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Online Learning - Are online degrees 'easier' than on-campus degrees?

Some people still believe that online degrees are somehow easier than on-campus degrees. In the blog post below, we put this myth to bed once and for all.

online learning myth busting series logo

Are online degrees easier than on-campus degrees?

That’s certainly what some people would have you think about online learning. And it does seem as though there’s an assumption amongst a minority of prospective students that completing a degree programme off-campus somehow makes it easier and less academically rigorous. 

It’s high time we debunked this idea! In the article below, we explore the typical workload of an online student at the University of Edinburgh, before highlighting the responsibilities that many online learners have to juggle alongside their degree study.


1. The workload is exactly the same

The amount of work required to complete an online degree is exactly the same as that of an on-campus degree. Students typically spend between 15 and 20 hours a week studying.

Study involves a mixture of required reading, note-taking, lectures, group assignments and essays…basically exactly the same activities as those of a ‘regular’ student who lives on-campus. Only the method of delivery is different. For example, if a programme includes lectures then these will be recorded so that students are able to watch them online at their convenience.


2. Balancing the same amount of work with other commitments

What makes studying for an online degree particularly impressive is the fact that most of our students are balancing university work with full-time or part-time jobs and family commitments.

The video below gives a sense of the work-life balance that our online students have to navigate – busy full-time jobs, children, marriage…and of course earning that all-important degree!

Arguably juggling all of these responsibilities makes studying for an online degree harder than a regular postgraduate degree, where many students don’t yet have work or family commitments and are generally able to devote much more of their time to studying and university life. 

Inspiring student stories - Olivier

Some of our online students have managed to achieve some particularly inspiring feats while completing their postgraduate studies. Olivier Nsengimana is a graduate of our online MVetSci in Conservation Medicine. Olivier won a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2014 due to his efforts in protecting the Rwandan grey crowned crane. He has since won several more awards for his conservation action, including the Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation.

Living in a country devastated by genocide, Olivier was determined to build a more positive future for Rwanda. He told National Geographic: “Every Rwandan has had a role to play in moving forward from the genocide. I knew that whatever I did with my life, I had to contribute something meaningful to my country.”

online student sat at home working


3. Online study requires a lot of self-discipline in order to succeed

In order to balance all of these responsibilities, online students require an extra level of self-discipline to get over the finish line and successfully earn a degree.

A lot of our online graduates state that time management was a key priority in order for them to successfully pass their degree. However, many graduates also say that the self-directed nature of the programme was one of their favourite aspects of online learning.

“I think the part that I enjoyed most was being able to do the degree in your own time. So in the evenings or weekends when I had the spare time I could look at the online lecture material and I could read the suggested reading in my own time as well and take it in at my own pace.”

Daniel Lewis, MSc Neuroimaging for Research graduate 2018


“The key difference about studying online is that you don’t have that ‘let’s go for a coffee and a chat’ rapport that you might develop doing an on campus course.  As we are sometimes up to 10,000 miles away from each other, it’s a bit tricky to go for coffee.  However, studying entirely independently risks isolation and to avoid this, our tutors recommended that we create our own Facebook group and keep in touch via messenger services and emails.  This has brought us all together and has increased our knowledge through sharing of useful links and stories.”

online student studying at home with headphones on

Vanessa, MSc Carbon Management


As you can see, online degrees really aren’t any easier than regular on-campus degrees. In fact, you could well argue that online students have a tougher time trying to fit in their studies alongside a whole range of other commitments.

We hope we’ve successfully dispelled this myth for you by now! However, if you would like more information on the nature of online study, please visit the University of Edinburgh’s Online Learning homepage.

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