When people hear that I’m pursuing my MLS online, most people assume that it’s a bit of a cop out. Obviously since I’m not going to normal classes in a brick and mortar setting, I’m not putting in as much time as my on-campus peers, or so the suggestion goes. I’m here to say that such assumptions are just plain false. I would say we have to put in just as much time as our peers, if not a little bit more in the form of self-policing and posting on discussion boards.
Let me explain. In a classroom, discussions are organic. They take little effort to follow and it merely takes a raised hand to add your two cents to what some one else has said. And when the class is over, the discussion ends. Online discussions are different. As asynchronous discussions, you have to check in multiple times a day, read every post and hunt for the ones that you have the ability to comment on. And since the discussion doesn’t ever stop, it can go on far longer than the three hours a week on-campus classes traditionally meet. This alone can eat up a lot of time, but there are other factors at play.
For me, I learn best hearing a lecture while taking notes. Readings tend to be peripheral to my learning process. For online learners, this has to be the opposite. Some teachers don’t post audio lectures, or even annotated PowerPoint documents. My Organization of Information teacher just posted the PowerPoint document from his on-campus course without realizing that most of the explanatory information that he tells students during live lectures is missing from the file. Instead, we have to focus on readings, try to analyze PowerPoint for the hidden information and, sometimes, do outside research to figure out exactly what the professor was trying to say. For on-campus students, the answer is (again) a mere raised-hand away.
Which leads me to the most important quality online learners must possess to be successful: The ability to learn independently. Learning takes time. That’s why classes are measured in credit “hours.” But online classes don’t fall within these traditional measures. Instead students must schedule “class hours” for themselves, while juggling multiple weekly and monthly deadlines for everything from big assignments to weekly discussion posts.
It’s difficult to be a graduate student. It takes time and effort. But to be an online graduate student you have to be even more committed to the end result than on-campus students. On-campus students are reminded every day they set foot on campus that they are students and that they are working toward a goal. Without that constant reminder, online students can become lost. And without reminding yourself constantly of what you will be getting out of this degree, time will march on without you. If that happens, you will suddenly find yourself at the bottom of a black hole of unfinished assignments and looming deadlines.
And that’s why online degrees are just as difficult as on-campus degrees, if not more so. But, it’s worth it. To finally have the degree and be qualified for all the dream jobs I am so close to having…Yeah, it’s worth it.