Connections at Scale: Networking and Community in Top Online Graduate Programs
November 4, 2019 | Liz Joyce
The primary benefits of online graduate programs are clear: there’s the unique flexibility and access that only an entirely online program can offer (study anywhere, any time!) and the much more affordable price tag, both in terms of tuition (disruptive!) and opportunity cost (no need to give up your current job!). Plus, many benefits from on-campus programs are available to online students; you can leverage online graduate programs in the same exact way as on-campus options to build the in-demand skills employers seek and gain degrees from the most highly-ranked programs in the world.
Online master’s degree programs on edX are built on these pillars: top-ranked, affordable, high quality, and fully online. But can online education provide the same measure of benefits as an on-campus education?
Dig a layer deeper and you’ll find a not-so-obvious tenant of top online graduate programs: building and scaling connections. Scaling your ability to build community and network with passionate, motivated peers and faculty are top reasons to pursue an on-campus professional master’s degree program on edX — a fact not lost on our university partners. In fact, our quality online master’s degree programs ensure that this benefit is clear from the start.
“Learning at scale comes with connections at scale,” said edX founder and CEO Anant Agarwal in a Forbes interview with Georgia Tech’s Dean of Professional Education, Nelson Baker. “The large global networks that online learners get access to is a benefit that isn’t talked about as often.”
“[Online learners’ access to] faculty and fellow students from all over the world enables them to build valuable professional networks that can serve them throughout their careers long after they graduate,” Baker said.
A Community of Professional Peers
Top online graduate programs attract learners from all over the world. You’ll be in classes with a global peer group — often, working professionals who are looking to accelerate progress along their career path.
For example, in contrast to its on-campus program, students in Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science (OMS) in Cybersecurity are mainly working professionals.
“Students in the on-campus Master of Science in Cybersecurity are traditional graduate students, who recently completed an undergraduate degree… Ninety-seven percent of the applicants admitted to the OMS Cybersecurity program are already employed, and a third of them already have graduate degrees. They range from 20 years old to 72 years old and represent 27 countries,” Baker said.
This shift in student population and interest in opportunity to make professional connections isn’t always top of mind when starting an online program. Students may begin with apprehension, but leave with a strong sense of community.
“Despite my industry experience, I was nervous when I logged into my first course. I had never taken an online course before as I had only studied on campus. I was concerned that I would lose the sense of camaraderie that comes in a physical classroom environment,” said Danaka, an edX learner and supply chain consultant in Canada. “After the first week or so, I realized there was no need to be nervous. The learners in the course became a community. It’s fantastic – I didn’t feel alone going through the process. The community also helps with networking – we share job opportunities and ask questions about our work.”
The ability to connect with other students at this scale can be invaluable. You’ll study with fellow learners solving problems thousands of miles away, broadening your perspectives and approaches to your own work.
“The fact that you’re able to learn from anywhere in the world is also an incredible benefit. I had classmates from Yemen who were there to learn how to do a PV installation for their community that hasn’t had reliable electricity in years, and another one in Brazil who was developing solar modules to install on boats sailing through the Amazon. The multicultural aspect was just priceless,” said Bertram, an edX learner, PV design engineer, and instructor at Solar Energy International in the Netherlands.
In some cases, students even meet up in person to form study groups once they realize they are in the same city or region.
Connections With Esteemed Faculty
One of the most important benefits of matriculating into an online professional master’s degree program is access to world-renowned faculty working at the cutting-edge of their disciplines.
These researchers, scholars, and industry experts are defining the future of the professions most in demand. Take advantage of direct access to these experts as part of your course and program interactions. We recommend that you:
- Take advantage of any office hours so that you can get to know your faculty, their backgrounds, and their perspectives on current and upcoming challenges in the profession, as well as ask questions that are specific to your context and areas of interest.
- Join any LinkedIn or other social media groups for your program and institution so that you can continue access to the community throughout your program and even after you graduate.
- Join any extra-curricular events or community-building opportunities (e.g., guest lectures, program webinars, conferences in your area where faculty plan to attend, program or university events such as graduation, etc.).
- Volunteer for any projects that may arise outside of your classes in which you are able to interact with the faculty.
Online master’s degree programs support and encourage rich and meaningful faculty interaction. Be sure to discuss these opportunities with your academic advisor in your degree program once you are admitted.
A World-Wide Alumni Network
When you join a professional master’s degree program, you not only gain connections to students taking courses with you, but also to a network of alumni across the world.
Find ways to leverage this network by attending alumni meet-ups in different regions across the year, or connecting at events like commencement. Some institutions even look to alumni to hire for program support or ambassador roles.
Find Your Graduate Community: Explore Online Master’s Degrees on edX
Get started in exploring master’s degree programs that fit your own career journey: browse top-ranked, affordable, fully online master’s degrees on edX from Georgia Tech, Purdue, Arizona State University, Boston University, and more.
“These degrees offer more than content at-scale. They also offer networks at-scale that allow learners to build worldwide professional networks that they would not be able to build if they were in a traditional on-campus master’s program,” Baker said.