What are the benefits of online degrees?

Articles | Master of Social Work

 

Student in library using a computer

Online learning has changed a great deal in recent years, evolving into a common methodology employed by many of the world’s leading institutions. In fact, online courses have grown to the point that students can expect to obtain many benefits from taking their courses via the web.

Students today can pursue advanced and specialized degree programs, such as a master’s in social work, online. While some may worry about the credibility of online programs, in fact at most reputable schools the degree you earn online is the same as the one you earn on campus. Many accredited online programs feature full academic support, with services and prestigious faculty in place to guide learners through their studies.

The benefits of online learning are increasingly clear as more institutions offer robust web-based programs. Students studying online can find the right curriculum for their learning styles and schedules and gain the skills to pursue advancement while continuing to work.

Core benefits of online learning

One of the main benefits of online learning is convenience and accessibility. Many students engage in online courses to avoid traveling to campus and to take advantage of creating their own schedules. With course materials available online and lectures taking place via video, learners can build their experience around their schedules. These attributes have made online learning particularly popular among working professionals who must balance their education with day-to-day work schedules and family commitments.

The ability to work on coursework in evenings and on weekends isn’t the only benefit of online learning. The freedom from commuting to campus and flexibility to learn anywhere with an internet connection is also key.

Every year, the Babson Survey Research Group runs a rolling analysis of distance learning. Its most recent study, published in 2017 and covering enrollment data from 2016, found that the number of distance education students grew by 337,016, a 5.6 percent year-over-year increase. This is not only significant growth, but it also marks 14 years in a row of increases and the largest annual expansion in the past three years.

These stats don’t just point to individuals living in rural areas or a long distance from an institution with a quality program. Instead, 56.1 percent of all students in a distance-only program are taking online classes from an in-state institution.

The growing popularity of online programs points to the potential value of such options, but it’s important to also consider how a virtual classroom can have a positive impact on the overall learning experience.

Advantages of an online course format

Many online classes feature on-demand video, forums, message boards, and similar resources that allow students to take in lectures and participate in conversations at their convenience. In a U.S. News & World Report article, one student pursuing an advanced degree online highlighted some of the benefits he experienced, saying that discussions are actually better online because students can more easily reflect on their arguments and expand on ideas in forums.

The report also highlighted social media, webinars, online groups, and similar virtual channels as ways to strengthen retention. By engaging with materials in multiple formats, students can take in what they’re learning in whichever manner is best for them and obtain a multi-sensory experience that engages many parts of the brain.

Online learning isn’t just about convenience; it is also centered on engaging students in a variety of ways. One day you may participate in a live video lecture and use text chat to ask questions. The next you could meet with a small group in a messaging app to discuss a reading. The variety gives you options to engage that may not be applicable in a typical classroom.

Learning technology by doing

It stands to reason that since professionals are regularly asked to engage with digital technologies, taking courses online can help them prepare for modern work environments. This may be the case, as many institutions are beginning to use cutting-edge technology to engage students.

A U.S. News & World Report article highlighted efforts at some institutions to implement virtual reality into online programs. Videoconferencing, robotic telepresence, and gamification are also becoming more popular with online courses. Institutions are aware that they can use online courses to teach professional skills through action. What’s more, a student’s excitement about technology in the classroom can also drive better experiences.

A study published in the Computers in Education Journal explored the relationship between student satisfaction with the experience of using technology in the classroom and engagement. The analysis concluded that perception and attitude have a direct influence on how motivated students are to learn. As such, digital learning experiences that meet or exceed student expectations could actually drive better results.

Of course, it is vital that students know themselves and understand what they’re looking for so they can choose the right program fit.

What to look for in an online program

While the potential benefits of an online program are significant, not all institutions treat their web-based courses with the same care. Access to student services and faculty interactions can vary substantially between schools, impacting your potential experience.

The Regis College online MSW program puts an emphasis on supporting students and helping them achieve their goals. Forums allow students to discuss case studies with peers under faculty guidance. Furthermore, these message boards can be used for direct interaction with faculty. Regis College even dedicates a full-time librarian to supporting social work students.

Want to learn more about the online MSW program at Regis College? Contact us today and we can offer a variety of resources to help.

 

Recommended Readings:

 How do on campus and online master’s degrees differ?

Social work or human services: Which master’s degree is for you?

 

Sources:

 Higher Education Reports: Online and Distance Education by Babson Survey Research Group

Academic Advantages of Online Programs by U.S. News & World Report

4 Expectations for Online Education in 2018 by U.S. News & World Report

An Empirical Study Investigating the Effectiveness of Integrating Virtual Reality-based Case Studies into an Online Asynchronous Learning Environment published in Computers in Education Journal