Connecting online learning to real-world workplaces

Last month, Northeastern University College of Professional Studies launched an innovative pilot class called Online Experiential Learning for Working Professionals. The class—a first of its kind—gives working graduate students who are pursuing their degrees online to directly translate what they learn in class to the workplace. How? By giving them the chance to craft and complete a relevant project that addresses an identified business need for their current employer.

As CPS dean John LaBrie said in his recent blog post  on online experiential learning:

The romantic notion that adults come back to higher education for personal enrichment and self-directed intellectual pursuits does not hold water. …the vast majority are in it for a better life, which almost always translates to enhanced career outcomes.

The majority of online students at CPS are employed. This new pilot is designed to equip these students to further their education and grow their skills while attending classes online and putting their knowledge into practice—on the job. (For an overview of the concept behind the class, check out this recent post by Ellen Stoddard, who is coordinating the pilot program.)

So what do the students think of the concept? Below are comments from some who are taking part in the pilot on why they chose this unique class. 

[My] project could help leadership identify critical business issues which will aid in the process of making the decisions necessary to remain a stable and viable company in the future.

Another student sees the benefits of online participation:

Being exclusively an online student, I regularly seek to find the connections between my work toward my  Nonprofit Management degree and my personal and professional life. …Participating in this experiential learning program [gives] me the opportunity to both enhance my learning and bring added resources to [my role].

“Real-world experience” means just that—and the student group represents a lot of parts of the world: Geographically, the students hail from down the street in Boston down to North Carolina and Florida, and as far away as Dubai.

The diversity of the group reflects the broad potential for the pilot’s applications. One student is working on his project at a name-brand plant in Ohio; another is employed full-time at a New England law firm. Two of the participants intend to apply their newly developed skills to nonprofit work.

As Dean LaBrie puts it, “…incorporating experiential learning into online and hybrid learning programs is not only a crucial step toward these goals—it’s an inevitable one.” This pilot is an example of taking that step; we’ll continue to share results as the pilot progresses over the next several months.