By Thomas Clapper
Online and on-campus programs are different.
I attended an on-campus program for my bachelor’s degree and loved the experience. The people, the professors, the late nights with my friends — it all made for a phenomenal college experience.
So when signing up for an entirely online master’s degree at Crown, I was skeptical. The unknowns of a remote education caused me to question if it would be the right step.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that — though distinct from my on-campus studies — the program was terrific.
What immediately struck me was the differences in the experience. It was like going to the gym and learning a new exercise. Suddenly, I was using different muscles I hadn’t typically flexed.
1. Discipline + Flexibility
The program offered flexibility. Most assignments are due Thursday and Sunday nights, which means that I had plenty of time throughout the week to do my work. And this also means that I needed to add new intentionality in my life to get the coursework done on time.
I had been decent at time-management, but now I’d need to double-down and be strategic about balancing my job, my family, and new coursework.
Did it take some time to figure it out? Of course. But soon I had a rhythm and better boundaries, which stuck with me after graduation. The principles of time management I learned in online education translate to work — especially remote work, which came in handy this year.
The faculty were helpful, too. I remember one week I had an extremely hectic week, and I wasn’t able to turn in a paper by the 11:59 PM Sunday deadline. I was worried it would affect my grade significantly, so I reached out to the professor and explained my situation. Without hesitation, the professor granted me a two-day extension.
While this won’t always be the case, I witnessed over-and-over again the desire my professors had for me to do well and to learn. I think this was a valuable lesson to know going forward as well: hold as close as you can to deadlines, but sometimes life is going to get in the way.
Don’t ever hesitate to reach out for help. You may not always receive it, but you never know unless you ask. I am now in a position where I can share this grace with my employees as well.
2. Practical, Immediate Results
An excellent course does a good job of helping you grasp the theory, and then it enables you to develop what that information means practically. My very first class caused me to ask some crucial questions about how my family interacts with our church. It also gave me hands-on tools to go out and to research different groups of people, immediately benefitting my job in marketing.
The courses are often designed to be taken while holding a full-time job. This is more cost-efficient, and it also allows students to try out theories learned in the courses in their real life. My colleague Josiah worked on his Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) while working in marketing and was able to choose projects that were both beneficial to his work and his degree. For his capstone project, he was even able to do an in-depth market research analysis for his organization.
Josiah told me, “Continuing work while studying business gave me insights beyond just my department that allowed me to think more deeply as a marketer. I don’t believe I’d be where I am today without my MBA.”
Through all my classes, I felt I grasped the ideas around topics, but I also thought that I could take the practical portions and use them to see real-world results — immediately. This was incredibly encouraging.
3. Asking the Deeper Questions
Formal education opens the door to exploration. As I studied more, I realized that there was often another side that needed to be considered. Many of my ideas that had started to cement became loose as I analyzed different perspectives.
Don’t misunderstand me. Most of my beliefs that I began the program with became even more firm after going through the journey, but it was that journey that was so valuable. When I sit with my iPad reading the news, I take a more critical approach as I consider bias, other perspectives, facts, and how they came to those facts. The ability to look through different lenses at a scenario has helped me to be a more well-rounded and empathetic person.
Learning to learn well is a skill that I know will serve me throughout my entire life.
4. Books, Books, + Books
I enjoyed reading when I began my online program. However, online learning means that you take the reins of your education, which means even more reading. The size of the books and the complexity of some of them intimidated me. But looking back, this seems silly.
Which is the point.
I read the books one page at a time. Before I knew it, I was reading 2-4 books a class, along with articles and research from my interest. Now, I find I enjoy reading more than ever — both for pleasure and for learning’s sake. Reading the books and coursework assigned in class was a great starting point, and having that foundation was so crucial to gaining a broader perspective of what books are out there for consumption.
While I get to choose my books now, I find that the broader perspectives I gained give me the desire to go even deeper into certain topics that we began to address in my degree. Online learning set me up to be a self-initiated learner, and that has continued in my life well beyond the classroom.
5. Lasting Sense of Accomplishment
Finishing a degree online was daunting, and at times, I wasn’t sure I was up for the task. However, because I stuck with it and followed through, I now feel an incredible sense of accomplishment. And now, I know that I can continue to tackle challenging endeavors.
I feel confident I could go back to school again and thrive. I feel that I can take on a challenge and succeed. I’m excited to solve the problems that will surely come in the future. And most importantly, I know I will be a learner for life.