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Quality, Rigor, and Engagement Above All: 5 Learners’ Impactful Experiences in Online Graduate Degree Programs

Written by Bannon Puckett on Sep 13, 2021

Related content: Graduate Programs, Outcomes, Digital Education

Clockwise from top left: Kris Bolling, Steven Montague, and the inaugural cohort of University of Dayton’s Online Hybrid J.D. program

2U leverages leading-edge technology, world-class curriculum, and passionate educators who are experts in their field to create transformative learning experiences. Around the world, high-quality online education has impacted countless lives: paving pathways for professional development by empowering lifelong learners with the skills needed to launch and advance their careers.

After enrolling in 2U-powered online graduate degree programs, Kris Bolling, Steven Montague, Jen Fraley, Hogan VanSickle, and Lea Bay were happy to discover that learning online came without compromise—in fact, they found that rigorous curricula, engaging faculty interactions, and critical asynchronous learning resources abounded in the digital classroom.

Read on to learn more about these learners’ experiences in online graduate programs from Simmons University, Yale University, and the University of Dayton.

“It Was So Good That I Went Back”

Kris Bolling was no stranger to online education when she enrolled in the Online Family Nurse Practitioner Program, Nursing@Simmons. She’d taken a handful of traditional, message board-based online courses in the past—but they were never enough for her. “If you want to learn a whole new skill set and take on the responsibilities of health care, you need to review material face-to-face, ask questions, and have a real relationship with instructors,” she explains. With Nursing@Simmons, she was able to do exactly that.

For Kris, one of the greatest benefits of Nursing@Simmons was studying with people who pushed her to achieve her fullest potential. “It’s a very rigorous program,” she says. “Instructors hold you to extremely high standards, and they don’t teach to the test. You have to know what you’re doing to succeed.” This dedication to quality made choosing a favorite course nearly impossible. “I never had a bad one,” says Kris, “because I was always learning from people who truly love what they do.”

​​Through the three different placements Kris was matched with by the program, she gained exposure to occupational health, family practice, and walk-in care. Since nursing is such a hands-on profession, these experiences were critical to Kris’s learning process. “I do family practice now, and I’m well-prepared,” she says.

After such a positive online learning experience, Kris is now pursuing her doctorate through Nursing@Simmons as well. “It was so good that I went back,” she says.

Focusing on Practical, Problem-Based Learning

As a student in the Yale School of Medicine Physician Assistant Online Program (Yale PA Online), Steven Montague believes he gained more hands-on experience and clinical hours than he would have been able to achieve at most of the country’s online and on-campus PA programs.

In particular, he loved the program’s focus on experiential, problem-based learning (PBL): a teaching method that uses complex, real-world problems to promote learning as opposed to direct presentation of facts and concepts. Three days each week, Steven’s cohort of 40 students was divided into small groups. Each group participated in a two-hour, problem-based class that focused on a unique patient case. Instead of being given the materials needed to answer questions posed by faculty, the students were simply asked, “What do you want to know?” Steven and his classmates worked these cases like real health care providers, using targeted software to search for information, run tests and labs, and make diagnoses.

“PBL facilitated my greatest gift from Yale PA Online: a solid clinical thought process that I could carry with me through the rest of my life,” says Steven. “Yale taught me how to think meticulously yet efficiently as a clinician, and PBL was essential in developing this.”

Today, Steven encourages others to explore the learning opportunity that changed his life. “I’d recommend Yale PA Online to active learners committed to the refinement of their own thought processes,” he says. “It’s an excellent program—it has to be one of the best out there. But it’s not for people who want to sit back and passively absorb information. The program demands students who thrive when they are active and engaged. For them, it is bound to be life-changing.”

A Challenging, Customized Law Curriculum

As graduates of the University of Dayton’s Online Hybrid Juris Doctor (J.D.) program, Law@Dayton, Jen Fraley, Hogan VanSickle, and Lea Bay are grateful for the way their program challenged them in ways they never expected.

Legal education is known for its reliance on the Socratic method (a rapid-fire series of questions by the law professor that challenges the student’s critical and logical thinking), and in the Law@Dayton program, all students—not just one or two—are put to the test.

“There’s no hiding in an online Zoom class,” says Jen. “Our names are on the screen, and they call on all of us. ‘What are the facts in this case, Jen?’ ‘Lea, what was the rule?’ The professors don't have to search the aisles. They know if you're paying attention. It's very evident if you haven't done the reading. We can't not be prepared.”

Though this approach can be nerve-wracking, Jen saw great value in the way the classes were conducted. “Because we all have to put in the work and complete the assignments, I think that our discussions are so much more enriched, and we get to the heart of issues so much faster,” she explains.

While Hogan was initially hesitant to attend a university with a hybrid J.D. degree program—for fear of missing out on the “quintessential law school experience”—she is confident now that she received a higher-quality education because of the flexibility and customization that an interactive law school experience can provide. 

Looking back, she is particularly appreciative of the program’s many asynchronous materials and digital resources. "The entire platform has been professionally produced with searchable transcripts, instant notification of new grades or professor feedback, and a mobile app to listen to lectures on the go,” says Hogan. “The UDSL online platform has allowed me to take control of my education on my terms."

From the start, Lea was confident that online education could be both accessible and high-quality. As a Law@Dayton student, her experience with the program’s asynchronous content made her feel engaged with her learning, constantly “touching” the material.

Lea also reflects back to pre-COVID times when she was able to connect with her law professors and peers in-person through Get Relevant Experience and Applied Learning (GET REAL) weeks on campus. She has fond memories of being exposed to panels with lawyers from the community and working on projects in the law library that tested her field knowledge.

“All the program aspects build bonds and connections with our professors, deans, and fellow students,” she says.

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