Tips for Success in an Online Masters Program

Alvin Plexico

Alvin Plexico, PH.D., Faculty

When I was younger, I didn’t like guacamole. I could never get to the taste because I was turned off by the color and texture. As I grew older, my wife convinced me to look past my prejudice for the green, pasty mixture and try it. Turns out; I like guacamole. And it actually has some health benefits, too.

Not liking something without a fair trial reminds me of the response I often get when I talk to others about online education; some of whom have never even taken an online class. Here are some examples:

  • “It’s easier to get my questions answered when I see the professor face-to-face.”
  • “I like to meet other people, which I can do easier in a traditional classroom.”
  • “Online learning doesn’t really suit my learning style.”

There are plenty of others I could include, but you probably get the point. Here are some counter-points to consider:

  • There are some classes where face-to-face interaction between teacher and learner works best; however, the amount of one-on-one communication I have with my online students far exceeds the communication I have with my face-to-face classroom. The reason is that we’re not bound by space and time in an online classroom where we can communicate just about any time from anywhere.
  • You can meet a few people in a face-to-face classroom, and most of those fellow classmates live nearby. In an online classroom you can meet virtually anyone from around the world.
  • Part of higher education is expanding your comfort zone in a way that encourages creative thinking. This includes exploring learning styles that may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but may be just the spark you need to ignite a renewed passion for learning.

I’ve been learning and teaching online since 2007, and during that time I’ve picked up some tips that others might find helpful as they consider whether or not this type of classroom offers the right path for their learning journey.

  • Stay ahead & complete all assignments on time.
    One main advantage of online learning is that students are mostly free to work on their own schedule, with no requirement to be in a specific place at a specific time. This online freedom requires a higher degree of self-motivation and excellent time management. No one should be holding your hand at any level of higher learning, and online there’s really no physical hand to hold. This is good for students, because it more closely represents the expectations that employers have of their employees and helps forge future leaders who have the self-motivation and time management skills to succeed.
  • Read all assignment requirements carefully.
    This is true for any classroom, but learning online requires the learner to pay even more careful attention to the assignment instruction, because there’s no face-to-face instructions provided. On the positive side, written online instructions help alleviate confusion and offer students the opportunity to refer back to the instructions in a way that is not possible with verbal instructions in a traditional classroom.
  • Participate throughout the week in discussion boards, and any other online communication venues.
    This is where the real fun takes place, and it’s also where online classroom conversations are similar to those that take place in a face-to-face classroom. Interact with your peers and learn from their perspectives. Your unique perspective on the week’s readings and assignments offer great value to the learning process. Share your insights. Ask questions that provoke critical thinking. Feel free to challenge the ideas of others, including the authors and even your professor. This kind of interaction is where applied learning takes shape, and applied learning is the kind of learning that matters most.

These are just some of the tips I’ve learned, but I’m sure there are many more. Feel free to share any others. Let’s use this as an opportunity to create our own online classroom of sorts. Who knows, we might also find some guacamole recipes worth sharing.

Learn More
Alvin Plexico, Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of 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.