Since I have just completed an online doctoral program, I have taken a bit of time to reflect on the process. When making the decision to attend an online doctoral program one must do their homework. Look at all the programs, see how they are facilitated, ask if you can see a past syllabus, etc. just to get the feel of the class. When entering an online PhD program I highly advise one to have a plan of action for you only have seven years to complete the “entire” program (at least at Capella), which is from the first class within your course work through the final dissertation. Find out what the policies are in terms of taking a leave of absence for whatever reason. Understand the dynamics of the asynchronous classroom and the expectations of the instructor for they can vary from class to class and program to program.

Inquire about how administration changes can/will affect you as a student. If curriculum changes occur during the program, are you grandfathered in or do you have to start over? These items are often over looked or just not something one does not think about but trust me it does happen every day. Find out what the policy is in terms of changing out committee members or your advisor/chair. Make sure that the discipline that you choose to pursue has a supporting research methodology. Unknown to most, all methodologies are not allowed or acceptable. If it is not the “norm or known” methodologies (qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, etc.) be prepared to explain why it is to be used. Remember everything is based on the Subject Matter Experts (SME) within the university for if they do not know…….

Most online PhD programs have a residency requirement and all students must attend regardless of your geographical location and take place over a four-day period. This is not a time to party and hang out with your online BFFs. The residencies allow the students to meet their fellow peers/cohorts, faculty members, and administration, which will probably be the only face time that you will have. The residencies are planned to take place after a certain amount of credit hours have been reached within your particular program and must be completed by a designated time. Within this four-day event various workshops are planned for all level of studies and disciplines. At Capella we had course work sessions, dissertation sessions, how to start your research, library assistance in terms of learning how to use the library, mastering references, writing clinics, and writing evaluations of your papers. Again, since there is no face time at any other point in the program this is the time to get out to meet and greet.

Most courses within an online university follow a template where the classes do not deviate from a prescribed format set forth by the university. Therefore, all courses have the same syllabus, book, study questions, etc. The individuality if any comes from the subject matter that the students use to construct their papers based on the class assignment or maybe some articles assigned that are relevant to the current discussion as well as the overall class. From a students’ perspective the “cookie cutter” or “structured” format seems to NOT allow the instructor to be creative in terms of the delivery of the materials. Since I have not taken ground classes since 2002, I do not know if the traditional/ground/hybrid universities have the same type of structure. As with any subject matter the topic is only as good as the recent publication or research in order to remain current and contributing to the body of knowledge.

There is very little interaction while engaged in course work and one must be very disciplined as well as focused. The next post will cover a more in-depth look at course work within the program I attended along with how it was delivered and graded. Also, why your research topic or theme should be “pre-developed”, as well as why you do NOT want to change your topic in mid-stream. Until next time!!