With online learning growing in universities across the nation, most myths have been dispelled, but some remain. Several of Florida International University’s online alumni discuss what they feel are the biggest misconceptions regarding online degree programs and share their best tips to help current and prospective students.
1. Use online classes to graduate on time.
“The misconception of online learning is that online classes are the easy way out, that they are for those who are lazy, and the classes are easy. You can’t be lazy, and classes are not easy. In reality, if you’re not going into it with 100 percent, you’re not going to get the best out of the program,” said Hassan Hussein, who earned a bachelor's in information technology in 2017 and a master's in computer engineering in 2019.
Hussein played basketball for FIU and his online classes helped free up his time when he needed to travel for games. They also helped alleviate his schedule with practices and gym time. No stranger to discipline, the student athlete maintained top grades while completing his master’s degree on time, with the help of online classes.
2. Manage your time to be successful.
“People think they won’t have time to pursue a degree online. You have to manage your time, but the programs can be accomplished,” asserted Eloy Perez, who is an industrial network design engineer at Chevron. Perez earned three degrees from FIU: a bachelor's in computer science in 2007; a master's in computer engineering: network security in 2016; and a master's in engineering/industrial management in 2018.
Vedner Guerrier agrees with Perez. Guerrier, whose workday starts before 6 a.m., is the vice president of oncology services of the Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, FL. He managed to complete his healthcare MBA in 2013, even with a rigorous schedule.
“Another misconception is that you’ll be able to do things fully at your pace, but this isn’t accurate as there’s accountability involved with fixed assignment due dates. So, time management is a priority,” added Guerrier.
3. Take advantage of all resources offered online.
“The misconception about online learning has to do with its lack of rigor and that the programs are not as deeply developed, but this is inaccurate,” said Jason Lafferty, associate dean/executive chef for the business technologies division of the Midwest Culinary Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Lafferty earned his master's in hospitality management in 2013. Originally an on-campus student, he switched to online courses because he anticipated some employment opportunities and a move to Ohio where his wife’s family lives. He wanted to be able to take his coursework with him. Lafferty offered that online students should try to take advantage of all of the resources FIU has available.
“I wish I had spent more time developing a relationship with other parts of the school,” he lamented. He explained that the resources offered to online students can help them feel more connected and supported. He encourages students to take advantage of this.
4. Force yourself to be engaged.
“The misconception of online learning is that you’re not engaged. In order to be successful, you really have to engage yourself in the process. You have to commit the right amount of time and do the work that is required to maximize the output from the class,” said John Mulrey, regional director at FirstService Residential Florida.
Mulrey received his master's in hospitality management in 2008 but maintains that the principles of learning online remain the same. While you don’t have to physically be at a class every week, he said, you must consistently set aside time to do the online coursework.
5. Maximum effort means maximum learning.
“The misconception about online learning is that it’s not quality. Another misconception is that it may be more challenging. It depends on how much you put into your program. Everything is what you put in,” maintained Ted Moore, director of front office at The Confidante, a hotel within the Hyatt collection of properties.
Moore earned his master's in hospitality administration/management in 2014. He said the online degree program did not interrupt his career—he could continue working and collecting the experience needed to advance.
6. Accelerated online degree programs are available.
“People also think it’s harder online, but that’s because it does require a measure of discipline and commitment. If you stay disciplined and you follow instruction, you can do it,” said
Karina Constantine, who received her master's in special education in 2019. By day, Constantine, originally from South Africa, is a K-5 autism spectrum disorder special needs teacher at Whispering Pines Elementary in Boca Raton, FL. After school, she plays midi wind controller and keys for a musical group called Gypsy Lane Band.
“Online learning really makes sense for teachers like me who need to get education quickly. At 47, I wanted an accelerated degree because I was also working and have family obligations and performances with the band.”
7. Reach out when you have questions.
“Whenever I had questions, I could reach out and call my professors,” emphasized Delaney Verger, opening team concierge for Disney’s Riviera Resort in Orlando, FL. Verger received her master's in hospitality management in 2019.
“I think that assumption that you get a stronger connection in person isn’t the case. You could be sitting in class the entire semester and never talk to the professors. Professors in the online program were responsive,” she said.