There are many different ways to run an online Masters degree program. Purpose of this post is to help familiarize you with some of the different methods of providing instruction in an online environment. This is an exhaustive list but will give you an idea of some of the different ways classes are presented so you can make a more informed choice about where you want to go to school. Some presentation methods may be unsuited for your learning style, so you want to be very careful to choose a school that offers an online environment that will help not hinder your learning.
Prerecorded lectures are a popular way to present content for online masters degree programs. It can mean for professors because they only have to make the class once. The class is recorded and used year after year for students. Honestly this could be one of the best ways to present material because it would allow the professor to carefully edit their lectures and include other types of multimedia that might be difficult to include in the classroom. It can present a very polished lecturer where the professor has time to make the best use of his resources as possible. Usually though that’s not how pre-recorded lectures work. Most of the time it simply a camera running the classroom. Many cases there’s not even the operator behind the camera. Sometimes a prerecorded lecture is actually controlled by the teacher who must flip between the different input sources of the blackboard, the overhead projector, and the camera of him talking.
This type of presentation for an online degree can also be difficult if you’re dealing with things that have a lot of current topics. In some cases the content you are taught to be severely outdated by the time you watch the lecture. Of course this is nothing new. You can have the same thing happen with your textbook. Still, you usually expect your lectures to be able to discuss current topics and prerecorded lectures that may have been recorded years earlier do not give you that capability.
Delayed lectures are often used when the online masters degree program is set up to track actual physical classes. In this case the professor lectures as usual in the classes recorded and put online. The difference is the delay is usually a matter of hours or days. This helps solve the problem of having lectures that are extremely out-of-date because they were done years before. Usually a few days delay is not enough to mess up discussions of current topics.
This is the type of process that Harvard extension school uses. Years ago it was very difficult and expensive to provide this level of service in the classroom. However technology advances have made it this more common in within the reach of many universities with more modest budgets.
As technology has become more readily available live lectures are possible. In the early days it was too much trouble to try to set everything up and deal with the chances of equipment being down or students being unable to connect to a live stream. However many modern online Masters degree programs are offering live streams of the classes. In some cases you may even be held to interact with the professor through chat window or to your own video conference software.
One of the downsides of a live lecture being broadcast over the Internet when you’re getting an online Masters degree is that it forces you to be somewhere at a particular time. You still have all the benefits of getting rid of your commute time, but one of the biggest benefits of an online Masters degrees the ability to work around your job, family and other types of commitments that would interfere with you needing to be at class at a particular time everyday.
Probably the best option is a live stream that gets archived so you can watch it later if necessary. This gives you the ability to maintain the same schedule as others in your class, but the flexibility to watch a lecture for your online degree a few days later if your schedule requires it.
Some schools are actually offering videoconferencing in order to complete an online Masters degree program. It is very similar to the live streaming but with more interaction by students who are sitting at their computers with video cameras and microphones. This is another area where technology is allowing things that would’ve been difficult just a few years ago. It’s fairly trivial to get a camera and microphone working with your computer for video conferencing nowadays. Many laptops have been built in. This used to be quite an ordeal to set up, but now that the barriers to entry are lower some schools are using this for education to provide as much interaction as possible in their online degree programs.
Some schools don’t even try to use video. Often this was because they didn’t start out with the resources necessarily to stream images to people enrolled in their online degree programs. Some of these require you to log on at a particular time and interact with other students. The student interaction can be a good thing, but some schools try to leverage interaction with other students in lieu of having a good teacher. You want to make sure that you choose an online degree program where the student interaction is supplementing the instruction of the good professor not the other way around.
One of the problems with the online chat is that it requires you to be on at a particular point in time. Once again in this gives you geographic independence but not necessarily the ability to work your online Masters degree into a hectic and fluctuating schedule.
Forms are really the oldest technology that has been used for online masters degree programs. They you to post information and interact with other people in an asynchronous manner. Unlike the live chat you can login at any time to interact with other students who are in your class. While not quite as flashy as the video, these types of setups can be very effective for interacting with other students in your online degree in cases where everyone has busy jobs, hectic schedules, and maybe in completely different time zones.
Forums, when correctly used, can make it very easy to get and ask for help from your peers. By keeping in the forum your interactions are public to the rest of the members of your online degree program. This means you can learn from questions you may not have thought to ask and you can provide answers and insights to questions others may have. Much of the beneficial interactions you would have in a live classroom. On one hand the act of typing out your answer and questions may slow you down. On the other it may help you to think more deeply about the subject and develop writing skills that will benefit you in your career. One of the biggest advantages of using forum software for an online degree program is the fact that it lets people spend more time interacting around the subject than what they can do within the confines of a scheduled class. It can provide much deeper interaction then you can within a typical hour lecture.
Technologies that are being used to help facilitate online degree programs. Many of the more interesting ones are targeting online masters degree programs because they are less concerned about giving master’s degree students the social interactions that are so vital to undergrad students. One area that is just beginning to take off is mobile learning. It won’t be long before students will have the ability to interact with fellow students and watch lectures from their cell phones. On one hand this may be beneficial because it will let people integrate learning more deeply into their daily lives. On the other it provides a very distracting environment for learning a particular subject.
Another area that’s starting to gain some traction as technology use for facilitating online masters degree programs is virtual worlds. Programs like Second Life allow avatars to meet in a virtual space and interact with one another. The effectiveness of such online worlds is still open to debate. However it however it does allow a degree of interaction that is more difficult to do with many of the other options mentioned above.
The important thing is to understand how your learning style is going to be impacted by the classroom presentation technology used by the school you choose. You may want to try taking a class from several different schools before enrolling in a full online Masters degree program just to get an idea of what works well for you and what doesn’t. Ideally you can take some classes that would be needed as prerequisites for the degree you are wanting to pursue. That way you get the benefit of a solid foundation in your area of study along with the ability to choose a school whose online degree program best fits your learning style.