The Brandeis GPS blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

Tag: Online learning experience

Common myths about online learning

Online learning can mean different things to different people. As technology continues to transform the way humans consume information and interact with others, universities have risen to the challenge of providing high-quality digital learning opportunities. But despite today’s prevalence of top-tier online programs and courses, many misconceptions about online learning remain. To deconstruct some of these myths, we sat down with Christie Barone, Assistant Director of Enrollment Management at Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies.

GPS: In your experience speaking with prospective graduate students, what are the most common myths you’ve heard about online learning?

Christie Barone: Many prospective students think they are going to be in a large class. We cap all GPS classes at 20 students to ensure that everyone is receiving a quality, engaging education. Related to that, some prospective students are concerned that instructors will be inaccessible. Our instructors provide direct feedback on assignments and are heavily involved in discussion posts. 

There still seems to be a stigma around online learning. We get a lot of questions about whether a student’s diploma will contain some sort of disclaimer about distance learning. At Brandeis, graduates receive an official university diploma. There is no mention about their programs being online. 

GPS: What would you tell a prospective student who is wondering whether online learning is right for them?

Barone: I would say to someone who is working full-time and trying to figure out how to balance everything that our online format allows him or her the flexibility to choose when they complete their coursework. They do not have to be online at a certain time. Many students (especially those who have been out of school for a while) wonder if they’ll be able to fit graduate school into their already busy lives. Students can take up to two courses before they apply to a program. This is a great opportunity for students to get used to fitting coursework into their schedule and see if online learning is a good fit. I have seen many students have such a great experience that they end up applying to Brandeis. 

GPS: Some students considering online learning might be worried about the remoteness of an online classroom. How do you address this concern? 

Barone: Brandeis GPS students truly get to know their classmates and instructors. This can be through discussion and social forums, group projects, connecting on LinkedIn for networking, and even having many of the same classes with students who started the same program as you at the same time. All Brandeis students have access to Zoom conferencing services for free, and that’s a great way to video chat with your instructor and see them face-to-face. A lot of instructors will be available for phone appointments, via email, and sometimes through a private discussion forum.  Finally, while students technically never have to come to campus, we would love to meet you!  Students do receive ID cards, which grant them access to all campus services and facilities, including the gym and the library. We also invite students to attend our on-campus commencement ceremonies, and we live-stream the ceremonies as well. 

GPS: What makes the Brandeis GPS online learning experience different from other universities?

Barone: Our course content is built in-house. Our instructional designers who create courses and work with faculty are part of Brandeis University, and the whole division is driven to achieve the university’s standards of excellence. Our faculty go through a rigorous, six-week training program to prepare them for the unique nature of teaching online. Going back to our earlier conversation about online learning myths, there’s a misconception that learning online is easier than a more traditional on-campus program, but that’s not true here. These are graduate-level courses and students put in a lot of work to reach their academic — and ultimately professional — goals.

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps.

Tips for building relationships with virtual classmates

All learning —even digital learning — is a collaborative experience. Online students have the unique opportunity to connect with peers from all over the country and the world. Thanks to constant advances in instructional design, social networking and UX/UI, students pursuing online graduate degrees have the same opportunities to build meaningful relationships with their classmates as their on-campus counterparts. Read on for our guidelines on how to maximize these virtual relationships.

1) Practice empathetic communication

Empathetic communication, or empathetic listening, refers to the practice of listening with the intent to understand the speaker’s frame of reference for how they experience the world. Thanks to the nature of online learning, you may find yourself in a classroom full of people with different communication styles, norms and cultural values. Common slang that you’re used to may not resonate with a peer from a different country. When it comes to scheduling, be mindful of different time zones. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of needing to complete a group project on a deadline, try being mindful of varying professional or personal commitments your classmates may have outside of school.

2) Choose a program that prioritizes learning experience design and peer engagement.

Not all online programs are created equally. As you evaluate your options for an online master’s degree, make sure you are considering programs that provide an optimal digital learning experience that prioritizes student-to-student interaction. Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies uses the latest best practices in online course design to foster peer engagement, and has offered online courses for more than a decade. Additionally, unlike MOOCs and other online education providers, Brandeis GPS caps courses at 20 students.

3) Make time for social interaction.

Connecting with your classmates on social media platforms like LinkedIn or Slack will allow you to engage on a more informal level. Many people use these tools to share career insights and interesting articles and trends, so you’ll be able to expand your professional network and learn a bit more about your industry. You may even learn about an interesting conference opportunity or a new position to apply to.

In addition to social media, make sure you take advantage of your program’s online learning module. Students at Brandeis GPS use a special social forum to chat about non-course-related events, such as current affairs, sports, or regional networking opportunities.

4) Write with clarity

When it comes to any online interaction, clear and concise writing is critical for optimal communication. But writing with clarity involves more than writing with brevity. Being intentional with the words you choose, how you format your writing, and the tone you mean to convey is essential for fostering strong virtual relationships. Here are some examples of how to write with clarity:

  • Don’t over-complicate things: why use fancy words when simple ones will do? If you do use words that are likely to be unfamiliar to the bulk of your audience, make sure you define them. This relates back to empathetic communication.
  • Keep your paragraphs short in discussion posts or emails – try for one or two sentences per paragraph, if possible.
  • Keep your sentences short.
  • Leverage writing tools like Microsoft Word’s readability stats or the Hemingway App.
  • Avoid passive voice.

5) Take advantage of technology

Today’s technology makes it easy to collaborate. Make your group projects a more seamless experience with tools like:

  • Zoom, which allows for cloud-based video and audio conferencing
  • User-friendly project management apps for virtual teams like Asana or Trello
  • Google Drive, which provides free cloud storage for online documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more. Drive also has a chat feature, which allows teams to easily collaborate while all working on a document.

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps

 

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