Generic comments like "the course was great" say nothing about an online student's experience. Pay closer attention to the details, such as in this comment about a program at the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign: "... the instructor always answered questions posted in the forum, all of the lecture material was online (so it was very easy to go back and review it), and it was very easy to chat with the other students."
2. Variety: Reading a range of online student experiences can help you learn about the benefits and challenges of online learning and help debunk myths and preconceptions.
Multiple University of Illinois students address in their online testimonials why they took a course online, their experiences with the instructor, the academic rigor and their initial skepticism about online learning. Testimonials on the Louisiana State University LSU Online website focus on both overall degree programs and specific courses. Look for both or either, depending on your needs.
3. Responses to your specific concerns: If you're new to online learning, testimonials can address common worries, such as what the in-person component of an online class entails, how accessible instructors are and what networking opportunities are offered.
One University of Florida online student commented on the school's site, "The biggest worry I had about the online program was not having face-to-face interaction. Having an actual lecture component within the program really helps, as does the network of peer support." Those who are concerned about balancing multiple responsibilities may look for details about technology tools that helped other students with time management, for example.
4. Relevance to your career path: Testimonials from those earning advanced online degrees carry the credibility of subject-matter experts.
For instance, one post on the LSU Online website reads: "I have 10 years of facilities engineering...and the information that I'm learning in the Construction Management Program is definitely preparing me for the next level of management in the Navy." Students may also address the demand for their online degree in today's professional workplace.
The takeaway: Seek testimonials that come from sources you can verify. The range of experiences they convey will broaden your awareness of the challenges and benefits of online learning, answer questions and debunk common myths.