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Online Learning: Making Education Work With You

My undergraduate years of college brought me many things: new friends, new independence and new opportunities to learn about the field I was pursuing. Some of the biggest perks of a campus education included easily walking over to another student’s house for homework questions, taking naps in between classes and internships, and obviously the meal plans. Living on campus was perfect for my undergraduate education, but I knew when I started considering a graduate education that wouldn’t work. I had to incorporate a full-time professional job, taking care of a pet and enjoying activities with family and friends. I wasn’t geographically close to a program I wanted, and wasn’t able to move at the time. I had taken a few online classes before over the summer, and found the structure aligned well with my ability to self-motivate.

Online courses aren’t for everyone; some students thrive in a classroom physically surrounded by fellow peers and a live instructor. I enjoy that environment too, but felt a strong sense of community with my fellow graduate Boilermakers. I knew that after a long day at work, I wasn’t the only one logging on at 7 p.m. to begin reading case studies. The communication graduate program’s online courses followed a similar pattern of activities which made creating my weekly schedule much more manageable. I could be flexible with studying if I had to stay late at work, knowing that I could still meet the weekly deadlines by rearranging my schedule. Online coursework also opened my mind to an alternative way of learning, and took the pressure out of the dreaded Socratic method of discussion (I’m clearly an introvert). The flexibility yet predictable routine of assignments made graduate work less stressful and more inviting.

Students are often worried about the lack of interaction with fellow peers and instructors in an online program, assuming it will take weeks to get grades back or connect in a group assignment. That wasn’t the case here. I got grades back in a reasonable time expectation, along with feedback to help me improve in the future. If I had questions about an assignment, I wasn’t ever worried about not receiving an answer or advice back from someone in my class before the due date. For group assignments, each time we easily figured out the best medium to communicate and establish a schedule to connect each week. We stayed flexible with the challenges that arise in daily life like sick kids, tight work deadlines and even flat tires on the way home from vacation.

Choosing an online communications program made sense for me with a busy work schedule and growing life responsibilities. I might not have personally met my peers and instructors, but I felt the community wherever I logged on.

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Meredith Whelchel is a student in Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author
Meredith Whelchel is currently pursuing her Master's in Communication from Purdue University, and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Dayton in Ohio in journalism and marketing. She currently works in a market strategy capacity, but has spent many years enjoying the hustle and bustle of a newsroom. In her spare time, she enjoys running and swimming with and without her dog, Finn.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.