Recommended graduate programs on online and distance learning

All the following programs can be taken fully or at least partly online. Some of them allow you to take and pay for individual courses, building up to either a certificate or a full masters degree.

Master programs 

University of British Columbia, Canada: Masters in Educational Technology (fully online). In 2010, as part of a project on one of the courses in the UBC MET program, four students produced a list of Canadian competitors to the MET program, with a comparative chart. Some of these institutions are NOT included in the list below, because I am not familiar myself with the programs.

Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC offers a Master of Arts in Learning and Technology (hybrid model)

University of Edinburgh, UK: M.Sc. in e-learning 

University of Colorado at Denver: MA, Information and Learning Technologies

Pepperdine University: Masters in of Arts in Learning Technologies. This program is 85% online, the rest requiring attendance at the Malibu campus, California.

University of Maryland University College Masters in Distance Education and eLearning.

Athabasca University, Canada: Master of Education in Distance Education. This fully distance program has been re-designed in recent years, and now contains a very strong technology component, with excellent faculty

Open University, UK Postgraduate Diploma (or Certificate) in Online and Distance Education Covers the theory and practice of online and distance education; open to students from countries all over the world.  

Northern Illinois University offers a fully online MS in Education in Instructional Technology, consistently ranked among the top five in the nation by US News & World Report. and graduates more educational technology students than any other public university in the state.

Concordia University Chicago MA in Educational Technology. This is a blended learning program, combining online learning with periodic classroom instruction. Note that this is a completely different university from Concordia University, Montreal

University of Sydney Master of Learning Science & Technology program (MLS&T) is a research-informed program designed and taught by international team of leaders in the learning sciences, offering both Professional and Research streams. The Professional Stream is designed for those who want to advance their careers in e-learning. The Research Stream can act as a bridge for PhD studies and is designed for students who are hoping to pursue a career as an education or learning-sciences researcher. University of Sydney is the oldest and most prestigious of the Australian state universities.

The University of Northern Iowa offers an M.A. in Instructional Technology aimed primarily at k-12 teachers. 

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley offers an MEd in Educational Technology (fully online)

Purdue University, Indiana, offers an Online Master of Science in Education in Learning Design and Technology. This online program will give you the base knowledge and skills to design, develop, implement, and evaluate multimedia instructional materials. Students will also learn how to apply instructional design theories to industries outside of the educational field.

St. Mary’s University of Minnesota offers a Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology, focused mainly on k-12 education. 

Lastly, Online MBA Degree Program is an excellent site for anyone wanting to do an MBA online.

Certificates and diplomas 

You will need to check whether these are fully online.

Vancouver Island University offers a two year, fully online Graduate diploma in Online Learning and Teaching which ladders successful graduates into VIU’s Masters of Education (Leadership) degree with an additional 10 credits of project work.

The University of Calgary offers a Certificate in e-Learning

Royal Roads University in Victoria BC offers a Graduate Diploma in Learning and Technology.

University of Washington Certificate in e-Learning Instructional Design, available fully online from a prestigious state university in the USA.

Seneca College, Ontario, offers a Certificate in Instructional Design

Drexel University, Philadelphia offers an online Post-Graduate Certificate in Neuroscience, Learning and Online Instruction, drawing on Drexels’  experience in both neurocience research and its use of online learning in nursing education.

Most of these programs require a bachelors’ degree (not necessarily in education) from a ‘recognised’ university, and a high standard of English (high school graduation, or a TEOFL score of 500+).

For programs in Spanish:

Hablas español? Or Català? The Open University of Catalonia (UOC) offers a máster universitario de Educación y TIC (e-Learning) tiene como objetivo la formación de docentes, diseñadores, gestores y administradores del mundo educativo y empresarial, impulsados por la necesidad de mejora y el deseo de sacar el máximo provecho de las tecnologías de la información y la comunicación (TIC) para la educación y la formación

Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico Maestría en Tecnologías para el Aprendizaje
This program is nationally accredited in Mexico, and is now well established..

Universidad Tecnológia Metropolitana de Santiago (UTEM), Chile Magíster en Educación a Distancia
This has a strong technology component, international faculty, and students from several South American countries.

Doctoral programs

Athabasca University, Canada, offers a Doctor of Education in Distance Education. The program is delivered at a distance, with the exception of an initial onsite 5-day orientation workshop at the beginning of the first year of study. Athabasca University is a publicly funded institution of the Province of Alberta and reports to the government through the Minister of Advanced Education. Through the Post-secondary Learning Act, the government authorizes Athabasca University Governing Council to grant degrees and govern our own affairs. Athabasca University is the first Canadian university to be awarded accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). More details about accreditation in the U.S.A. are available.

The University of Lancaster, UK, offers a structured, part-time Doctoral Programme in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning leading to a PhD. This innovative program combines a limited number of face-to-face residential meetings with considerable ‘online’ learning and is available to anyone in the world wishing to develop their e-learning research and practice. This is a nationally accredited public doctoral research university.

Northcentral University offers a fully online Ph.D. in e-learning, based on an excellent professional curriculum on e-learning. Northcentral University is a private, for-profit, accredited university based in Prescott Valley, Arizona. It was established in 1996. 

Doing a Ph.D. in e-learning

I am often asked about what institutions offer a Ph.D. in online learning or distance education entirely by distance. Very few! Indeed, the idea of a doing a Ph.D. by distance in these areas is based on a number of misconceptions. For instance, there are very few Ph.D. programs anywhere specifically in online learning or educational technology and few universities offer Ph.D.s at a distance. But don’t give up. There are ways.

Your best bet is to try a good local university with a Faculty of Education or something similar. The trick is to find a local supervisor willing to accept your proposed area of research. Try to find someone in the local Faculty of Education with an interest in online learning or distance education and try to negotiate a research topic of mutual interest. This is really the hardest and most important part. Getting the right supervisor is absolutely essential. However, there are many more potential students than faculty interested in e-learning.

Your admission to a program will depend on your prior qualifications – usually at least a masters degree in education or a related area – and your particular area of interest as defined by your intended research topic. In other words, try to find a suitable local supervisor and topic  BEFORE formally applying for admission. Depending on the university, you may not need additional courses if you already have a suitable masters degree, although you may be required by your supervisor to do some specific graduate courses, such as research methods or educational theory, if these are important to your topic and you have not studied them before.

If you find a willing and sympathetic local faculty member with an interest in this area but worried they don’t have the right expertise to supervise your particular interest, suggest a committee with an external supervisor (anywhere in the world) who really has the expertise and who may be willing to share the supervision with your local supervisor. Again, though, your chances of getting an external supervisor is much higher if that person already knows you or is aware of your work. Again, good professors in online learning or distance education are already likely to have a full supervision load, so it is not easy. (Whether good or not, my load is currently full!)

This means that even before applying for a Ph.D., you need to do some homework. Identify a topic with some degree of flexibility, have in mind an internal and an external supervisor, and show that you have done the necessary courses such as research methods, educational theory, etc., that will prepare you for a Ph.D. (or are willing to do them first).

Nearly all universities require ‘residency’, i.e. a physical presence on campus, for a Ph.D., but in reality the need for you to be there can be strictly limited. Most of your study can be done in your own locality. However, you will need to meet (in person or by phone) with at least your supervisor on a reasonably regular basis, and you should try to make meetings where other research students are discussing their work, or push for an online discussion forum for research students within the program.

Lastly, be sure you know why you want to do a Ph.D. There are only three good reasons:

  • because you want to teach about online learning or educational technology in a university;
  • because you want to do full-time research in these areas when you have finished;
  • or (the best) you have a burning question you want to investigate.

If you cannot give a strong  ‘yes’ to at least one of those reasons, don’t do it. A Ph.D. is an expensive, time-consuming, and very frustrating waste of your time, otherwise.

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