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18 Sep

The Online Classroom: Alternative Learning Methods for the Digital Age

Has the Internet Made Learning More Efficient?

In the fall of 2016, almost 3 million people in the U.S. chose to enroll in postbaccalaureate studies, with 27.5% of them choosing to pursue their continued education through exclusively online programs.1 For those in the health informatics (HI) field, earning a degree in a digital format can be a coup, especially when the field itself is focused on utilizing the advances of modern technology to find new solutions for existing public health problems.

Here are a few ways online classrooms are changing graduate education, as well as some tips for making the most of this interactive educational platform, from one student who has benefitted from their affordances.

Master Time Management and Demonstrate Self-Motivation

The flexibility to juggle a full-time career and graduate-level coursework is among the most prominent benefits of online learning. For Kent State online Master of Science in Health Informatics student Jacquelynn Seymour, “it was a dream to graduate from an institution that has such an outstanding reputation,” while actively advancing her current career as a project/portfolio and Operations Manager for the Information Technology Division of a major health system. Seymour considers earning a graduate degree while working one of her greatest personal achievements.

Jacqueline Seymour, MS in Health Informatics

However, the “at your leisure” approach can be dangerous if you have a natural inclination to procrastinate. Seymour found that “...preparing at the end of each week for the upcoming week’s requirements and scheduling dedicated time multiple times during the week to do the school work” helped keep her on track and even get ahead in her graduate program.

Below are helpful tips to ensure you manage your time wisely while enrolled in an online degree program :

  • Download your course materials to a digital device and turn your commute, lunch break or unexpected downtime into a study session
  • If you drive to work, or you’d rather not read on a train, you can play the audio from lectures in your car and fully utilize your time
  • Find crossover between your school work and your current career. If work and class assign similar projects, see if you can maximize your time and effort by repurposing your work. Seymour found that not long after she learned the “concept mapping” technique in her online coursework, she was able to implement it in her professional life

By demonstrating success at time management, you can show both current and future employers your ability to tackle multiple projects, set priorities and adapt to ever-evolving work conditions.

Improve Your Digital Communication Skills

Technological advancements in the 21st century, including the digitization of global business operations, means more employees are working remotely and telecommuting. An online graduate program encourages students to become more functionally effective with the latest communication technologies by inviting them to collaborate with peers and faculty whose schedules (and sometimes time zones) are different than their own.

Sharing files, ideas and status updates via email can become cumbersome, so it’s crucial to explore alternate communication platforms like Skype, Slack, Trello, Basecamp and Dropbox. Seymour said that, “Many of our teams were self-directed and shared often,” facilitating the use of Webex along with virtual work sessions in order to streamline collaboration and editing efforts on group projects or facilitate group discussions.

Virtual sharing in an online degree program will not only enable you to become more digitally savvy, but you’ll also gain the added benefit of becoming more adept at pitching ideas and forming strong and succinct arguments via text. This skill is becoming increasingly valuable as global corporations strive to work more closely with their foreign counterparts as well as remote partners.

Control Your Education In a Few Clicks

Documents, transcripts, live discussions, readings and training materials are all archived and recorded so they can be retrieved via email or from the program’s website. This can come in handy if you feel that you’ve missed something in a lecture, as you now possess the power to have your instructor repeat things as many times as you want. Or perhaps you’re studying and can’t remember what your professor said; in this case, you can log back into your online classroom and review the lecture or associated documents to find what you’re missing.

For Seymour, the ability to check in and view documents early and often helped her stay on track in the program. If you can’t find an answer or article on your own, she also notes that professors of online courses are relatively quick to respond to questions, so much so that she truly “felt connected” to faculty throughout the program. And because these instructors realize they work with a diverse group of students with different careers, lifestyles and schedules, they’re prepared to work with you to help you succeed.

Develop a Professional Network

As with any major life change, going back to school requires you to have a support system to help you achieve optimal performance. One way to accomplish this is by creating or joining a study group of peers—this can help you get ahead in your classes, can empower you to become better acquainted with your classmates and could even transition into a job search support group.

If your professor starts an introductory thread on a course message board, don’t be afraid to break the ice and post about yourself. Keep the information relevant, but feel free to share a few outside interests you may have. You never know if a shared interest can lead to a networking opportunity later down the line. Also, be sure to actively engage in class discussions, especially video chats when available. “Face-to-face” networking via video conferences can form more substantial connections with your professors and classmates.

Enjoy an Enhanced Class Discussion

A major, and fair, concern most people have about online learning is whether or not the human connection will be the same as in an on-ground program. Though Seymour was hesitant at first, she said, “Those concerns were totally eliminated through the narrated lectures, opportunities for some self-directed group activities and the level of involvement by the instructors.”

Learning interactions can be as enriching online as in face-to-face settings, but the digital landscape offers some distinct benefits that on-ground classrooms don’t. Discussion forums and digital messaging allow for introverted or shy students to join discussions in a non-threatening way; they can contribute their thoughts or ask a question without the pressures of an in-person audience, waiting for them to convey their message. Further, writing out your thoughts can give you time to think out your response thoughtfully, ensuring that your message is well-organized and accurate.

Discussion forums also bring an intense focus to the course content, allowing each person to express their thoughts and opinions. Seymour said that Kent State encouraged online interaction, and she came away from the HI program with some new friends. So don’t be afraid to be active in the forums, and try to engage your peers by regularly asking and responding to questions. By staying engaged in online classroom activity, you’ll begin to develop a public persona that can better connect you to others, and if you present valuable and relevant information, your classmates will likely remember this and reach out to you more frequently throughout the term. And remember, in the words of Seymour, “In the end, it is the quality of the interaction more than the method of interaction” that really counts.


With a growing number of students looking to take courses online, the digital classroom just keeps getting better and better. And when it comes to a technology-driven field like HI, an online learning system can be your best bet.

Explore the importance of evolving technology and its impact on the healthcare space, and consider how an online MS in Health Informatics could help you lead conversations about utilizing the advancements of modern technology to provide the best patient care options and outcomes.

Sources:

1. Retrieved on August 14, 2018, from nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_311.15.asp?current=yes