Finding Community in Distance Education

By Jim Norrena

At Indiana Wesleyan University Online, a Christian-based institution, the type of distance that’s most important to their students is not measured in miles. Instead, students enroll in the program to gain the benefits of a quality education in a community of individuals who are allowed the opportunity to incorporate a faith-based worldview. IWU supports a self-described “world changer” initiative -- a commitment to preparing students “to be agents of change on a global scale through virtual community.”

IWUOnline’s approach to online learning has allowed for the creation of a broad spectrum of academic programs all targeted at providing excellence, increasing the opportunity for students to gain knowledge and skills that will have an impact. Whether pursuing a Bachelors or Masters degree in Business Administration, a Special Education licensure or Masters in Education, a registered-nursing BS completion, or a graduate degree in Nursing or Ministry, IWUOnline’s academic options are as robust as any traditional higher education institution.

Unlike other adult online learning curriculums, IWUOnline’s curriculum offers a unique sequential skill-building progression wherein students are fully prepared for the next stage of coursework. Additionally, courses are built upon an asynchronous model that allows coursework to be completed according to individual schedules. The success rates are higher because the programs are strategically structured to advance students in a logical, easy-to-follow path.

Learning inevitably develops at a varying pace. To ensure strength at the onset, IWUOnline prepares, as part of its fundamental learning objective, a technological proficiency curve that furnishes students with the essential skills to succeed in their degree programs. Technological competency is integrated into each program. Students receive support via elective courses and supplemental materials, in addition to exercises and instruction that collectively and thoroughly develop all necessary technical skills.

An IWUOnline administration representative recently described the essential traits that a new-to-online learning student should possess as including “discipline, determination and endurance, though not necessarily in that order.”

Such traits allow students to balance themselves, embracing the freedom distance learning provides while avoiding falling behind. The discipline ensures projects are completed; the determination lets adults juggle their professional responsibilities with their academic ones while remaining focused on their goals and not giving up; and the endurance provides the ability to successfully meet the demanding coursework, even when life doesn’t yield to the added pressure.

Even students who possess all the discipline, determination, and endurance in the world could be at risk of failing if they had to face their challenges alone. Students do not learn in an isolated bubble; they learn by surrounding themselves with others, they learn from their peers, their professors, from like-minded individuals and from their polar opposites.

In short, students learn best when they are part of a community, and that’s exactly what IWUOnline offers ─ a tightly knit community that overcomes geographical distances to forge spiritual and academic bonds.

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Matt McAllister