When you are thinking about pursuing an online degree, you might ask yourself a lot of questions: Is it going to be easier or harder than an on-campus program? Will I build relationships online? How will I balance my work, family and studies?
Before deciding to pursue a two-year, rigorous online MBA program, I completed eight short free online classes. My go-to platforms were Coursera and FutureLearn, but there are many more options now that offer high-quality lectures and materials.
These online courses combined with my online degree – MBA program taught me a few lessons about learning virtually that might help a prospective or current online student answer their questions and know what to expect in an online program.
1. Sometimes, single-mindedness can be more beneficial than multitasking.
Nowadays, we are constantly encouraged to multitask, and sometimes we even take pride in being good at it. That might seem like a particularly appealing way to complete coursework as an online student balancing a job with an education.
But for me, allocating specific timeslots to different tasks and focusing on one at a time have instead proved to be very useful. I am a student, a wife, a colleague and a good citizen; setting aside specific time to be each allowed me to be entirely focused.
Focused attention boosted my creativity and actually shortened the amount of time I needed to finish a task. Don’t be fooled, though. Having a focused mind can be a hard game at first – your thoughts wander around, and you think about million other things. But when there is a clock ticking, the sense of urgency can help you finish more in 20 minutes than in an hour of multitasking.
2. In an online course, you must put effort into building your network. Forming relationships in an online setting can seem hard for some. In an on-campus environment, making friends comes more naturally – you study together, go out or simply talk in the hallways and auditoriums. With some extra effort, though, you can also foster meaningful relationships with your online classmates.
Think of building your network as another part of your online course or degree – people are as important as courses. Include personal notes in your class discussions, address classmates in video conferences and don’t be afraid of referencing and praising others for their efforts. Interact with your classmates on social media, and don’t hesitate to get outside your regular online classroom setting.
3. Virtual discussions might encourage you to look for unexpected connections with your life. Like any other graduate degree, earning an online degree – MBA is rigorous with a lot of assignments, tight deadlines and demanding team case studies. The constant flow of written tasks requires you to be creative during discussion board conversations.
An online MBA student is expected to write unique posts in a class with dozens of other smart students. Not surprisingly, these conversations can seem daunting for some. The lesson here is to train your mind to look for unexpected connections between new concepts and what you already know from your previous education, professional experience and daily life. With tight deadlines and other responsibilities, virtual discussions can become a playground to synthesize skills and connect different topics into something new and unexpected.
The takeaway: Online education demands students balance their personal life, career and education. However, with the ability to focus, plan ahead and synthesize different concepts, an online student may graduate better equipped with skills and a wider network of meaningful relationships.