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Navigating Around the Isolating Nature of Online Learning

Online learning can be a very isolating manner of education, but there are strategies institutions could employ to help students navigate such a challenging path. Photo by Kate Ter Haar.

I have attended Capella University, where I received my Masters degree, and am currently attending Walden University, where I’ve been in my doctoral program for going on two years. I am someone who has enjoyed the online venue for education; however, there are certain limitations.

Primarily, online programs can be isolating. This is part of the reason that networking at residencies is stressed—residencies and colloquiums are the main times an online student can meet other students (and professors, advisors, etc) face to face.

I believe there should be, and will be, more ways to network with one’s peers in the future. Online, synchronous events, meetings and even informal “get togethers” will benefit the student body; in this way, there will more opportunities for networking, which could take the pressure off of having to focus on that during the three or four residencies that are typically required for programs. However, there is also a psychological, emotional benefit of more contact and dialogue with peers and instructors, and I wish there was more such support for myself.

Finally, I believe it is very beneficial to have a personal advisor, especially in a doctoral program (but for all students as well!). Some schools have an advising ‘team; in this situation, you do not know who you are going to end up talking to, which does not support the development of trust.

As a student, I would like to feel I could completely rely upon who I am talking to in regard to my program requirements or issues with instructors. I want to feel that the information that is being provided is reliable; and this could obviously be provided by an advisor without any previous relationship or contact. But I also do not want to re-hash or repeat information I have given to a previous advisor… which happens when you have to speak to more than one advisor.

Also, it would be nice to be able to contact an advisor at more times of the day, such as after 10 p.m., or before 7:30 am. People have a lot of different schedules, so increasing hours of operation of advising departments could be beneficial for the student.

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