4 Key Considerations for Online Programs with Fieldwork Requirements

Last updated on: October 10, 2023

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Colleges and universities sometimes hesitate about offering programs with fieldwork requirements in the online format. While they may offer such programs on campus, the prospect of coordinating fieldwork for students outside of their local area, where institutions do not have an existing network of fieldwork sites, can be challenging. It’s true that field placements for online students require a significant amount of investment in advance planning and ongoing support to ensure that students complete field hours successfully. Yet with the right type of planning, the effort is well worth it, offering significant benefits to both students and higher education institutions.

Programs such as master’s degrees in social work, public health, and education, as well as bachelor’s degrees in nursing, have fieldwork requirements built into them to ensure that students gain practical skills and can apply what they have learned in a real-world environment. By offering these programs online, higher education institutions can benefit from students’ fieldwork assignments, especially when they take place outside of the schools’ immediate area:

  • Schools can have additional exposure and representation in areas where their brand may not be well known, increasing their reach and building a national presence online. This can be especially significant for small, regional schools.
  • By the same token, expanding the locations of fieldwork sites increases opportunities for referrals: student(s) will spread the word about the school and associated program(s).
  • Greater enrollments to online programs can result in additional resources being allocated to the program or school.

Overcome Obstacles Using the Following Framework

If your institution is considering offering any of its programs with required fieldwork in the online format, refer to the framework below outlining considerations and strategies for the planning, execution, and maintenance stages to anticipate and overcome potential obstacles.


To handle and support field placements in unfamiliar areas, schools may need to add additional staff members to serve as points of contact to support online students, as well as to vet and communicate with representatives from field sites. Expecting faculty members to take on the entire responsibility for these tasks can spread them too thin. Ensuring there is proper support and coordination available can help you retain students.


Schools should have staffers in place before online programs launch and work proactively to identify and communicate with potential sites nationwide. While some programs may require students to take the lead in finding a suitable site, they will still need guidance and support throughout the process.
One way that schools can start building a robust database of field placements is to connect with program alumni, who may be working for an organization that would be willing to take on students working toward their fieldwork requirements, or can facilitate such a commitment. In addition, staffers should be sure to maintain relationships with these organizations for future fieldwork placements.


Colleges and universities may need to draw up legal agreements of affiliation with field placement sites that state responsibilities and expectations on both sides. Starting this process early is vital to ensure that deadlines are met and students do not face delays in starting their fieldwork, as the negotiation, review, and signing processes can take weeks or months.
Staffers also need to be mindful of different state licensure requirements. For example, a master’s degree in special education may have significant requirements regarding hours and specific competencies, which might vary in the state where the student is doing the fieldwork.


Generally speaking, online students tend to work full time, have more responsibilities, and are further into their career, meaning that they may not have 30 or 40 hours per week to dedicate to a fieldwork placement. This means field placement sites will have to be able to accommodate students who can only work 10 hours a week or on evenings or weekends. Online students also need to plan ahead and coordinate fieldwork with their professional and personal responsibilities, so they need to have as much information about placement as soon as possible.
Both of these factors mean that staffers may have to start planning for fieldwork sites sooner than they would for on-campus students and spend more time on them. Some institutions require a field placement fee from online students, which helps pay for the additional staff or hours required to handle the extra workload.

If your institution is interested in offering programs with fieldwork requirements online but isn’t sure it has the resources, capacity, or expertise to do so effectively, we can help. We’ve assisted many higher education institutions with developing a plan to support students in securing field placements for their online programs.

To learn more about other commonly asked online learning questions, check out our resources page for additional suggestions and information.

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