How do online master’s degrees work?

Many aspire to complete their online masters degree program to achieve a higher paying and ranking job or career without sacrificing their current salary or busy schedule. Though few reports exist to demonstrate how quickly distance graduate education has grown in recent years, the National Center for Education Statistics recently reported that between 2000 and 2008, undergraduate students’ enrollment in distance education degree programs had increased from 2% to 4%.

Entering into a master’s program, however, can be intimidating despite the benefits it offers you. Below, you will find all of the information you need to know to be prepared for and understand how online masters degrees work.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous vs. Hybrid

Online masters degree courses are offered in synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid form. Asynchronous courses are the most flexible of all distance course types. They allow you to work on your courses anytime you please. There are no scheduled meeting times, and thus you can plan to complete your course work according to your schedule. You will have deadlines for assignments, exams, projects, and, naturally, the course’s completion, as is the case will all distance courses.

Those courses categorized as “synchronous” indicate that you will be required to adhere to scheduled meeting times online. For instance, you may have to meet online every Monday and Wednesday at 5pm to view live class lectures and engage in discussions with your peers and instructor. Effectively, just as with traditional, face-to-face courses, you will be required to attend class. The only difference is that you and all of your classmates will be “attending” class virtually and from different locations.

Hybrid, also known as “blended,” courses are those in which you work independently online part of the time and in a traditional, face-to-face classroom setting for part of the time. The traditional classroom time portions are scheduled, just as with regular campus-based courses.

Some programs allow students to choose which type of course they will take when they select their semester course load. Others are offered solely as either synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid programs. This depends on the school and program to which you enroll.

Course Work

Many wonder if course work differs between distance and traditional degrees. Simply put, online and campus programs differ in terms of how you turn in assignments and projects, but not in what’s actually covered. Institutions that offer both online and traditional degrees usually require the same course materials, courses, and curriculum in both program types.

At the master’s level, course work does differ substantially from that at the bachelor’s level. Online master’s degree programs are very research and reading concentrated. As an online master’s degree student, you will read substantially more than you did in your bachelor’s program, and the material will be more difficult and in-depth. Master’s degree programs also require students to comprehend as well as analyze course materials. You will be expected to voice your opinion or analysis of course materials with your peers and your instructors, often by means of either forum or video class discussions.

Additionally, master’s degrees are typically offered as either professional or academic programs. Professional degrees, such as an online masters degree in business administration, often require students to complete final assignments, like a comprehensive exam, capstone course and project, or an internship; the purpose of these assignments is to challenge students to demonstrate their ability to apply knowledge and skills gained in their degree program. Conversely, an academic master’s program will require a thesis; this is a comprehensive project in which students conduct their own research to answer a research question. Students detail their findings and analysis in what is sometimes a book-long report, and many students eventually publish their thesis.


Given that traditional and distance degree programs both require the same curriculum, many question whether the lack of face-to-face contact makes distance learning difficult. Given technological advances, however, communicating from a distance with your peers and instructors is simple. Submitting assignments is done through mediums like email, online submission programs such as Blackboard, and discussion boards. Staying in touch with your instructor and peers is also easy. Typically, it is done through email, chat rooms, telephone, and even video chats. Additionally, many schools’ participation in social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter makes it possible for students to stay in touch with their peers.


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