Over the past decade or so, the popularity of online graduate programs has grown tremendously. While some of that growth has been in the for-profit online education sector, online courses and programs have also become extremely popular in traditional universities (such as Benedictine University). Many universities are also exploring blended models of education where students can take courses on campus or online. The online format makes continuing education obtainable for those not able to meet face to face or in a synchronous format due to the flexibility it offers.
One apprehension online students have is group work. They seek flexibility and wonder how group work will fit within their busy day to day. Another fear of group work is that not all group members may give the same level of effort on a project thus creating more work for the individual. Despite these frustrations, however, I would submit that group work in an online graduate program has a great deal of benefit.
I'm sure some people reading this are staring at the screen with a confused look on their face because working in a group in an online program seems antithetical to the way the traditional world of work works. And the truth is it is, but that is kind of the point. The traditional world of work is quickly fading away and being replaced by a world where we have to be able to interact virtually, even in the most face-to-face businesses. We also have to learn to interact with multiple personalities and learn to address the challenges that may surface.
Group work allows students the ability to practice the art of group interaction. Students are also able to learn best practices in terms of working in virtual teams. And, students do so under the direct supervision of a faculty member and thus can be coached along the way and taught ways to address conflict, effective methods of interaction and more.
In addition to my professor responsibilities, I also work as a consultant. Over the past 20 years I have done everything from being a senior executive in a large multinational firm where I ran large teams across multiple locations, to being a one man show where I pick up projects here and there. Looking back over the last 15 of those 20 years, I can't think of a single period of time where I wasn't involved in at least one team where we primarily interacted on a virtual basis. The skills required to effectively navigate these efforts are largely the same as those that are necessary when working as teams in an online class. When I see what my learners experience as part of being in online teams, I admit I'm a bit jealous because they are able to learn from those mistakes in school rather than in the real world where mistakes can be more costly. The experience and knowledge you gain through group work is definitely invaluable.
To learn more about the benefits of group work and what type of group work you will experience in your online graduate program at Benedictine University, call us at (866) 295-3104 or visit us at online.ben.edu.
About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with eighteen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard.
He can be reached at www.jimmybrownphd.com or via Twitter @jimmybrownphd