Why an Online Masters Degree?
February 28, 2011
The value of an online masters degree for your career was something we discussed last year so when I met Rishona Campbell and learned she was halfway through her online masters degree program I wanted to know why she’d chosen to do it online.
I asked if she’d write a little about her experiences – below is what she has to share about why she went with an online degree program and how she’s liked it so far. Thanks Rishona!
Why an Online Degree?
Well my first experience with online courses was when I went to Broward College in Ft. Lauderdale to take courses simply for my own professional development. I had promoted to the position of “escrow account” at an insurance agency and I had never taken an official college class in accounting ever! I had been out of the college classroom for several years, and was a little bit skeptical when the Intro to Accounting course I took had a textbook that required us to do our homework and tests online.
My only other previous experience with online courses was back in 1999 when I had an engineering course that had a very buggy online test-taking interface. However in 2007, things were very different. Being able to do your homework and tests online and getting instant feedback on areas that you need to work on was invaluable for me. It was like I had my own personal professor.
When the opportunity presented itself to finish my bachelor’s degree, I actually had little choice but to go the online course route due to injuries that I sustained in a car accident. I earned about 30 credits (out of the 128 needed for my degree) online and did not feel that my online educational experience was any less significant than my face to face college courses.
So when I started applying to MBA programs, I wanted a program that was online so that I would not be tied geographically to any one area for 1-2 years. At the same time that I was applying for graduate school, I was also looking for full-time employment so I wanted to keep my options open. I did not really have any major concerns about degree quality; although looking back, it should have been a point that was considered.
Online Masters Degree Benefits
First and foremost the flexibility of an online degree program cannot really be beat. With a full-time job and being involved in several volunteer and professional activities, it is very nice not to have my calendar blocked off by regular class attendance.
Also I believe that online college coursework, especially at the graduate level, really challenges you to be at the top of your game when it comes to written and virtual communication. I think that this gives you a distinct edge in the workplace… where skills in virtual communications and working remotely are not as commonplace as you may think.
Online Masters Degree Downsides
Quality control is a serious issue. I say this both as an online student and as an employee for a university in a department that administers fully online programs. Basically what are dealing with today is that the technology and the needs are there to really have stellar online courses.
However professors are either not adequately trained in regards to online course pedagogy; or they simply don’t care enough to put the work in to make the course as effective as it should be. As an online student, outside of those standard professor evaluations, I feel that I am limited in regards to how to communicate these issues to school administration. Unlike students who are on campus, online students are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ so to speak.
The other con is the ongoing struggle in regards to public perception and online degrees. Many people seem to have passed judgment on online degree programs without ever having taken an online degree course themselves. Going back to the quality control issue, they also (erroneously) believe that if an online course is bad at institution X, then all online courses are bad.
Online classes are subject to the same variances in quality that face to face classes are. In addition, we fight this misconception that ‘online degree’ is synonymous with the for-profit higher education sector…which is then synonymous with ‘low quality’. That logic is flawed in so many ways, and while I have never been a student at a for-profit higher education institution, I would guess that the blanket statement that degrees from for-profit institutions are of a low-quality should be questioned as well.
Online Degree Surprises
I believe that I am in a privileged position in that in addition to being an online student, as I mentioned previously, I also work for a college in an online program. The biggest surprise that I see from both sides is that of missed opportunities. This falls on both the professors and students, in regards to how they view online college studies.
I think that too often, online college courses are seen as an ‘online version’ of a face to face course where your notes and homework are just uploaded to the Learning Management System (LMS). What should happen is that the course be re-designed to cater to the online course delivery medium. When that is done, it makes a world of difference.
I do not regret my decision to pursue a degree online, and I do feel that I can stand right alongside with any other MBA student who obtained their education on-campus. But we still have those instances where students and professors see online courses as ‘the easy way out’; and colleges and universities seeing online courses as ‘easy money’. So that is my biggest surprise; that online learning has not lived up to its fullest potential yet…and even more so, that professors and students of online courses haven’t been more vocal about this.
Online Education Thoughts
In a nutshell, we all should realize that online education on all levels is not going away. It will remain as an option to many college students and will only get more and more attractive as the alumni pool of online degree holders grows. The true challenge we have today is refraining from telling everyone out there that online learning is the panacea to whatever gaps they have in their education. We also need to be realistic in regards to what people should be expecting from online programs; and higher education in general for that matter.
All posts by Ben Edwards