Challenges of Online Learning: A Student’s Perspective
Monday, March 3, 2014
They say life is what happens when you are busy making plans.
In Fredel Thomas’ case, life is precisely what happened because she was happy with her current plan.
“I was perfectly happy where I was in my career,” says Thomas, executive director of the Kelley Center for Entrepreneurship at Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU).
She did not seek out promotions at CHR Solutions -- the telecommunications company where she worked for a decade first as an intern, then programmer, sales and quality assurance and finally as the director of project management -- but they were presented anyway.
“It was not something I ever looked to leave,” says Thomas, who applied for an adjunct position at DWU, but ended up joining the university’s entrepreneurial center as a resource for the community and full-time faculty member.
“I didn’t even know a job like that existed,” she says. “When they started to talk to me about the job, everything kind of changed. I just thought ‘Oh my goodness, I can be passionate about my faith here,’ I get to go into the classroom. I get to tell them what it means to me.”
Just more than a year after joining the faculty at DWU, Fredel is back in the classroom in another way, too. This time it is a virtual one. She is a full-time student in DWU’s online strategic leadership M.B.A. program.
Getting her M.B.A. wasn’t part of the plan either.
Throughout her career she had watched co-workers and friends struggle to pursue their master’s degrees while juggling families and full-time jobs.
“I thought, I am so glad that I’m never going to do that,” she says.
"Two factors changed Thomas’ mind: DWU’s fully online courses and the option to complete the program in one year.
Because the courses are 100 percent online, she can complete assignments at night and on the weekends, with her kids coloring next to her at the kitchen table. There is no commute to classes or set time to log on and listen to live lectures.
“It is a huge benefit to be able to sit down and do my studies when it works best for my entire family,” she says.
And because she opted to go back to school full time, taking two classes each session, she’ll be done in one year.
Thomas says she debated going part-time, taking just one class each session. Knowing that she could scale back at any point helped her decide to jump in feet first.
“I was not sure when I started the program. I’m glad I went full time,” she says. “I can do this. The second eight weeks, I thought, ‘Oh dear, can I really do this?’ But I made it through. The one year really does keep me motivated.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. The first few weeks of each eight-week session have been rough.
“It is a lot of work and it is hard work,” she says. “I know the first two weeks of each course are going to be stressful while I’m trying to figure out the flow of the class and balance the workload. I sleep a little less. I read a lot.”
There have been other challenges, too, like relearning how to write for class assignments.
“I’ve done a lot of writing in my professional career. Academic and professional writing are different styles,” says Thomas.
Being part of a new program has its benefits as professors try new approaches to see what works the best.
Thomas, for example, has a professor this session who provides videos of recorded lectures. That approach has opened more of a dialog with students and allowed them to see their professor’s facial expressions and to hear him crack jokes.
“Dialog is a different thing,” she says. “There’s something that it adds.”
The relationships she’s developed with classmates have enhanced her experience as well. Not only are they learning together, they are learning from each other. With 13 years in business behind her, Thomas has more experience than recent graduates enrolled in the M.B.A., but that’s a good thing, she says.
Hearing from students in different industries and with different experience levels allows for a richer experience.
“One woman is an entrepreneur three times over; another student sells fruit. Some work for slightly larger businesses,” she says. “It opens your eyes to other issues. I can learn from their industries and experiences.”
She also appreciates that courses are designed for business professionals in small-to-medium companies with a focus on faith.
“That was very important to me,” she says. “It would be hard for me to separate that. I have a huge appreciation that they bring that into the classroom.”
Now, halfway to graduation, she’s glad she made the commitment to herself, her career and future.
“Everyone is benefiting,” she says. “It comes into play every day of my life. We talk about a topic and all of a sudden in my board meeting, I can speak on that topic with more educated responses than the week before.”
Sounds like a plan.
Want to learn more about Fredel Thomas' experience? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Categories: Blog: Online Degrees @ DWU,