The Pragmatic Adult Learner
Introduction and Background
Close to a decade had passed since I had completed my undergraduate education. I wanted to continue my education and further my career, but due to the demands of my job it was not possible to enroll in a school where my physical presence was required. As an undergraduate at California State University, Chico I had studied Instructional Systems Design and Distance Learning, so I decided that it would be appropriate for me to experience this type of learning first hand. Caught up in the hiring frenzy that personified the 90's dot-com era, I gravitated towards the Information Technology field, as that is where the money was for me.
Several years into my career I decided that I needed to further my education so I could in turn boost my career. I had found a niche for myself in information security and network engineering. Unfortunately with that success came at the price of a large amount of last minute travel where I couldn't be sure that I would make class meetings on a regular basis. At that point I decided to look into what options were available for me through the Internet.
Employer Support and Accreditation
I spent many nights searching the Internet for information on what to look for in an institution. The first factor was Regional Accreditation by one of the big six regional accreditation agencies that the US Department of Education recognizes. While there are national (i.e. DETC) and state level (i.e. California and Virginia) accreditations, the company that I was employed at would only recognize regional accreditation when it came to reimbursement of tuition costs and future recognition of the degree granted. Another factor that faces many learners is the ability to get Federal student loans. For some people this may be a factor that can cause problems, so make sure to deeply research the decision.
The current US Regional Accreditation Bodies are:
New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) North Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCA) Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA) Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS) Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NWCCU)
The initial reason to return to school varies from person to person. For some, they are looking for a sense of completion, others are looking to get a promotion, still others are looking to make more money to better support their families. Adult learners have the added responsibilities of jobs, spouses, family obligations, raising children, and many other situations that require a higher level of motivation to keep a constant inertia so that they can achieve their degree. Being able to pace one's self and see the long term view can help to keep them motivated. Make sure to investigate such things as how you will fund your education (personal funds, student loans, employer reimbursement, etc.), as a setback in funding can kill your motivation dead in it's tracks. Choosing a school that has a cohort system can be helpful in getting motivated by working with the same group of people throughout your degree program
Advantages of Online learning
While some people's learning styles are adverse to online study, for those who enjoy it or just tolerate it can reap the advantages. In my travels I have been able to access my class materials and work on projects from Airport lounges, Train stations, the neighborhood coffee shop and of course, hotels. Being able to use idle time that would be used commuting, being bored in a hotel, or sitting on a cross country flight time can be used for something that can further your education.
Beyond travel angle, online learning gives higher education access to many rural learners. In North America it is now possible to get internet access at broadband speeds via wireless links or satellite connection almost anywhere. Not having a compus within driving distance is not a limitation anymore. In the past several university systems designed microwave and satellite based distance learning systems for outlying communities, but that still required a local facility with equipment and a drive. Now anyone with a laptop computer, a HughesNet dish (which is about $59 USD for a month of satellite broadband service) and the time to study can finish up to a doctorate without leaving their home. It is literally possible to finish an MBA via the internet while serving in the military in overseas in forward combat areas. We live in amazing times.
Tips for the Online learner
I am a great believer that if you believe that you can do it, it is possible. I wish the best of luck to anyone reading this posting that is looking to further their educational journey, whether online or in a brick and mortar school.
In a nutshell here are the tips that helped to make me successful
- Set aside private time daily to study. Don't put off studying to one or two days a week.
- Don't overload your schedule. It is better to take a lighter classload during the year and then do summer school, than it is to cram it all in. Having a balanced life is important. I was able to take vacations to Europe and the Carribbean while I was in school, yet was still able to get online and take care of my classwork.
- Get the support of your family. If you can't get private time at home, try booking time at a public library. Many libraries in my area have private study rooms and have Wi-Fi access.
- With your boss' approval, use your lunch break to read or do postings.
- Print out working materials, reading from paper is much easier than the screen. Your eyes will thank you. Easier to read on public transit and who cares if it is stolen! :)
- If you have electronic access to your textbook, print out the chapters that are assigned for reading. This will save you weight on your carry on travel. Try to recycle the paper and be green. I am all for being a little less green if I don't get a back ache and eye strain.
- BACKUP. BACKUP. BACKUP. Use a thumb drive or removable media to make backup copies of your work. Having a thumb drive backup saved me on three occasions due to application crashed and one hard drive crash. Murphy's law turns out to be quite true.