Over the last six months as the communications intern for UND’s Office of Extended Learning, I’ve had the opportunity to interview several UND students about their experience with online courses and completing their degrees at a distance. I was able to get a feel for what it takes to complete online courses, and I now realize it’s not for everyone. It takes a certain kind of student.
The biggest thing I noticed, is how determined each individual is. Every online student I interviewed had an unwavering determination to complete his or her degree. Some to further their education, others to move up the career ladder, and some to prove no matter what life throws at them, they will persevere.
I learned time management is key. I always asked the students for advice they’d give to someone contemplating an online degree. Every reply included balancing their personal life and school, or making the time to get all of their studies done.
Another common attribute of online students – for certain degrees – includes an on campus visit, which often includes a lab. For many, it’s a substantial commitment of their time and finances, to travel all the way to Grand Forks, ND. A few mentioned how they dreaded the lab portion, but after experiencing the hands-on learning, many said their degree would not be worth what it was without the on campus experience. One student even mentioned he didn’t think he’d have his degree without the on campus portion.
Classroom interaction, whether via Skype or on campus, with other students was important for all the students. They found connecting with other online students in the same program to be very helpful.
One of my favorite stories was about an MBA student who completed her degree entirely online – never stepping foot on campus until graduation. She mentioned during the lineup for Commencement she already knew many of her classmates AND they recognized her from their online interactions in class. This made her feel like she was part of an actual class and community.
A stigma of online classes is students are isolated and do not interact with others. After spending time talking to individuals who have taken online courses, I’ve discovered this to not be true. While at times it may take more effort to interact, the opportunity is there and the most successful students tend to take advantage of those opportunities.
Online students crave flexibility and that is what they get with UND’s online programs and courses. Many students work full-time jobs while completing their degree, and they spend lunch breaks completing assignments or listening to lectures during their commutes. I found most students had a set schedule each week, while others simply set aside weekends for homework and lectures. Some students chip away at their assignments, doing a little each day or at night after putting kids to bed. The common theme for each student was time management and a desire to succeed.
The decision to complete a degree online is not a choice one takes lightly. For many, the amount of thought and planning was evident. I can tell you this, these online learners have encouraged me, they’ve pushed me along during my last semester at UND. These students often have barriers that many on campus students don’t acknowledge or consider. I’d like to send a big congratulations to those online students out there. Best of luck to you – you’ll go far!
By Hannah Manske
UND Office of Extended Learning