What is Online Learning and How to Make It More Effective

If you are like most people, you use the internet daily to complete a variety of tasks. 

To emphasize, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a significant increase in household computer usage over nearly two decades, with internet users shopping, banking and connecting with others online.

Another activity growing in popularity is online learning!

The same report states that the internet “has become an avenue to pursue both formal education as people take online courses to earn college degrees and informal learning such as accessing ‘how-to’ videos.”

Keep reading for insights about pursuing a degree online:

Simmons University

Department of Public Health


Bachelor of Science in Public Health

Women with 17+ prior college credits or an associate degree: Complete your bachelor’s degree in a supportive women’s online public health BS program.

  • Up to 96 transfer credits accepted, plus credit for life experience
  • Degree programs are designed for working professionals and can be completed part time
  • CEPH-accredited


What is Online Learning?

Online learning, also known as e-learning, or computer-based training, started between the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when people used CD-ROMs to access learning materials via computers before the internet and World Wide Web. Once the internet and web became more accessible, online learning transitioned into an interactive environment where students log onto a computer to access class materials, submit assignments and interact with instructors and classmates.

Online learning allows students to receive instruction via the internet instead of attending class in a physical building. Communication between the instructor and students typically takes place via email, online discussion boards or video conferencing. As technology evolves, this experience is getting smoother and more diverse.

Online education is an umbrella term that encompasses all levels of education and many types of online instruction. In the public health field, you may find more and more online bachelors in public health or online masters in public health are available. To find out which style of e-learning would best suit your needs and lifestyle, explore the options below.     

Types of Online Learning

The rise of online learning has spurred institutions to offer varied online learning experiences. Universities are acknowledging that education is not one size fits all and tailoring classes to serve diverse students and professionals better. Here are some of the most prominent online learning variations available today.     

Fully Online vs. Hybrid

fully online program is one that requires no physical meetings or in-person interaction. It offers fully online courses, which are appealing to students who have schedules that do not allow them to attend classes at regular times. Additionally, students who do not live near their institution of choice can still reap the benefits of a great education through a fully online course or program. 

As the name suggests, a hybrid program is a mix of two learning styles – online and in-person learning. Hybrid programs can come in many variations. For instance, some hybrid programs involve online courses and assignments that students complete before in-person meetings. In these physical meetings, the instructor delivers a lecture followed by group discussions among classmates. This is just one example of a hybrid program structure. In some cases, students meet once a semester while other hybrid programs require more regular in-person class attendance.  

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

Synchronous and asynchronous online learning refers to the timing of instruction and communication. 

If you desire real-time communication with peers and teachers, synchronous online courses could be a great fit. In this style of online learning, students and the instructor are present at the same time, and a chat or instant messaging feature allows for quick communication. This requires that students log on for a lecture at a specific time so that everyone is present, and the flow of communication is instant. 

If you are not able to meet at a certain time or prefer to self-pace your learning experience, consider opting for an asynchronous online course. Students watch lectures on their schedule and receive feedback from the teacher on questions and assignments, but it is not immediate. Usually, asynchronous courses rely more heavily on discussion boards where students can post questions, and instructors can respond and share announcements. 

Online, Full-time

full-time online student undertakes a complete course load online. Balancing a full-time load of classwork with other responsibilities is challenging. However, the flexibility of online classes allows more students to pursue a full-time class schedule. The meaning of full time varies depending on academic institutions. The average requirement for an undergraduate student to be considered full time is 12 credits. For master’s degree students, the credit load required to be considered full time varies. Check with your institution to learn about full-time graduate student requirements.  

Online, Part-time 

part-time online student is enrolled in online classes but is pursuing their degree at a slower pace. Rather than taking a full schedule of classes, part-time online students take a lighter class load. One major benefit a part-time school schedule offers is increased time for other commitments such as work or familial responsibilities. Of course, it takes longer to complete a degree this way. But this method of online learning offers a high level of flexibility. You are able to take the number of courses you desire, complete assignments on your schedule and keep your lifestyle to obtain your degree online as a part-time student.   

In short, the opportunities for online education are varied, and they continue to expand. Understanding what each type of online learning offers can help you determine the ideal online learning experience for you. 

Pros and Cons of Getting a Degree Online

The choice to pursue a degree online is open to students of all levels, including graduate degree seekers. In fact, jobs requiring a master’s degree are projected to grow rapidly (18.4%) by 2028, according to the BLS:

This growth is largely due to the concentration of these occupations in the fast-growing health care and social assistance industry, which is projected to add a combined 255,000 of the 448,500 new jobs in occupations requiring a master’s degree.

Online learning is appealing to many undergraduate and graduate students. Whether you are looking into the burgeoning public health industry or another sector, consider the benefits and drawbacks of an online learning experience. 

Pros of an Online Degree 

Online learning is becoming increasingly common due to more efficient technology and greater connectivity. The benefits of this learning style are leading to an increase in its popularity. Here are some of the most appealing aspects of e-learning: 

1. Flexibility 

You can work on assignments on a Saturday morning or do the week’s reading on a Tuesday night. In many courses, you can work ahead if you anticipate a busy schedule. You can still attend the classes when you are on a business trip as long as you have your laptop. Wherever you may be, you can log on and begin working toward your academic goals.  

2. Cost Savings

Online learning is a cost-effective alternative to an in-person degree program. Students typically pay less for an online class. There is no need to commute to a classroom each week or relocate close to campus. 

3. Continue Professional Development

As an online student, you do not have to sacrifice your current career on your path to a degree. Since you are not required to attend classes at a certain place and time, you can continue working while still being engaged in your studies.

There are various options to balance your career and schooling. You can choose to cut back to a part-time role in your current job, pursue school part-time as you work full time, or even pursue both full time if you believe it is manageable.

Cons of an Online Degree 

Of course, the online learning experience comes with unique challenges. Here are  some of the cons of this degree path to help you make an informed decision 

1. Not Ideal for All Learning Types 

Attending school online requires self-motivation and discipline. Without a physical classroom and instructor present, the pressure to perform may be reduced for some. If you tend to perform better academically with external motivation (i.e., a teacher or classmates to hold you accountable), then an online learning path may not be ideal for you.

2. Varying Quality of Courses 

As online education gains popularity, it is important for students to ensure they are attending an online degree program offered by an accredited university. Accreditation signifies your institution meets recognized standards and that the quality of education complies with regulations. 

Check to see if your school is on the Department of Education’s database of accredited universities. If a certain university does not meet the minimum qualifications for accreditation, you may want to reconsider enrolling. 

If you are looking for an online public health degree program, you might consider an accredited online MPH program

3. Relatively Weak Involvement 

Interaction and engagement with peers and professors is reduced if the professors are not experienced in delivering courses online. Group discussions with classmates in person and one-on-one interaction with professors can stimulate learning for certain types of students. 

4. Requirements of Electronic Devices

Online learning typically requires a reliable computer or laptop with stable internet access to read books, complete assignments, take notes and finish exams. 

The online learning experience has positive and negative aspects. The relative freedom and lower costs provide a draw, but a digital learning environment is not ideal for all types of students. Weigh these factors when deciding whether learning online is suitable for you. 

How to Succeed in Online Learning in Public Health

Now that we have tackled the question of what is online education and discussed the pros and cons, it is time to examine ways to succeed. 

The demand for master’s degrees in the public health industry is growing. Obtaining a master’s in public health online is an option for professionals looking to advance their public health careers, a master’s in health informatics online to focus on the technology aspect of the healthcare world, or a master’s in healthcare administration online to increase leadership and management skills.

As a public health student, how do you make the most of your online learning experience? 

Here are some actionable strategies to enhance your e-learning on the path to your master’s in public health: 

Select the Course Style that Works Best for You

The different types of e-learning laid out above give a sampling of the options open to you. It is crucial to choose a course that works with your learning style and schedule. If flexibility is your ultimate goal, a completely online course would be a good option. If you want more interaction, a hybrid course or a synchronous course may be a better fit. 

Create or Find the Perfect Learning Environment 

Choose an environment where you can focus and use it throughout your time in the online class. This will establish a routine and help you be consistent in your studies. 

The ideal working environment varies from person to person. For those who enjoy a bit of a background hum, a local coffee shop is a common workplace. If you prefer a silent backdrop, opt for a quiet room in your house or a library. Wherever you work, make sure there is a strong internet connection to avoid wasting time waiting for documents to load and keep a pair of headphones with you in case videos are part of the lesson.

Treat Online School Like Traditional School 

The temptation to put off work or slack off is amplified in an online class. You don’t have to show up physically, but you do need to show up mentally. What does this mean? It means you should take an online class as seriously as you would an in-person one.

Keep track of due dates in a planner or online calendar, so you are not caught off guard by upcoming assignments. If staying on top of an online class is difficult, ask a friend or classmate to hold you accountable in some way. You could share your schedule with them and ask them to check in on you in advance of due dates.    

Never Stop Learning 

Think about your ultimate goal of getting a degree online – to obtain public health knowledge and skills to better equip yourself. Learning is a lifelong process and it’s always important to keep yourself up-to-date in the public health field. Online learning provides the opportunity to receive continuing education and professional development through various e-learning means. Additionally, most of the universities have online libraries providing tremendous free resources. Develop a habit and keep yourself updated.

FAQs on Online Learning Experience

Is ‘online’ indicated on the degree certificate?

It depends. Most of the schools adopt the same admission requirements for both online and on-campus programs and share a very similar curriculum, so won’t indicate if it’s online or not on the graduate certificate. If this is a concern, reach out to the school before you start.

Is online learning as good as face-to-face learning?

Online learning is just a method; how effective it is will depend on the institutions delivering the courses and the students. Do more research about the institutions and understand the pros and cons of online learning and the best method for you.

How can I identify if the online institutions are credible?

There are multiple ways to check before you apply. Consider the reputation of the university, consult the online platform they are using and check previous students’ reviews. Make sure the institution is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

In summary, online learning is a growing sector of the academic world, and it does not seem to be going away any time soon. This style of learning has clear benefits and is opening doors to higher education for more people who want to continuously advance their career or pursue higher salaries in public health

If you are considering a degree online or short-term courses, remember there are many types of courses to fit your requirements and schedule. The choice is yours on your path to your career goals.