I have worked in libraries for the last 14 years in a variety of roles, but it was only last year that I decided to attend a graduate program in Library and Information Sciences. Since I am a full time staff member at Loyola University Chicago’s Law Library and commute almost 3 hours a day to my home in the Western Suburbs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s online program was the most obvious choice for me. The convenience of online classes for scheduling, comfort, and flexibility are obvious, but, in the last year, I have discovered so many additional, “invisible” benefits for students and full time librarians.
First, as a U of I student, I have access to the entire online and physical university library. This provides me with journals and other materials which would be cost prohibitive otherwise. Similarly, the Library and Information Science Library Portal focuses on materials which are relevant to my studies and to my professional career. The portal, by highlighting library science information specifically, brings many materials to my attention which might otherwise fall into my blind spot.
Second, the variety of courses make the curriculum well balanced and opens new professional avenues for students. Beyond that, the online format allows for geographically and experientially diverse instructors to teach these courses where in person courses would otherwise make these instructors impossible to hire. The online format expands the pot of potential instructors which in turn brings in practical and academic experiences from a far greater variety of people and experiences. During my time, I have had professors teach classes from Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, and Canada. Instructors have included people who have published extensively, worked on large inter-university library projects, and run many special collections at many different institutions. Without the online format, I would have never been introduced to these instructors or experiences.
Lastly for this piece (but certainly not the last invisible benefit), the online format greatly expands a student’s network, both geographically and personally. Not only do the students represent a future professional resource, there are many students currently working in the field which offer immediate professional resources. Similarly, as with my situation, the online format provides the library education to students who may otherwise be unable to take advantage, be it for time or geographic reasons. As with the instructors, these students come to U of I with many different professional and academic experiences and from diverse places, which would be impossible in an in-person class. Once again, the online classroom brings in a greater variety and diversity of experiences which is not something I anticipated going in.
There are many obvious benefits to online learning, not least of which is U of I’s #1 ranked program, various times and courses, and quality of instruction. But fortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Each student will make of graduate education what they will, but online instruction provides so many more benefits than advertised that it is difficult for students to not find something more valuable than anticipated.