Online coursework is becoming more prevalent across higher education, and this is especially the case in MLIS programs. When I began working towards my master’s in 2011, online programs were already popular; now, they seem even more ubiquitous. A recent article in Slate, “An Online Education Disconnect” by Rachael Cusick, explores the pros and cons of this type of study, which inspired me to explore my own thoughts as well.
When I opted to pursue my MLIS, I was already removed from college and working full-time. I knew it was not financially feasible for me to stop working or to dramatically reduce my hours. The nearest on-site MLIS program to me did not offer many of the classes I wanted to focus on, and it was not realistic for me to relocate out of state. Having met several colleagues who had pursued their degrees online, I felt that was my best option as well.
The program I eventually settled on was a hybrid: not entirely online, and not entirely on-campus. It required a trip to campus one weekend a semester to meet with our classmates and professors. Additionally, each online course had an on-campus counterpart. Those lectures were recorded live and made available for asynchronous viewing. Each class also incorporated discussion boards, and some had weekly synchronous chats. Since I had never taken an online class before, I felt more comfortable with this approach than attending solely online.
I was happy with my program and would make the same choice again if given the chance. The hybrid approach allowed me to feel connected to my classmates and the LIS faculty, and the online nature allowed me to work around my professional life. I felt that I received the best of both worlds, and I am very grateful that I took the time to consider the merits of different types of online programs.
Cusick’s findings, however, were not quite as positive. She noted feeling disconnected from her classmates, especially in terms of communication. Her class utilized a virtual hand-raising function through Blackboard Collaborate for those who wished to speak during a lecture. This, she found, disrupted the flow of discussion and made it harder to pay attention.
Clearly every school takes a somewhat different approach to online education, and some work better than others. Additionally, MLIS students’ needs vary depending on their own unique situations. My biggest piece of advice to prospective students considering getting their degree online would be to look at the different options and see which best meets their criteria and learning styles. Not every approach will work for everyone; however, it is not realistic to completely condemn online learning as being bad. Rather, it is all about finding the style that’s best for you and your lifestyle.
Did you receive your MLIS online? How would you rate your experience?