Studying Psychology 2.0 Series: Studying Psychology Online
“What do you mean by you studied online? Are you even a real psychologist if you did not attend to people during your study?” (Real Quote)
Even today in our modernized and technologized world, I have the feeling that many myths, misconceptions, and false assumptions surround the topic of online learning. The above is a response you are going to face at one point or another if you decide to study psychology by the means of a distance-learning program. But what are the reasons for these prejudices and why, despite the underlying fear of having to suffer drawbacks in your professional career, is the number of students opting for online degrees increasing?
In an attempt to answer this complex question, we must take baby steps. I, for one, believe that a common fallacy concerning the very study of psychology is partly to be blamed for the bad reputation of online learning. People seem to think that studying psychology provides you with a secret manual about life and everything it comprises of. Once graduated, psychologists are those all-knowing, fierce magicians who can read a person’s mind and personality simply by looking at him. And of course they have cured dozen of clients who suffer from mental illnesses during their graduate studies.
That unfortunately is not the case.
There is no such thing as magic and mysterious mindreading in the natural science of Psychology. Instead, studying psychology involves a great deal of mastering statistics, research designs, and other scientific topics. Based on my on-campus experiences, contents related to counseling or psychopathology are delivered in the context of lectures and smaller seminars. The structure of the latter generally has the instructor leading two or three seminars followed by assigning the remaining topics to be covered and presented by the students themselves. Actual real-life exposure to counseling is primarily limited to internships. As a matter of fact, this is where studying online can be of advantage. You are no longer required to comply with prearranged orders or fixed schedules of lectures neither are you in need of semester breaks to conduct practical training. Instead you can easily shift all your studies to the evening hours and complete long-term internships during your graduate studies.
That said; in which ways vary online studies from traditional on-campus structures and contents apart from being conducted on the Internet? One major difference is that most online studies involve a module system that is arranged and scheduled by the student with the majority of universities offering multiple starting dates for the relevant modules throughout the year. Unlike on-campus structures, you are also less likely to study more than one module (particular theme i.e., Psychological Appraisal and Treatment) at a time; except you particularly wish to shorten the amount of time needed to pursue your degree. However, having only one module at a time does not automatically translate into more leisure time or less work per se: to the contrary. For example, I had to meet five to seven deadlines during my online graduate studies on a weekly basis with no breaks on weekends or during holidays. These deadlines included writing two essays (ranging from 500-700 words), providing 3-5 quality replies to my virtual classmates’ responses to the weekly discussion problem on at least three different days of the week, and completing a number of reading assignments. Quality responses had to have references to relevant scientific sources and had to be written in a precise and academic manner.
Due to the structure of having various weekly deadlines students are instinctively encouraged to read all entries made by others and the instructor. This level of engagement opens the pathway to a unique communication fueled with great cultural variety (as students are from all over the world), productive discussions, constructive arguments, and insightful expressions of critical thinking. As a consequence, you are actually really busy during the weeks of the module getting in-depth and intensive exposure to the content.
But, if it is neither the content nor the amount of work that differentiates online and offline studies: what is the main difference? It appears to me that the only difference is to be found in the field of psychology suitable for online studies. For obvious reasons, distance learning does not provide the appropriate environment for in-person laboratory exposure and training. This should mostly be of concern to students who wish to pursue a career in research, neuropsychology, or physiopsychology. However, for counseling students studying online is just as challenging, rewarding, interesting, and most of all qualitative as studying on campus.
In conclusion, I do not feel any less of a psychologist than my fellow students who graduated from an on-campus study program. Above all, I feel that the skills I learned, the discussions I shared, and the insight I gained from studying online helped me becoming an open-minded and culturally-sensitive therapist with a strong educational background.
Next time, I will examine the skills needed to successfully master studying online. Thank you.
Next post in series > Studying Counseling Psychology Online Versus Campus