Online Learning

It's hard to talk about online learning because it means different things to different people. Some students enroll full-time in an accredited online high school, spending each day at the computer taking classes similar to the classes they would have taken at a traditional high school. Others just take a few classes this way. Still others use online resources to learn about new topics but don't formally "enroll" in anything.

There are so many educational sites online that it’s impossible to include a comprehensive list, but below are some sites that you may find helpful. Most of the for-credit sites charge tuition; most of the no-credit sites are free.

For-Credit Options

The following schools require you to be officially admitted (and usually pay a tuition fee) before you have access to their content. In exchange, you'll get personalized instruction and high school or college credit as you complete their courses.

Online High Schools

  • Laurel Springs and Oak Meadow are well-established K-12 programs that have been popular with homeschooling families since the pre-internet days. Although some courses can be purchased individually, both schools were designed to be a replacement for the full high school experience.
  • The Clonlara School is popular with homeschoolers who want even more flexibility. At Clonlara, you work with an advisor to design your own education. The school awards credit for the work you complete, and helps you develop a portfolio of your learning. There is also a short-term enrollment program for students who just need credit recovery in a few subjects.
  • The Global Village School offers its own courses and gives credit for outside educational projects. You can also purchase the curriculum alone, without getting credit. Graduation requirements include a service learning component and courses in Peace and Diversity Studies.
  • The Keystone School and National University Virtual High School are more traditional programs, offering standard high school classes in a self-paced format. Classes are more affordable than many online/correspondence schools.
  • The University of Texas Online High School is open to students outside Texas, including international students. Tuition for the entire high school program is estimated $10,000, but the program accepts transfer credits from previous schools and awards credit by examination, lowering the overall cost. UT High School is more flexible than traditional schools, but it is much more structured than the schools listed above. 
  • Stanford University Online High School is a newer program, designed to compete with elite schools. Tuition is $15,000/year and admissions are competitive.

Online college courses

  • You can take individual classes by correspondence (print or online) from accredited universities across the country. Some schools that routinely offer this option to high schoolers are The University of Missouri OnlineOhio University, and University of Mississippi Independent Study.
  • More and more universities are offering some of their classes online, and you can enroll in these just as you enroll in their regular offerings: as a fully admitted student or as a non-degree student if such an option is available. For example, Northeastern University in Boston offers over sixty online programs. If you are a Massachusetts resident, you can pay in-state tuition at UMass–Amherst University Without WallsUMass OnlineBunker Hill Community College Online, or Massachusetts Colleges Online. If you are not in Massachusetts, check for online offerings at your local community colleges and public universities.
  • There is also a growing industry of online universities. Many are accredited, many have open admissions (meaning they accept anyone who applies), and many operate on a for-profit basis. These include The University of PhoenixDeVry UniversityITT Technical Institute, and Kaplan University. These schools can be a reasonable choice for working adults who want to take a few college classes at a time and who need maximum flexibility as they juggle kids and other responsibilities. For-profit online colleges are generally NOT a good choice for young students. We strongly advise against taking out student loans of any type to pay for tuition at a for-profit university. Tuition may be lower than at other schools, but this is not always a bargain since their diplomas vary in reputation. Be especially careful before choosing an online degree in a subject that should have a clinical or hands-on component, such as teaching or nursing. Does the university ensure that you will get that experience in another way? If not, you may find it very difficult to find employment, and be saddled with lots of student debt for your trouble.
  • Schools like Southern New Hampshire UniversityWestern Governors University, and National University are similar to for-profit online schools in that their programs are designed with the distance learner in mind, but they operate as nonprofits. These are a better choice if you'd like to do your whole college degree online.
  • A “low-residency program” lets you complete college by taking a few intensive seminars throughout the year, rather than attending full-time. This is much more common at the graduate level, but some undergraduate programs also provide this option. A low-residency program does not necessarily provide online classes, but you will usually be expected to communicate with professors and classmates by e-mail during the months you are not on campus.

No-Credit Options

The programs below are NOT accredited. Course materials are offered only as a public service. In most cases there has been no special effort to tailor classes to online learners; for example you might find a syllabus and reading list, but no lecture videos or exams, no grades or assignments, and no interaction with a professor or instructor.

However, if you want to earn college credit, you can work through these courses on your own and then take a standardized test to prove your mastery in the subject. This involves more than scanning notes and passively watching a few videos. In the humanities, you’ll have to do outside reading and research. In foreign languages, find a language partner on a site like italki or LiveMocha. In math, find problem sets online or in a used textbook and work through them.

CLEPDANTESAP, and SAT-II tests cost about $100 each and usually grant the equivalent of one semester-length course for each test you pass. Different universities have different policies on accepting test credit in lieu of actual classes, but only in rare cases do they have a blanket policy against accepting any test credit. Check first if you’re unsure.

Even if you don’t get credit for the time you put into a no-credit class, you may be able to test out of introductory classes in college. This is especially common in math and foreign languages.

Whether you receive credit or not, make sure to record the classes you complete in your portfolio.




More information:

The Wild West of the Internet

Of course you do not need to take university classes — accredited or otherwise — to use the internet as a learning tool.

Photography credit: Laura Fokkena