For-Profit Online Learning: The Student Experience

For-Profit Online Learning: The Student Experience

Jessica Kennington
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9098-0.ch013
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This chapter explores the author's experience as an online student at the master's and doctoral levels. This autoethnographic study discusses her experience with academic support, the curriculum and teaching methods, and how the author worked through her dissertation without meeting her mentor or committee members in person. The author also discusses how she overcame challenges, such as competing priorities and feeling isolated due to the lack of in-person contact. The chapter aims to provide a guideline for other online students that may help them through similar circumstances and provides recommendations for how academic administrators can adjust curriculum and resources to improve the student experience. Key factors related to the author's success were determined to be time management skills and the ability to be a self-directed learner. Recommendations include flexible program structures, assignment and grading rubric alignment, experiential learning project incorporation, and earlier interactions with potential mentors.
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Characteristics of an online learner differ from that of a traditional brick-and-mortar student. Personal responsibilities limit the ability for adult learners to attend a brick-and-mortar university, but online learning provides an opportunity for these learners to achieve their educational goals (Redmond et al., 2018). A key difference in these environments is that online universities offer limited or no face-to-face interaction between students and academic support teams. These academic support teams can help overcome the additional challenges online learners face by providing clarity, but they must offer multiple contact methods and prompt response times (Salvo et al., 2019). Students did not always perceive this support as beneficial. For example, Ellis et al. (2009) found that only 39% of students believed they had enough time to learn the material, while 57% believed faculty feedback was helpful. I suspect that these findings are related to the competing priorities that online learners face, but this was not identified in the study. This chapter defines academic support as academic coaches, librarians, tutors, writing coaches, faculty feedback and clarification, and similar services.

In terms of an online curriculum, Ellis et al. (2009) found that 75% of students believe discussion submissions helped them understand ideas and perspectives. However, only 35% of students believed the quality of materials helped them learn or further explore concepts. These findings suggest that online learners may value different types of learning curriculum, although the article did not provide insight into why the learners responded favorably or unfavorably. Doctoral programs also include a dissertation phase where the student works with an assigned mentor and committee while they conduct their research. A mentor is an individual that supports a novice researcher to achieve desired outcomes (Brown et al., 2020). Furthermore, an online curriculum includes the types of assignments and instruction methods incorporated into the program.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Self-Directed Learner: An individual that can teach themselves new theories and concepts with minimal instruction or guidance. A self-directed learner actively pursues additional information such as outside resources before asking for clarification or support from others.

Committee: Two individuals that partner with a mentor to review a doctoral student’s research procedures and methods and review the final dissertation for school and publication standards.

Curriculum: Course content including instructions, assignment types, teaching methods, and grading rubrics.

Residency: A face-to-face weekend seminar where doctoral students conducted preliminary literature reviews and completed a dissertation research plan.

Milestone: A total of 16 requirements for a doctoral learner’s dissertation process. Milestones must be obtained in chronological order.

Mentor: An individual that coaches a novice researcher through their dissertation. A mentor offers guidance on research procedures and methods, provides feedback on written dissertation chapters, and helps overcome challenges.

Program Structure: Established standards related to the start and end dates for a course, assignment due dates, and the use of synchronous versus asynchronous methods.

Dissertation: The final research paper at the end of a doctoral program.

Isolation: Feeling alone in a process due to limited support and interaction with others.

Experiential Learning: A learning theory that involved actively applying theories and concepts to real-world situations. Experiential learning curriculum may include internships, real-world projects, case studies, and simulations.

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