at the universityNoOnline
HomeworkFull time at the universityNoOnline
Intermediate examsFull time at the universityFull time at the universityOnline / full-time at the university
Final certificationFull-time at the universityFull-time at the universityOnline / full-time at the university
ScheduleStrictStrictFlexible
Combination of work and studyNopart-time work is possible if the program and visa type allows itYesYes
DormitoryYesNoNo
Tuition feesin comparison to each otherHighMediumLow

Distance learning technologies: online classes and assessment

In the process of online learning, all interaction between students and teachers is organized using the Internet:

  • Most of the time the student learns from the materials and lectures (text or video) using his personal account, studying specialized literature;
  • A student can ask any questions that arise during the training process directly to professors through correspondence via mail or in specially created chats;
  • Homework is also sent via email or uploaded to a special system;
  • For the preparation of group projects, various virtual boards/spaces, discussions, programs with shared online access are used;
  • Online lectures, seminars, and practical classes are held through Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and other similar video conferencing services.
Conference call in Zoom
Conference call in Zoom

Like in full-time programs, online ones also have exams and tests, project evaluations, practical and independent work. Midterm assessment is often held in the form of interactive testing, for final examinations personal presence may be required.

Recently, the control of knowledge by means of proctoring is gaining popularity. It is a system that allows you to observe honesty during the exam or a test online. The identity of the test person is verified using a webcam, which then continues to record the entire process. At the same time, a special program on the computer is recording the screen.

The role of a proctor (observer) can be performed by a person (full-time proctoring) or a computer (cyber proctoring). In the latter case, the computer system independently recognizes the suspicious or "undesirable" actions of the person taking the test. A combination of two methods is also possible — mixed proctoring: the program records violations and reports them to the human proctor. The examiner then looks at the notes and makes a decision on whether the exam order has actually been violated. Tasks themselves, as a rule, are checked separately, with the exception of those tests, according to the results of which the score is set automatically.

Proctoring software
Proctoring software

How a graduation thesis is defended online

Even in an online university, a student has to finish and defend a final piece of work. Much like in full-time studies, the senior student chooses the scientific supervisor independently. Profiles of available scientific advisers can be usually seen in the personal account. Later, the professors post their schedule of tutorials, which are drawn up in advance. The requirements for online and offline degrees are the same.

Some universities arrange the defense in the form of a videoconference, while others ask students to come in person. During an online defense, students turn on their video and screen sharing. The entire committee gathers in a classroom. The process is controlled by a secretary, who makes sure that the audio is working and the Internet is stable. To ensure an honest defense, many universities use biometrics — facial and voice recognition. This makes it possible to make the process of distance defense of a thesis no less reliable than in face-to-face format. The grade usually becomes available later through your personal account.

  • Check the equipment and the stability of the Internet connection in advance;
  • Make sure your webcam is sending a clear picture. Otherwise, you will not be able to confirm that you are present;
  • Do not forget about the formal dress code even if you defend your thesis from home.

In some cases, students come to the university. The committee can listen to you in person or control the process by video link. It depends on the requirements of the program and anti-COVID restrictions.

Employers’ opinion on distance learning

Usually, employers are not interested in how the applicant received their education — remotely or full-time. But in order to avoid complications, it is worth checking in advance if the higher education institution in which you want to study is accredited. In this case, the online student receives a state-recognized diploma, which is nearly identical to the diplomas that are issued to full-time students. Often it states a correspondence (or part-time) form of study, so the value of the diploma does not suffer in any way. The employer may not even know that the student studied part of the material individually in distance-learning format.

But some companies question whether the soft skills of an online student are sufficiently developed. Full-time students have more opportunities to learn how to interact effectively with other people.

Much depends on the position for which the student is applying. If they apply for an internship, their online diploma does not bother the employer. But for leadership positions or those that involve a lot of responsibility, applicants normally undergo additional testing.

Future of distance learning

Many universities are planning to expand the list of distance learning programs. Previously, universities simply posted individual courses on Coursera and other similar platforms. Now you can get a full-fledged degree there. At the Higher School of Economics, for example, several online Bachelor's and Master's degree programs have been available since autumn 2021. Moreover, by 2023, the university will completely abandon face-to-face lectures and replace them with distance learning courses. This was officially announced by the rector of the university, Yaroslav Kuzminov. He clarified that the average attendance of traditional lectures did not exceed 20%, but new methods would help to rectify the situation.

MOOC.org, a Harvard and MIT online platform for students from all over the world, plans to attract at least a billion users within a few years. Today 155,000 people are studying there. Anti-COVID measures and growing confidence in online education are helping this goal to come true.

But before distance learning becomes a familiar reality, it will have to change even more. It is necessary to provide teachers with equipment, adapt the timetable to the online format (there is a big difference between attending two classes at the university and from home), regulate the time spent in front of the computer, and assist socialization processes for online students. All this will take years. Until these reforms take place online, traditional learning will continue to dominate the market.

Platforms of online courses

Many leading universities launch online platforms with the help of which everyone can get access to video lectures of the best professors and unique advanced training courses. We collected the best university and independent portals and described them in detail in a separate article.

UniPage guidance in the admission process

UniPage is an educational agency. We consult students and help them with admission to universities abroad, including the most renowned educational institutions such as Stanford, Sorbonne, and TUM.

We are experts in our field and know how to ensure that you enter the university that suits your goals, research interests and budget.