Online Education – The E-Learning Guide

E-learning covers everything from online degree programs to free open courses. Learn more about e-learning programs and see which option is right for you.

Updated April 12, 2023

Online Education – The E-Learning Guide is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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E-learning College Methods

From multi-year degree programs to free massively open online courses, e-learning is bigger than ever.

The traditional college experience isn't for everyone. Why should it be? We're all different, with different learning needs. Advances in online education have been helping to address these needs. Online programs are generally viewed as legitimate, quality sources of higher education – and now cover everything from virtual degree programs that mimic the campus classroom to skill-specific classes with interactive learning environments. If you're looking for something beyond the brick-and-mortar experience, read through this guide to see what e-learning can do for you.

Types of E-Learning Providers

While the basic idea behind e-learning is to provide education to students who either cannot or choose not to be present in a traditional classroom setting, the manifestation of online programs varies so extremely that a precise image of e-learning can be hard to pinpoint. Understanding the most common online education providers (and their teaching methods) can make it easier to determine what type of e-learning is ideally suited to your needs. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Benefits of E-Learning

E-learning affords students a host of potential benefits over traditional campus-only programs. Read below to learn about some of advantages e-learning offers students.

Cost Savings

Looking at tuition prices for online programs at traditional schools and for-profit schools, prospective students might wonder if e-learning really does have cost benefits. Online programs often cost around as much as their on-campus equivalents. However, considerable savings can be found outside of tuition:


E-learning students have the advantage of being able to plan their education around their lives, not the other way around. While some e-learning formats require students to be at the computer at specific times, others offer coursework that can be done at any time of day, any day of the week and from anywhere the student chooses. A flexible learning schedule and no commute mean less interference with work, family and social life.


Although it seems like e-learning would be an isolated experience, online students often find that they are more connected to their peers and professors than their on-campus counterparts. Message boards, peer review and video-chat study groups facilitate communication between students and help bring them together. Professors are often available to answer questions via email, but in environments where a professor is not accessible, like in many MOOCs, students rely on one another to ask and answer questions about course materials and assignments. Further, e-learning programs attract people from an array of locations and backgrounds, so students get to connect with peers they might not meet otherwise.

Improved Access

Because all that is needed to learn online is a computer and an Internet connection, e-learning makes education more accessible to different students.

E-Learning Delivery Methods

Not all online programs are taught the same way, and their different presentations can greatly affect a student's experience. Before jumping into an e-learning program, make sure it's compatible with your learning style.

Fully-Online vs. Hybrid

Fully Online

The nature of fully-online e-learning programs may be self-explanatory, but students may be surprised to find that some fully-online classes require face-to-face meetings. In general, course materials and lectures for fully-online programs are delivered via the Internet. Assignments are also turned in online, either through email or online submission applications and websites. Even tests may be taken online and graded by an instructor or a computer. However, sometimes students are required to take exams or attend class orientation in person. Students who are unable to make it to a physical campus should double check to make sure that a course labeled as fully online doesn't require face-to-face meetings or exams.


Hybrid, or blended, classes combine online learning with face-to-face meetings. Because both online and traditional methods are used, hybrid programs can be structured in many different ways with varying proportions of online and in-person class time. Usually this depends on the class's subject matter and the level of hands-on learning or lab time needed. Some classes may be taught mostly online with just a handful of in-person sessions throughout the term while others have weekly face-to-face classes supported by online assignments and discussion boards. Hybrid classes are a good option for students who want to try e-learning but aren't sure if an entirely new method of learning is right of them. The familiarity of a traditional classroom setting and knowing that a professor is available to meet in person can help assuage anxieties associated with the self-driven nature of e-learning.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning


Not all e-learning classes can be accessed at any time the student chooses. Some require students to log on at a specific time to participate in live lectures. These synchronic classes use live video streaming as their primary mode of information delivery. Sometimes videos are of an on-campus class, and e-learning students may be able to actively participate in asking and answering questions. Other synchronous classes may involve an instructor and a group of remote students logging into an online group video chat, creating a sort of virtual lecture hall. It's important that students taking synchronous classes have a reliable Internet connection so lectures can be delivered uninterrupted.


Asynchronous learning is perhaps what most people associate with online education. This style of delivery allows students to log in and out of class at their convenience. Materials (including lectures) and assignments for the entire course may be accessible all the time, or instructors can post them gradually as the term progresses. Asynchronous courses can be either self-paced or directed.

Teacher Led vs. Digital-Only


Teacher-led courses tend to be directed. Instructors have an obvious and considerable presence in their courses, creating assignments and providing lectures through video, text or other formats. Like in face-to-face courses, instructors are available to answer questions, but instead of meeting with a professor after class or during designated office hours, both students and instructors have the convenience of communication via email or video chat. However, in-person meetings can sometimes be arranged and may even be required by the instructor.


Some e-learning programs exist without an active instructor. Digital-only education programs use a variety of web-based media to teach courses, like animations, interviews, lectures and text. Video or text lessons may be followed up by a set of problems or a practical activity to see how well the student understands the material. For instance, a coding course might actually have a student create some code after watching an instructional video. Although an instructor does not actively contribute to lectures or assignments, one may grade assignments. However, grading is often done by computer or is outsourced to professional graders around the world.

E-Learning Financial Aid Options

Online students may need just as much help funding their educations as on-campus students. While some financial aid options work the same for on-campus and online students, less traditional funding methods exist as well, including:

*For a comprehensive look at available options, visit our financial aid page dedicated to online students.

Technology in E-Learning

E-learning relies on technology to give students a fulfilling education experience. While a basic understanding and familiarity with online and computer technologies is usually required for success in online education, most e-learning programs provide students with instructions on how to navigate the different technologies used. Here is a brief rundown on the types of technologies students may encounter in their e-learning programs:

Tips for New E-Learners

Embarking on a new kind of learning experience can be daunting, but there are things students can do and remember that will help them succeed in their online education pursuits.

Interview with Dian Abu-Jaber

Diana Abu-Jaber

Diana Abu-Jaber teaches both online and on-campus classes as an associate professor at Portland State University's Department of English. Here, she shares her unique perspective on e-learning, including tips and best practices for new students.

Q. What do you think are the main benefits of online learning?

The flexibility and adaptability are fantastic – it's especially great if you've got full-time work, a tricky schedule, or for some reason you can't get to campus. But it's more than that. There's a democracy to the online class that you tend to lose in face-to-face. Traditional, discussion-led classes often get taken over by a vocal minority. Some students are simply more outspoken than others, and that's nobody's fault, but students who are a bit quieter or more introverted may suffer in a traditional setting. In online classes, there's a great equality – people tend to be freer with their comments, braver, more inclined to share more of their experiences.

Q. What about drawbacks?

I do think there's something special about the human presence and the energy of a good group conversation – an online class can't reproduce that as easily, though I've seen that it fosters conversations and connections in the classroom that are just as powerful in their own way.

Q. What methods and technologies do you use when teaching online?

My classes are on D2L and they're pretty straightforward. I use some of the same elements that characterize some of my favorite blogs: visuals, short to medium blocks of narrative, and an academic “voice” with some personality and (hopefully) humor. I've also started embedding short videos into some of my lectures. Basically, I try to make it as dynamic and engaging as I can for students without overwhelming them with too many bells and whistles.

Q. What makes a successful online student?

Anyone can be a successful online student, but the students who tend to do the best are usually pretty motivated; they know how to work well on their own; they don't require a lot of supervision – basically, they're people who would do well in any sort of learning context.

Q. What do you recommend for a student who is struggling, either with a particular assignment or with the course in general?

Take the initiative and contact your instructor. Teachers know when students post assignments, but it's very difficult if not impossible for us to gauge when students are having a hard time. It's not possible to do things like take attendance in an online format or to see confusion or disengagement on someone's face. But I'm always tremendously glad when someone lets me know they're having trouble – there's generally always some way to address or work out whatever the problem might be.

Q. What tips do you have for students new to e-learning?

Don't be afraid: have fun with it! Explore your virtual classroom. Post your picture, introduce yourself, get to know your classmates – everyone is readily emailable. Plan ahead – the semester moves faster than you think it's going to, so you have to be on top of your schedule when you're learning online. And it's generally a good idea to check in every day if possible. It helps students (and faculty) stay psychologically “connected” to the class and to a sense of camaraderie. It also makes it harder to forget you're enrolled in a class.

Q. Any additional thoughts you'd like to share about online learning?

I think online classrooms cultivate true diversity. They are the great levelers, the ultimate in encouraging and allowing all voices to be heard – it's such a helpful format for women, minority students, elderly, other-abled: anyone who's ever felt intimidated, uncertain, or less-heard in a face-to-face class will usually feel more emboldened online. My online classes have also given rise to far more continuing groups and conversations after the term ends than any of my traditional classes – it's much easier to stay in touch and keep that great conversation going. I was hesitant and grudging when I first started teaching online, but I've been completely won over by the results I've seen in my own classrooms: online can be a uniquely beautiful experience.

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