Like many of you out there, I am fast approaching the end of my time working on my MSLIS. Although I will be moving on into a PhD program at an iSchool in the fall, I have recently spent some time reflecting on what I have gained during my masters. In particular, I have thought a lot about the experience of doing my program from a distance at the University of Illinois through the LEEP (off-campus) program. There have been some other great thoughts shared previously on HLS about distance education: some in support of the online LIS program, some expressing the difficulties of online education, and some about differences in experience between online and in person classes, so I thought I would share three of my own reflections on my experience doing a distance MSLIS.
- Be prepared to go out of your comfort zone.
No matter what kind of person you are, being in a distance program will challenge you in one way or another. Not a fan of talking in class? Group projects? Presenting? Writing papers? Taking tests? Leading class discussions? You will do all of these things in a distance program, regardless of how accommodating a professor may or may not be. Additionally, things that you may excel at in a normal classroom you may find you do not like in an online classroom. In an online setting, I quickly discovered that I struggled to participate in conversations over the microphone and found it intimidating. Getting over this fear was not easy, but being put in situations over and over again that required me to speak up helped me be less afraid. Some professors also relied heavily on the chat function in online sessions, so I was able to communicate in an alternative way and learned to communicate my ideas in writing much more clearly and succinctly. It was not always pretty, but I am grateful for the process.
- Distance learning has a lot of benefits.
Even with the struggles of getting comfortable in an online environment, there are so many benefits to doing distance classes. In my time in library school, I have attended class on my couch, at a coffee shop, on a plane, in a car, and many other (some less advisable) places. The flexibility that comes with online classes is one of the best aspects, even when your class meets live every week. Sitting in a classroom is not always the most productive way to work or think, and for the past 2 years I have had the ability to do whatever I need to do to be focused and comfortable. In addition, there are a lot of benefits to developing the kind of skills that come with attending class online even if they are not your favorite. Learning to express and communicate your ideas effectively to people who can’t see you has definitely improved my communication in my face-to-face interactions, and has also made conference calls or telephone interviews much less intimidating.
- Don’t be afraid to make things work for you.
As my other two reflections have highlighted, different types of people will find a variety of benefits and challenges to a distance MSLIS. This biggest thing I learned from all of this was to really take advantage of that and make the program work for me. Many courses will have weekly assignments that you will know well in advance, so fit those into your schedule and turn them in when you want! If you’re not feeling great about a class, email the professor or TA – I have often been received well when I communicated something that wasn’t working for me in a class, and developed a better rapport with the course instructors as a result. It’s easy to fall into the schedule of the class and be working frantically on assignments or participation posts minutes before they’re due, but with online classes you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.
Ultimately, distance programs allow you to have much more say about how you spend your time and you absolutely should take advantage of that. Personally, because I was able to do the program from a distance I have been able to live in Chicago (a city I love) and work at a company where I have been able to develop a business research and analysis program for them. While a distance program may require a more hands on approach to your education, I think the distance MSLIS can be extremely valuable.
What have you learned from your time in distance programs?
Nicole Weber lives, works, and studies in Chicago, IL. You can find her on Twitter & Instagram @NicoleEWeber.