Published on 2012/06/20

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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Readers Comments

Natasha Rubin 2012/06/20 at 7:51 pm

I really like some of the suggestions you have made and think that technology is beginning to catch up with these needs.

At the most basic level you have Facebook and LinkedIn groups that allow people to congregate and discuss topics. There’s also Skype for taking one-to-one discussions online.

I think the biggest, but most difficult to implement, change you’ve suggested is having advisors outside regular business hours. I agree with you that it defeats the purpose of flexible, non-traditional learning to be tied to business hours to contact advisors BUT… having to pay overtime to advisors to make them available outside regular hours would be a major cost for already cash-strapped institutions which could lead to a reduction in learning quality. What do you think?

    Debra Mathis 2012/06/27 at 11:29 am

    Thanks for your feedback. Two of you relate shifts outside of ‘regular business hours’ to ‘overtime’, which in my experience is not necessarily true – hence, the term, and existence of, swing shifts!
    Thank you very much, though!

Chuck Schwartz 2012/06/22 at 2:30 pm

As much as I hate to… I have to agree that it would be difficult to make advisors always accessible outside business hours. Perhaps two days a week advisors could work irregular hours rather than business hours, though? This would avoid the problem of paying overtime.

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