For sheer drama and life-changing potential, one could hardly have asked for a more extraordinary moment. When information technology was introduced into the halls of higher education – when higher education went online – the power and promise of the internet was realized in ways unimagined only a few decades ago.
As a result, millions of people – nurses and accountants, social workers and information technologists, retirees and business consultants, people from every culture and corner of the globe – can sit down at their computers at all hours of the day and night to log onto virtual classrooms. In the process, they are changing themselves and the world.
As more and more people look to online education to fulfill long-held dreams or to meet workplace demands, questions arise. Is online education the right path forward? What questions should be asked before making a commitment? How does online learning differ from face-to-face learning? What kinds of courses are available online? Which schools enjoy the best reputation? What is accreditation and how important is it? Are the degrees earned through online courses well respected and recognized?
The goal of this guide is twofold. First, this guide presents a comprehensive and detailed picture of what online learning is and what to expect in an online learning environment. Second, by answering some common questions and by debunking some prevailing myths about online learning, this guide enables adult learners to become truly informed decision makers, fully prepared to transform their lives and their communities.
Designed for undergraduates, this guide speaks to a wide range of motivated adult learners with the kind of day-to-day responsibilities that put face-to-face learning out of reach. A world of information exists online for post-graduate studies, but the focus here is on the adult learner who is considering a certificate program or wants to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Online education is a revolution in the making. As access to higher education grows exponentially, online learning has the potential to affect millions of lives and to profoundly change attitudes and behaviors around lifelong learning and professional development.
Online learning delivers new ideas and leading-edge information to people faster and in different ways. At the same time, online learning is creating a shift. A longstanding tradition that places the teacher at the front of a classroom, the sage on the stage, who dispenses knowledge to a mostly passive audience, is being replaced by an entirely new approach, a guide at the side, who facilitates a journey of self-discovery and learning.
As new technologies merge with new teaching styles and new ways of delivering knowledge and information, a global community – connected via professional, personal, and educational networks – is logging onto the Web to satisfy a universal human desire to learn more.
So onto a central question: Is this brave new world for you?
At Linfield College and at other leading institutions, online learning offers committed adult learners an education that is equal to and, in some instances, more rigorous than one might acquire in a face-to-face learning environment. But there is an even greater promise to this revolution. Online learning is about access, flexibility, and community. It’s about personal transformation. Online learning delivers access and flexibility – the central promises of this entirely new and multifaceted approach to higher education – in ways not possible in face-to-face learning. On another level, online learning is about different methods of delivery.
This new way of learning allows a myriad of possibilities. You can continue to live, work, and manage your life while you “attend” classes and complete assignments. The old obstacles to completing your degree or seeking the personal and/or professional development you have longed for have disappeared. If you cannot find the time to go to the Linfield College campus or any other campus, or you face other kinds of impediments to physically attending classes, there is good news. You still have access to knowledge. You still have access to some of the best minds and educational institutions available, anywhere, anytime. By any measure, this is truly revolutionary.
As people from different walks of life and different religious, cultural, or work backgrounds converge in an online classroom, the whole idea of how people learn and how we define a learning community changes. New possibilities and opportunities emerge. Doors open. The world changes for the better. Life is good.
And yet it is an indisputable fact that the online environment asks something different of you. It asks more of you in terms of self-direction, self-discipline, and participation. Face-to-face learning has a defined structure that is rooted in schedules, time, and, place. You physically attend classes, labs, seminars, lectures, or workshops. You take notes and participate in discussions, and you may be called on to make presentations. That is a world most of us know very well.
As we’ll find out soon, online learning is distinctly different.
The notion of structure – the impulse to organize information, people, and ideas – is central to the concept of progress and modernity. But in higher education, some educators are now taking a different view of structure, especially traditional, face-to-face learning structures. Traditional approaches are passive, they say. Students are “spoon-fed” information and material by a person who stands at the front of a classroom, the “sage on a stage” mentioned in the introduction. While online learning is a growing phenomenon, there is, coincidentally, a renewed interest in a different model: the “guide at the side” who facilitates a self-directed approach to learning, inquiry, and discovery. The individual is an active participant in his or her learning process. Online learning is tailor-made for this, and it should be noted, self-directed learning harkens back to a much earlier time when the individual was in charge of his or her own education.
As is the case in face-to-face learning, educators who teach online courses have great latitude in designing courses that are uniquely their own, customizing the approach to fit the material and employing new technologies – such as blogs, chat rooms, discussion boards, Websites, streaming video, or podcasts – to engage and inspire their adult learners. Much of online learning is currently text based, but around the corner is a wide, multimedia world waiting to be explored.
Online learning is more than a little different. You must organize and structure your time. You are the seeker of information. Participation is not optional.
For many reasons, for many disciplines and for many people, traditional, campus-based learning environments will always play a significant role in higher education. For younger adult learners especially, that kind of structure is both necessary and appealing.
The delivery of education via the internet has an additional benefit, not often discussed. In an age of global warming and volatile gas prices, online learning has something to offer the world: the delivery of knowledge with a much smaller carbon footprint. As we become ever more conscious and deliberate about living and working sustainably, online learning stands as a powerful, conscientious alternative to conventional brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Lynn Travis is 54 years old. She lives with her husband in the MidCoast region of Maine, and together they own a design-build contracting business. Besides being her husband’s business partner, Lynn is a painter with gallery representation in some of Maine’s most prestigious art galleries. She volunteers in the community and is an avid gardener. She’s busy, creative, and focused. She is determined, motivated, self-disciplined, and active. And she has a bad back.
To gain some needed insights into the family business, Lynn did something a little uncharacteristic for her. She took an accounting class. As an artist, accounting is truly foreign territory, but she was determined to acquire some accounting skills to support the business. Even more unusual, she took the class online. “Because of a long history of back problems, I can’t sit in a classroom for three hours,” she said. “There is no way I can do that.” So she took the class online through her local university. “I’m not that savvy about computers, and I have to say that I have struggled a little bit. I have asked for and received technical help as I’ve needed it. But I absolutely love the flexibility that this approach gives me and I’m doing better every week.” She said that she is gaining some needed insight into the business and already has plans to take additional online classes after she completes this one. “I’m pretty confident that the technical issues are going to fade into the background very soon.” Her next class will likely be in art history, a longtime passion.
In a lot of ways, Lynn is typical of a new breed of adult learner. She is a seeker of information and knowledge. She is fearless and determined, motivated and self-directed. Throughout this e-book, we’ll meet other individuals much like Lynn who are going online to change and improve their lives.
Each person is different. But briefly, below is a rough sketch of what types of skills, habits, and attributes make for a successful online learner. To discover if your temperament is conducive to online learning, take Linfield's online learning survey.
Over time, the online environment has evolved. Cara Nicole Bruner, a current Linfield Business Management major who lives in Spain, was an online student at Linfield three years ago. “The online classroom was a bit tricky when it first appeared. Now it’s a completely different world. It’s very easy to use.”
For most people, the online classroom is quite simple to navigate. Anyone with basic computer skills, such as browsing the Web and using email, will have few problems. Here’s a small excerpt from a recent article in U.S. News & World Report.
Universities (and the companies they hire to help them develop their e-learning networks) take great efforts to make the technical aspects of going to class online easy enough that anyone who has browsed the Web can do it. And any Internet-ready laptop or PC should be enough to tackle the class. That said, check your potential school's site for its equipment recommendations, along with the hours of its technical support teams (and whether it offers tech support online only or also allows you to talk to someone on the phone). If you haven't already upgraded to a broadband Internet connection, you'll definitely want to do that before starting a class.
In Chapter III, we’ll get into the specifics of technical assistance, how we help our adult learners at Linfield College, and what you should expect from any online-learning program in terms of technical assistance.
"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot." - Michael Altshuler
Depending on your circumstances, an online-learning experience has the potential to test you in multiple ways. Your ability to effectively navigate all that you have before you will be a major key to your success. Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has tremendous value for anyone at any stage of life, but the book seems especially useful for someone seeking to build a new life and learning path. Covey’s advice goes well beyond time management to touch on life management. We offer this to you as both guidance and inspiration.
Change starts from within, and highly effective people make the decision to improve their lives through the things that they can influence rather than by simply reacting to external forces.
Develop a principle-centered personal mission statement. Extend the mission statement into long-term goals based on personal principles.
Spend time doing what fits into your personal mission, observing the proper balance between production and building production capacity. Identify the key roles that you take on in life, and make time for each of them
Seek agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial.
First seek to understand the other person, and only then try to be understood.
Through trustful communication, find ways to leverage individual differences to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.
Take time out from production to build production capacity through personal renewal of the physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual dimensions.
What makes the online community so fascinating is the presence of rich and diverse points of view. Here is a completely different take on Steven Covey’s win/win proposition:
“We've all heard the advice to ‘think win-win.’ Forget that advice. If you follow that advice, you will always be looking at things and saying, ‘What's in it for me?’ That's exactly the wrong attitude to have in a connected world.”
To read “The Seven Habits of Highly Connected People,” visit Stephen Downes’s blog. He works at the National Research Council of New Brunswick, Canada, and specializes in online learning, content syndication, and new media.
As you begin the process of choosing a school or a program, consider Steven Covey’s second habit: Begin with the end in mind. This principle could hardly be more relevant. Here’s why. As you plan your future, ask yourself where you’d like to be after you complete your coursework. Is it enough to say “in business management” or “in nursing or the health care field”? Perhaps, but given how wide each of those fields is, perhaps not.
You should do everything possible to narrow your focus. Business management has many specializations, as do the nursing and, health care fields.
When you finally do narrow things down, here are some ways to make sure that the school and the program you choose offer the focused coursework that you’ll want and need.
First and foremost, if you are working toward a degree, the school you choose must be accredited by a respected regional accrediting body.
More information on accreditation is in Chapter VI.
Regardless of the path you take, your classes will not be inexpensive. Especially for those in pursuit of a degree, the costs can be significant, which means making the right decision is critical. You can reap a lifetime of benefits by taking the time for due diligence and research. After choosing a life partner, or a close friend, there is probably no bigger decision you can make. Choose carefully.
Carefully review the schools online catalog and any printed materials you can acquire. It may sound obvious to say so, but be sure to look not only for courses and programs that match up with your interests, but look beyond those concerns. Many people assume that from an academic standpoint, one college may be roughly equal to another and that one academic department is like another. They are not.
In some ways, colleges can be compared to hospitals. One hospital may have an excellent reputation for managing heart attacks, but is less proficient in neonatal care. Conversely, one college may own a sterling reputation for nursing education, but is working hard to strengthen its information technology program. It’s your job to learn as much as you can about the school of your choice. Ask, and ask again.
Aaron lives in Sacramento, California. In addition to holding down a full-time job as an account representative at a medical billing firm, he’s a husband and the father of two small children. His goal is to teach high-school history and he plans to become certified after he completes his degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences at Linfield College. “When I decided to go back to school to finish my degree, I’d never heard of Linfield College before. I found it on the Web. I looked at what accreditation meant and I did my research. Linfield was one of the few colleges that had what I was looking for. The professors have been great and it’s been a good experience.”
A person seeking a certificate in graphic design might look for a school or program that is focused on fine and applied arts. Faculty members should be known in their field and have significant experience and accomplishments. Likewise, if you are seeking a BSN, you want faculty members who have relevant nursing and teaching experience. Find out as much as you can about who teaches the courses you are interested in taking. An easy first step is Google. It’s an amazing research tool, and it’s free. Use it.
Like many adult learners, Lupe always seems to have her sights set on a goal and for her, the goal was to get her BSN. Lupe is an ER/ICU nurse at Kaiser Permanente, and three years ago she began work in an outpatient pain management clinic. She discovered that she loved the work and with the help of Linfield’s nursing faculty, eventually completed her clinical rotation there. Lupe is currently enrolled in Linfield College’s BSN program – she graduates in May of 2009 – and her new goal is to stay on as a clinical nurse specialist in pain management.
“I do miss the back and forth personal interaction of a traditional classroom,” she said, “but the flexibility of being able to work while going to school overrides that concern.”
Not only has her level of patient care improved, but Lupe said she has grown as a person. The process of becoming a better educated person has opened her mind to global perspectives and she relishes being connected to new ideas in literature, in science, and the arts.
The U.S. News & World Report Website is a great resource. It’s where Sue Ingersoll, a Fed Ex station manager in Seattle and a recent Linfield College graduate in Business Management, got the information she needed to make her decision. It’s a treasure trove and an excellent place to begin your research.
The Sloan Consortium has an enormous library of relevant articles about online education. While much of the material is geared to administrators and policy makers, much of it is fascinating, informative, and best of all, free. Take advantage of this site.
The most important thing you can do is to ask good questions of an advisor. Ask your undergraduate advisor about admission and technology requirements, and if you can contact members of the faculty directly to ask them about their approach and experience. Find out how previous adult learners have fared in their chosen professions. Keep asking questions. A good academic advisor is worth his or her weight in gold and can mean the difference between a great experience and a poor one.
Keep in mind that the competition for adult learners is very robust and that every school wants you as a student. Every effort should be made to answer your questions. If you have trouble getting clear, quick responses to your questions, that might be an indication that student support may not be what it should be.
As an online student, your life is distinctly different from a student who attends a classroom. In a physical (but not virtual) sense, you are somewhat alone. You don’t have the normal structures of traditional learning environments that can be helpful in keeping you on track. You have to do that for yourself. That’s where the importance of setting goals comes in.
Here’s an idea that you may find useful, and it doesn’t take more than ten or fifteen minutes. Each and every day, take a blank piece of paper and write down what your goals are for that day. You might also think about developing longer-term goals and writing those down as well.
What distinguishes a goal setter?
Goal setters have a purpose.
Goal setters are planners.
Goal setters have clarity.
Goal setters take responsibility.
Goal setters are problem solvers.
A Harvard Business School Study on Goal Setting: Why Write Your Goals Down?
A ten-year Harvard Business School Study showed that people who wrote out their goals earned ten times as much as people who didn’t.
In Chapter III we talked about narrowing your focus and choosing schools that have programs and departments that fit your goals. As you move through the process of evaluating schools, your primary focus in choosing a program should always be quality.
That’s easily said, but how do you assess the overall quality of a school? Quality is a work in progress at every institution, and each school defines quality according to its own specific mission. However, the Sloan Consortium has developed a guide by which an institution can measure its own progress and be gauged by others. The guide is known as the Sloan Consortium Quality Framework and the Five Pillars. Don’t let the title intimidate you. This framework is largely just common sense. It’s entirely fair, not to mention sensible, to ask your advisor any questions you have that involve these five pillars.
The school can demonstrate that the quality of learning online is comparable to the quality of its traditional programs.
The school continuously improves services while reducing cost.
All adult learners who wish to learn online have the opportunity and can achieve success.
Faculty achieve success with teaching online, citing appreciation and happiness.
Adult learners are successful in learning online and are typically pleased with their experiences.
Each of these metrics is more fully developed than what we have presented here, but this provides a relatively quick and straightforward framework to help you think through your assessment. The entire document can be found at The Sloan Consortium's website.
A cohort can be defined as a group whose progress is followed and measured at different points in time. At Linfield College, an adult learner who is enrolled in the RN to BSN program, for example, would enroll as part of a cohort. This means that when you enroll, you join a group that begins the program at the same point in time. Your group moves through the same coursework together.
This is important because nearly every industry now asks employees to work in teams. The cohort model in the Linfield College RN to BSN program emphasizes this collaborative approach and provides adult learners a strong social support system.
Jessica Quinlan is an emergency room nurse who lives and works in Coos Bay, Oregon. A nurse since 1988, she was motivated to return to school for her BSN after a colleague (a nurse with a BSN) was promoted to a position that she herself had sought. “I had six interviews for that position, but in the end, I didn’t have my BSN.” She enrolled in Linfield’s RN to BSN Program in the summer of 2006. “It was a little bit intimidating at first,” she said. “But I’m surprised at how quickly I became comfortable in the online environment. Online classes are so much fun and the bonus is that my computer and technology skills improved. I loved the flexibility as well as the community I was part of and I can’t imagine taking classes any other way.” During senior year Jessica completed her clinical work at two local hospitals near her home. Her degree has brought her new found respect from co-workers and from her employer. Now, along with her regular shifts, she tackles special projects, like a recently completed rewrite of her hospital’s Emergency Department Orientation Manual.
Linfield College employs a “pay as you go” financial arrangement. This means that you pay for only the credits that you are taking that semester. You can pay the entire amount up front, or you can pay one-half up front and then pay the balance on an installment plan. Some schools require that you pay all costs up front. If you register for a four-semester degree or certificate program, you are committed to the entire program whether or not your interests change or you find the program not to your liking. Again, it pays to ask questions.
One of the central components of legitimacy is this: the worth of the degree you earn online measured against a similar degree you can earn in a face-to-face environment. If you can determine that an online degree measures well against a similar degree earned on a campus, you’ve answered the legitimacy question.
Now to answer the question directly: Yes, a degree that you earn online is legitimate. In every way that matters, a degree that you attain by taking classes online is legitimate if that degree has been awarded by an accredited institution. Are there caveats? Yes, based on accreditation issues and variations in quality. Are there some who question the legitimacy of degrees acquired online? Yes, but the number of dissenting voices are few and continue to drop every year.
The Sloan Consortium says this on the topic of legitimacy: Of the educational institutions that are fully engaged with online learning, over 60% of Chief Academic Officers at those institutions say that their faculty members accept the value and legitimacy of online learning.
Nurse Quinlan did have concerns about legitimacy. “I was very concerned about legitimacy. That’s why I wanted my degree to come from a school that had a face-to-face program in addition to their online program. That’s a large part of the reason why I chose Linfield.”
During the fall of 2006, more than three million people were enrolled in an online class in the United States, according to the Sloan Consortium. During that same time period, 100 billion people around the world, every single day, clicked on a Web page. In 2004, the stage had been set for an ever more dynamic online experience: the emergence of Web 2.0.
Web 2.0 was a technological breakthrough that truly brought to life the promise of the Web. Web 2.0 delivered on the idea of community, interconnectivity and interactivity of Web-delivered content. Shortly after the birth of Web 2.0, YouTube was created on April 23, 2005.
Since the creation of Web 2.0, Web-based learning now has a potentially huge and rapidly growing audience, more sophisticated tools, and a more user-friendly and interactive platform. All of which means a far richer and deeper experience awaits adventurous online learners and educators.
The thrill of Web 2.0, and its ability to connect ideas and people to one another and to deliver information to anyone, anywhere, and at any time is brilliantly captured in an online video called The Machine is Us/ing Us, by Mike Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University. On June 23, 2008, Wesch presented his video to the Library of Congress. This video can be seen on You Tube, where it has been viewed more than six million times.
Illustration 3. The Machine Is Us/ing Us
Depending on course design, online learners might participate in discussion groups with fellow learners of wide and varied experiences who could be anywhere in the world. They might watch videos and create some of their own. They might listen to or create podcasts; share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions on relevant subject matter via email; and chat, visit Websites and blogs, and engage in a robust back-and-forth exchange with an instructor. They may edit a page in Wikipedia or conduct research at the British Museum. Times really have changed.
It used to be that knowledge was disseminated through traditional channels: textbooks, journals, and other types of scholarly publications. All of that has changed. One of the great advantages of Web-based learning is immediacy and variety. Academic papers, breaking news, articles by thought leaders and journalists, and video lectures are all available almost instantly. Gone are the days when it took nearly two years for a published article or a breakthrough idea to make its way to readers.
Earlier in this e-book we discussed the concept of the guide at the side and the sage on the stage. We pointed out the distinction between the traditional lecture format and the guide at the side who facilitates self-learning and discovery. In part, it is the guide-side phenomenon – that quality of self-direction, motivation, and responsibility – that online learning demands and that drives the use of the word “learner” instead of “student” in many discussions of online learning. This is not to suggest that students are not learners or vice versa, only that the online environment suggests a distinction.
While in some quarters, there is a rich, multimedia aspect to online learning, much of the online-learning experience still involves reading and writing. Online learning makes for better readers and writers simply because the process is largely text based and demands clarity of thought and expression. Online learners should expect to read and write a great deal.
The online-learning community is unusual in that participants are generally a bit older than average college students and are career based. The average age of an online student at Linfield College is thirty-eight. That means that on any given day in any given class, the potential exists for a truly varied and exciting network of adult learners who bring a rich mix of life, work, and personal experiences to the group. The cross-pollination of cultures, ideas, strategies and new ways of thinking alter our understanding of what a community of adult learners looks like and acts like.
Interesting Historical Fact
Vannevar Bush developed one of the Web’s central ideas: hyperlinked pages. The date? 1945.
One distinction about accreditation should be understood at the outset. Not everyone needs to attend an accredited institution. If, like Lynn T. in Chapter I, you are taking an online class for personal knowledge or edification and not for professional career advancement, accreditation is going to be less of an issue for you than someone pursuing a degree. For degree seekers, accreditation is critically important.
The reason is that accreditation confers value and worth. Accreditation equals legitimacy. Any college must have accreditation from an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to be eligible to participate in the administration of federal student aid programs. Accredited institutions do not accept credits earned at unaccredited colleges. Virtually all graduate schools require graduation from a regionally accredited school. In the eyes of potential employers in government, science, law, academia, business, and every other field imaginable, the accredited degree that you worked so hard to earn is accepted, recognized, and respected.
Imagine learning that after years of hard work, the degree you earned is not recognized or accepted by potential employers. It can and does happen.
There are six regional accrediting associations that have been evaluated and approved by the U.S. Department of Education:
Middle States Commission on Higher Education
New England Association of Schools and Colleges
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Western Association of Schools and Colleges
With regard to accreditation, there are two key questions that you need to ask as you evaluate a school, college, or university.
1. Is the school of my choice accredited by one of the six regional accrediting bodies listed above?
2. Is the program I am interested in recognized by its relevant professional association?
Linfield College is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and offers three undergraduate degrees, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
In the latest edition of "America's Best Colleges" published by U.S. News & World Report, Linfield College has been listed alongside the best liberal arts colleges in the United States, which confirms Linfield's growing excellence as a selective undergraduate college.
A learner attending Linfield College’s adult degree program in nursing is attending a regionally accredited college and a program that is certified. The Linfield – Good Samaritan School of Nursing is accredited by the Oregon State Board of Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The college and the program are both accredited.
Most schools that offer online classes offer technical support, virtual library support for research, advising services, writing centers, and so on. The quality of that support, from your initial inquiries to questions that may come up once you are enrolled, are key indicators of the level of commitment that the school has toward adult learners.
Responsive faculty – teachers who promptly respond to email queries – are another indicator of a supportive, student-oriented institution.
Onto Chapter VII. How does all this work, and what does it all look like?
It’s going to be difficult to truly know what online learning is like until you take a class. However, there are a few simple ways to introduce the concept. To help you gain some familiarity with the process, we’ve provided a simple introduction in this chapter.
Illustration 4 below depicts a Linfield Blackboard Home Page for a student, Richard Pelletier. Blackboard is a popular, widely used software program that Linfield College and many other institutions use to deliver online educational content. Richard’s courses are Strategic Management, Creative Writing: Fiction, The Holy Qur’an, and Native American history.
Illustration 4 - A Blackboard Home Page With Course List
Take note of the links at the top right corner of the page: Accessibility and Help. Accessibility informs the reader that Blackboard is in compliance with federal regulations regarding persons with disabilities. The Help link is just that. It brings you to a list of help topics if you are having problems. Illustration 5 depicts the Help dialog box.
Illustration 5 - Help Dialog Box
Illustration 6 shows the screen that appears after logging into Professor Sandie Kiehl’s Strategic Management class. Take note of the two tabs just below the Linfield logo: Teach and Student View. Each tab brings you to the appropriate Web page. For a learner, the appropriate page is, of course, Student View.
Illustration 6 - Business 495: Strategic Management
Immediately beneath Teach and Student View is the all-important Course Tools menu. The Course Tools menu is where you find access to announcements, assignments, calendars, discussions, and all the nuts and bolts of a particular class. Grades, files, the course syllabus – it’s all there. Illustration 7 is a view of the Course Tools menu; the “Discussions” option has been selected.
Illustration 7 - Course Tools: Discussion
Illustration 8 depicts “Learning Modules,” which is how Professor Kiehl has mapped out the semester.
Illustration 8 - Course Tools: Learning Modules
Illustration 9 shows Week Four of the Learning Module (External Analysis: See It Applied).
Illustration 9 - Course Tools: Learning Module, Week 4
Blackboard allows for a clear, intuitive and user-friendly approach to managing and organizing a great deal of information. While it may take some getting used to, most online learners – from Saigon, to Hawaii, from the Pacific Northwest to New York City, to Madrid, Spain - find it easy to navigate.
There was one thing about online education that surprised MaryHelen, a Linfield College learner (now graduated) who was working full-time and returned to school to complete her degree. A self-described self-learner who says she is fairly savvy around computers, MaryHelen said, “I was surprised by how much group work we did. I think that’s a really good thing. I don’t really love it, but in the real world, you’re going to have to problem solve with groups and work in teams.” She laughed and said, “I thought in an online class, I’d get to skate right past that.” Her full-time job prevented her from completing her degree on a campus. “The thing about online,” she said, “was that I was far more likely to post comments. In face-to-face classes, I’m pretty shy.” MaryHelen is now enrolled in a face-to-face graduate program.
In an online group project, a certain portion of the online class Website is reserved for a specific group. Only the members of the group can post there. Learners can email each other with attachments and so on. Some groups can choose to meet in person or do all their work online only.
Professor John Ritter teaches American history in the Adult Degree Program of Linfield College. Professor Ritter became excited about teaching online after participating in workshops held by Linfield College’s Technology and Blackboard Administration department. During the semester, Professor Ritter holds three synchronous online chats each week. (A synchronous chat is another way of describing a real-time, fast-moving, free-for-all discussion.) Learners are required to participate in just one of the three discussions, but they are so popular that many log on for all three. “We have the whole class online for these rapid-fire discussions,” said Professor Ritter. “Sometimes I have to keep four different threads of conversations going. It’s amazing. The students really like learning from others, and they like the rapid-fire discussion. For my part, I drink a lot of coffee.”
On one level, learning online is similar to face-to-face learning. You have reading assignments to complete, lectures to read or listen to, papers to write, and material to learn. “But it is different,” said Professor Janet Peterson, who teaches in Linfield’s Health, Human Performance, and Athletics Department. “There are opportunities for learning in face-to-face and online environments. But some people cannot learn online and others find that online is the best option for them.” Professor Peterson has been teaching online for a number of years and was open to the concept from the beginning. Her openness to alternative methods may have come from her own family. “Years and years ago, my mother got her college degree from a correspondence school, and I was somewhat dismissive about that path. Then I realized that she was able to secure the same kinds of jobs as other people. Later, in graduate school, I came to believe that there are many different teaching formats that are effective beyond the traditional ones.”
Michelle is a business owner, a mother and is active in her community in southeast Portland, Oregon. She’s also a Social and Behavioral Sciences major at Linfield College. “What I like best,” she said, “is that I bring my best self to the classroom experience. I enter the class ready to contribute and to listen to my classmates.” The online environment is perfect for her she said, “because I can work around my clients’ needs and really be present in the classroom too.”
Dr. Mooney teaches the History of Public Health at the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is a strong advocate for online learning. “It makes a lot of sense,” he said, “that a population that engages so much with the internet and is so digitally aware should have its education delivered that way too. An online degree with a high level of inbuilt, on-demand capability and flexibility can make for better educated students.”
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of degree programs: term-based and self-paced. A term based program is what it sounds like – there’s a time limit that ranges from five to fifteen weeks from the beginning of a class to completion. A self-paced program is wide-open, with loosely defined time frames for learners to complete their coursework. At Linfield College, we offer term-based classes.
Strong, supportive institutions have excellent technical, research, faculty, and advising support systems. Let’s explore these a little further.
It’s easy to be amazed by the new development of millions of people going to college online. It’s less easy to create the institutional capacity to consistently and effectively deliver those courses and materials online. Both students and faculty must be sufficiently trained, equipped and supported so that the material – not the technology – is at the forefront. Students (and faculty) must know that in the event of a problem, they can find solutions quickly and easily. Faculty members have to learn to build classes in new ways. The fact that “new ways” keeps evolving and changing complicates matters. The best schools are increasing their bandwidth and staying current with new developments.
At Linfield College, technical support is available to students as they need it; the school has recently increased its bandwidth and is poised to announce a new version of Blackboard.
Brett Hardee is the Division of Continuing Education’s head of Technology and Blackboard Administration. He said that the most frequent issues with newer students are user-name and password problems. After that, issues related to plug-ins cause problems. Plug-ins are add-on programs or applications that are needed to connect properly to Blackboard, such as Java and Adobe Reader. Several methods are available to help learners, from talking them through the necessary steps over the phone to using a computer program to connect to the student’s computer and installing these applications remotely.
At Linfield College, learners have the option to view an online tutorial in Blackboard to become familiar with the program before their classes begin. Faculty have workshops and consultants to help them stay current with existing and developing technologies.
In a connected world, research librarians have a much larger net to cast and a growing array of tools to reach learners and help them become information literate. The proliferation of Websites, online journals, blogs, Wikipedia, videos, and online art collections, as well as many other source materials, has created a diverse and rich world to explore. In most ways, this is a good thing. “One challenge that we have now,” said Carol McCulley, Linfield College’s Virtual Librarian, “is to help our learners know when to stop. The material that is available online for research purposes is almost endless.” Because of the nature of the online environment, McCulley knows when various classes have research papers due. She can issue a friendly virtual reminder to students telling them that she is available to help as deadlines approach.
Just a few links bring forth an astounding amount of useful information.
WildCat - Linfield’s catalog of books, videos, etc.
Summit Catalog of Northwest academic libraries
WorldCat - Catalog of libraries worldwide
EbscoHost - Journal articles in academic disciplines
Lexis-Nexis - Newspaper articles and legal resources
CINAHL - Articles in nursing and allied health fields
Articles and Library Databases - Complete list by subject
Internet Sites - A select list of Web resources by subject
There is a Library Class Page for many classes taught through Linfield College’s Division of Continuing Education (DCE). These pages provide a comprehensive look at how a person might begin to use library and Web-based resources to conduct research for a given class. There is guidance on how to use the library’s resources to find and acquire the information you need, and, how to evaluate and use that information. There is a world of information literally at your fingertips, and a virtual librarian is there to help you learn to navigate through it.
Moral support – from friends, life-partners, fellow students, and especially, from academic advisors – plays a big role in the life of a successful student. One purpose of academic advising is to help students develop educational plans that will be compatible with career goals and instill a desire for lifelong learning. Another is to encourage the intellectual growth of learners and serve as rich resources of information. Still another, and perhaps the most important is this: A great academic advisor can save a student enormous amounts of time and money by being a wise and knowledgeable guide through the thickets of higher education and personal aspiration.
Cara Nicole Bruner, the Business Management major living in Spain who we met in Chapter II, said, “At our point in the game, some of us are up against a lot. I had credits from four colleges. Some people have families and jobs and children and unless there is someone to support and advise us properly, someone who can say, ‘We’re going to get you through this’, it’s going to be difficult.”
Academic advising at Linfield is mission driven, designed to promote intellectual growth, critical thinking, thoughtful dialogue, and lifelong learning. Academic advisors mentor students, support them as unique individuals, and use their specialized knowledge to benefit students.
For more information on the relationship between advisors and advisees at Linfield Colleges’ Adult Degree Program, please see Chapter Two of the Linfield Adult Degree Program Student Handbook.
Faculty responsiveness is a key benchmark in evaluating a college. Contact those faculty members who teach in your area of interest and ask them directly how they stay in touch with their students. Professor Ritter said, “One of the most important things is keeping in touch with students to have them feel that you are readily available. Students need to know that you are responsive because they can get isolated. My students have my email address and my cell phone number.”
When you evaluate the cost of paying for college tuition, it’s important to keep in mind what you are paying for. If you are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, you are paying for accreditation (and all that entails), reputation, distinguished faculty, support services (like research libraries), and current technologies. You are paying for all that goes into the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge in both traditional and non-traditional ways.
By any measure, the Linfield College online adult degree program is affordable. Because Linfield online tuition charges are determined by the number of credits taken each semester, students are charged on a pay-as-you-go basis, with no down payment beyond a modest application fee. Students may also elect to pay their tuition in three installments during the semester. Tuition charges are competitive and, in many cases, below those charged by the public higher education system. The Linfield program has been approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for eligible veterans pursuing a degree.
Through the Financial Aid Office at Linfield College’s Adult Degree Program, adult learners can apply for, and become acquainted with, private, state, and Federal loan and grant programs. Federal Pell Grants, Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, the G.I. Bill, the Oregon Opportunity Grant and various private scholarships are some of the financial vehicles that help adult learners fund their education.
Crisanne Werner is Linfield College’s Director of Financial Aid. “A common misconception,” she said, “is that some adult learners believe that if you make too much money, you can’t get financial assistance to go to school. It just isn’t true.” Federal Stafford loans, in particular, unsubsidized Stafford Loans, are aimed at higher income earners and offer low interest rates. Below is a link to the Linfield College Adult Degree Program Guide to Financial Aid:
An up-to-date schedule of tuition costs can be found at the Linfield Division of Continuing Education Website.
One way to establish that you are receiving good value is to compare the tuition costs of one school and another. See our comparison chart at:
Textbooks, materials, lab fees, travel costs, etc. are not included in the tuition. The fees are listed in the class schedule. Prices for textbooks (both “new” and “used”) appear in the Linfield online bookstore.
When we asked our former student Mary Helen Clausing, who was kind enough to offer her insights and experiences for this e-book, if she had something she might want to say to an audience of potential online learners, she said:
“I really think, in nutshell, it’s a fabulous way for an adult to go back to school. And that it’s a fabulous feeling as an adult. Something you think is so out of reach – you get caught up in your job, you think, ‘I wish I would have, or I could have but I can’t now, there’s no way.’ The thing is, you can. And it’s hard. But it’s so, so great.”
We live in extraordinary times. The world needs thinkers and problem solvers and go-getters and self-learners and lifelong learners. The world needs you. Thank you for reading this e-book. We leave you with a great line from a great English writer:
It’s never too late to be what you might have been.
- George Eliot