Seek out student testimonials that address common concerns about online education

Testimonials are ubiquitous: on marketplaces like Amazon, on product pages and on social media. Writing testimonials is also big business, and fake testimonials abound on the internet.

Yet, they can be a valuable source of information, especially when choosing an online degree program to meet your professional needs. Student reviews can answer questions about interaction with classmates, time management and required technology.

When accessing student testimonials online, first make sure they refer to actual accredited online degree programs. To read examples, conduct an internet search for phrases such as "student testimonials online learning."

A prospective university's home page or a school's Facebook page may also feature testimonials. If not, try the school website's search function, or ask for a link.

When examining student testimonials of online programs and courses, here are four aspects to look for.

1. Trust and legitimacy: Amazon's "verified purchase" tag indicates that a product review comes from someone who actually bought it. Look for the same signs of veracity in online student testimonials, with details such as college course titles and numbers, student or faculty names and photographs or videos. Make sure the testimonial refers to a school's online rather than in-person courses or program.

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.


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