More students are enrolling in online education than ever before. But did you know that enrollment in online courses is up for both public and private universities and down in for-profit universities?

With the boom of online learning opportunities came the rise in unaccredited, for-profit online universities. However, many accredited and traditional institutions quickly saw the value in distance learning opportunities and followed suit.

As you might expect, the increase in available distance programs has also grown the number of students looking to attend university remotely. This means that university programs not only need to make distance learning available -- they also need to consider quality in education in order to stay competitive.


But whether you're a student or faculty/staff at an institution, you may be wondering: what makes some online programs stand out from others? What are the best universities doing today, and how can we learn from them?

We rounded up seven of the most innovative, accredited, online programs in this post to highlight the different technologies and strategies they're using to best serve and educate their students.

The Distance Learning Technologies 7 Programs Are Using

1. A variety of study schedules to meet virtual student needs.

UT Austin is consistently ranked as a top National and State university in the U.S. But many may not know that UT Austin also offers an extensive catalog of online courses, degree programs, and professional learning opportunities through their University Extension school.

What we love about the University Extension is not the amount of course and programs it offers to its remote students, but the different types of distance opportunities depending on the needs of individuals.

Students can choose between self-paced courses, in-person courses (which typically occur after 5pm to accommodate student schedules), or semester-based online courses that follow a traditional class calendar. All students use Canvas to access materials and interact with instructors accordingly.

2. Offer remote-specific student services.

Kansas State University's Global Campus is its center for online and distance learning. With over 50 years of experience trying to deliver distance learning opportunities to adult learners worldwide, KSU is focused on enabling distance learners to have the same opportunities as its traditional students.

Students can take courses through the Global Campus as a part of a degree program or as a non-degree seeking student. Online students still interact with their instructors and fellow students via web conferencing. They also offer student services, like career counseling, to specifically serve remote students.

KSU is also devoted to making sure they're using the latest and best technology for their classes and making sure their students know how to access it all.

For example, KSU uses teleconferencing for many of their classes so students at a distance can connect with instructors and other students in real time. In some of their classes, they use the Meeting Owl, a 360-degree classroom camera, to make the distance courses feel interactive and engaging for all students, no matter the location.

Learn more about the Meeting Owl >>

3. Offer technical and academic coursework.

For many, online education is easy to imagine for writing and reading-based courses, but what about hands-on training degrees, like Aviation, Aeronautics, or Computer Science?

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was one of the first 20 Universities in the world to offer distance learning. Almost 50 years later, the institution has gone from sending assignments back and forth through the mail to offering its Virtual Classroom, Eagle Vision, to its students worldwide.

Eagle Vision allows for a virtual classroom experience for its students by combining Teleconferencing, Learning Management Systems, and person-to-person interaction. By using technology to enhance the experience for all distance learners, Embry-Riddle is able to offer hands-on, technical instruction to students all over the world. By doing so, it's consistently ranked as one of the best online programs in the world.

4. Connect global campuses and student locations with video conferencing. 

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Many students who take advantage of online programs are working adults with limited time in their schedules to attend classes in person. To accommodate those non-traditional students, Purdue University has an extensions school called Purdue University Global.

Purdue Global isn't just an online school, however. It's actually a true distance learning institution that connects various campuses, as well as online learners, to the resources located at its main campus in Lafayette, Indiana.

Purdue Global pays particularly close attention to making sure Global students have access to its extensive advising network. And while students manage their own schedule and benefit from flexible learning and self-paced courses, Purdue Global still seeks to ensure their students are getting an interactive experience by connecting instructors and students via phone, live chat, email, and the online student portal.

5. Build a comprehensive video library. 

Many students out there take one or two online courses, but that doesn't always mean these students are doing their entire degree online. For many, that task seems impossible.

Columbia University wanted to make sure the task was possible, particularly for their Engineering and Applied Science students, so they created the Columbia Video Network at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Consistently ranked as one of the Best Online Programs for Engineering Graduate studies, the Columbia Video Network boasts that all of their students get the same level of education that in-person students get.

6. Make hybrid learning an option. 

Brandman University, although affiliated with the Chapman University system, has over 25 campuses on the US West Coast as well as plentiful distance and online learning programs. Designed for both fully-remote and hybrid learners, students can choose from self-paced online courses, hybrid courses with in-person or remote accessed components, or video conferencing course options.

Our favorite aspect of Brandman's distance learning offerings is its online Writing and Mathematics Center, where students can interact with tutors who hold weekly office hours online. This allows remote students to access services that, often, online students don't have at the ready.

7. Offer a variety of different educational options.

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It's no secret that Harvard is a big name in the higher education world. Prospective students from all of the world spend hours of time pouring over admissions essays, test scores, and wait for their acceptance letters. Why? Because Harvard boasts some of the most prestigious faculty and research resources in the world. So it only makes sense that its online offering might be some of the best in the world too.

The Harvard Extension School specializes in graduate studies for adult learners, but it also has classes for undergraduate and certificate studies as well. What we like best is the range of options students can choose from to complete coursework. Students can attend live streamed lectures, interact with their classrooms via video conference, or simply study based on module, self-paced lessons. Students can then combine in-person and online coursework no matter which education path they choose.

Over to You

The key to making your distance learning programs remarkable is the technology you use.

Learn more about the Meeting Owl >>