Communication is a broad field that encompasses the knowledge and skills used to interpret, craft, and convey messages in a wide range of professional contexts. This includes media and technology businesses, and areas like public relations, journalism, marketing, human resource management, and the sports, entertainment, and hospitality industries. The study of communication is multi-disciplinary, integrating theories of social and behavioral science with practical training in computer and communication technologies, written and oral presentation, and the publication and production of media products. A degree in communication involves learning how information is packaged and relayed, and applying theories of communication to work in areas such as social media marketing, corporate leadership, digital production, journalism, technical and scientific writing, and digital media production.
A bachelor’s degree in communication or communication studies is a four-year Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science (BA or BS) degree program with a designated communication major. Like other bachelor’s programs, a communication program includes general education coursework in the arts, sciences, and humanities. Students typically must take English composition, social science, physical science, mathematics, and history classes in order to fulfill general education requirements. In addition, a communication major typically provides foundational courses in mass media, communication theory, public speaking, and professional writing, as well as specialized coursework in public relations, print media, digital publishing, video production, authoring technical reports, and/or organizational leadership and communication. Depending on the program, students may have the option of minoring in one or more of these areas of communication studies.
Online bachelor’s in communication programs offer students a more convenient and flexible alternative to traditional, campus-based programs. Students who cannot relocate to attend college, and students who would prefer not to commute to a campus while earning their degree can receive all or most of their undergraduate coursework through distance learning technologies in online programs. These programs utilize learning management systems (LMSs) to deliver lectures and other coursework to students anywhere with an Internet connection. An LMS is an interactive platform that supports streaming audio and video as well as online discussion forums and one-on-one interactions with instructors. Students are typically able to access library resources and other supplementary instructional materials through a school’s LMS.
While there is some variation in how bachelor’s in communication programs are named, an undergraduate degree in communication provides students with grounding in a basic framework for how people convey and process information, and how various media technologies are used to influence and persuade specific audiences. Common designations for these programs include:
OnlineEducation.com conducts independent research into these bachelor’s programs, identifies programs with a well-defined communication major, and classifies them based on several criteria. Programs on the site must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. They must also offer all or most of their coursework online. Programs that require students to attend more than two in-person, on-campus sessions per year are not currently listed on the site.
There are several different approaches to studying communication. Some program focus more on communication theory, while others target various applied facets of communication in areas like business, marketing, public relations, print media and journalism, new media and Internet publishing, and video and broadcast production. Students in an online bachelor’s in communication program are typically exposed to a range of communication specializations through introductory coursework, which also generally includes an overview of communication technologies and theories of communication. Instruction in written and oral presentation skills and media technologies is commonly part of the core curriculum. Depending on the program, students may then take required or elective coursework designed to cultivate knowledge in specific fields of communication, such as web design, video production, desktop publishing, media and public relations, and business negotiations.
The table below provides a representative overview of typical undergraduate coursework in a communication or communication studies major. The course names and descriptions are adapted from actual online bachelor’s in communication programs.
|Introduction to Human Communication||Foundational theories of human behavior and their relation to theories of communications.|
|Introduction to Mass Communication||Communication methods and technologies viewed in the context of culture and society, including an examination of how media operate on a mass scale.|
|Communication Technology in America||An historical overview of the evolution of communication and information technologies in the US.|
|Public Speaking||Developing oral presentation skills, with a focus on organization and delivery, as well as on voice, diction, and articulation.|
|World Cultures & Mass Media||An examination of popular culture and mass media on a global scale, and how music, film, television, radio, print, and other types of media are financed, regulated, and consumed worldwide.|
|Public Relations||Theories of public relations and how it is practiced, including interactions between organizations and the public.|
|Information in the Digital Age||Communication theories applied to digital media, including an examination of economic, legal, and social issues in digital communication.|
|Social Media||An historical overview of social media and its present implications, including theories of social media, social media technologies, and the strategic use of social media platforms in business.|
|Advanced Research Methods in Communication||Quantitative and qualitative social and behavioral research methods applied to the field of communication.|
|Gender & Communication||Verbal, non-verbal, and paralinguistic aspects of communication in the context of gender.|
|Persuasion & Social Influence||An examination of the processes by which social position influences communication and various strategies for persuading individuals and groups.|
|Copyright & Intellectual Property in the Digital Age||The legal framework for the fair use and protection of intellectual property in digital communication.|
The basic eligibility requirement for admission to an online bachelor’s in communication program is a high school diploma or the equivalent. Admissions departments may take into account a candidate’s class rank or cumulative grade point average as part of the admissions process, and applicants may be asked to submit SAT scores, a written essay, and/or letters of recommendation. Admissions criteria vary by program and often differ depending on an applicant’s level of educational attainment. Students transferring into an online bachelor’s program from a community college and applicants who have earned prior college credits may be subject to criteria that differ from those for students applying directly from high school. Potential applicants should examine the admissions policies for each program carefully to ensure they meet the requirements.
How an online bachelor’s program is structured often impacts the overall flexibility and convenience of the online learning experience. There are several variations in online program formats that prospective applicants to an online program should be aware of, including modes of online instruction, enrollment options, and whether or not students are required to attend campus-based sessions.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: There are two primary modes of online instruction. Synchronous instruction takes place in real time and requires students to be logged on to an LMS at designated times for lectures and other course activities. Asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component. Students enrolled in a course that utilizes asynchronous instruction can access lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. This provides more flexibility than synchronous instruction, but it requires a greater amount of self-discipline, as students are responsible for keeping up with lectures and coursework.
Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Online bachelor’s degree programs are the equivalent of a traditional, campus-based bachelor’s program in terms of crediting requirements. However, many online programs provide two or more enrollment options, which can reduce or extend the time to completion. Students who enroll full-time in a 120-credit online bachelor’s program can expect to graduate in three to four years, depending on whether or not they attend summer sessions. This usually requires taking four or five courses per semester. Students who enroll part-time can reduce their course load to two or three courses per semester, but this can extend the time to completion by a year or more. There are also online bachelor’s programs that do not adhere to the traditional fall/spring/summer semester system, and that allow full-time students to take one or two courses per six- to ten-week term.
Campus Visits: While online bachelor’s programs generally do not require students to attend on-campus sessions, some online programs hold informational and instructional sessions on campus that online students are required to attend. These sessions may be as short as a weekend or as long as a week or more. Students who are working full time or who have other commitments outside of school may have difficulty attending on-campus sessions, and they can be an important consideration for others interested in an online bachelor’s in communication program. OnlineEducation.com does not currently list online bachelor’s in communication programs that require more than two campus visits per year.