By Linda Lockhart
People come to Athens from across the country to attend Ohio University. Thanks to the Internet, some now can choose to stay at home for their studies. Or at work.
Last week, the university launched its first fully online graduate program, the Master of Health Administration. The online version of the College of Health and Human Services program is expected to serve a growing population of learners who are engaged in professional careers or other life obligations and cannot take one or more years off to advance their education.
"Most of the online MHA students would be unlikely to attend face-to-face classes," said RuthAnn Althaus, who spearheaded development of the online MHA program. "Their lack of geographic proximity to an appropriate program, the demands of their busy lives and the impracticality of leaving their full-time employment to attend school would rule out their ability to advanced education in a traditional face-to-face program."
The first group of 10 students includes a community hospital CEO, a nursing home administrator, the chief clinical executive for an organ donor organization and a health system chief operating officer.
Another 15-25 students are expected to begin in March, which highlights yet one more difference in the online program -- students can enter in any of the fours quarters. Although the online version of the MHA requires the same number of credit hours and courses as the existing on-campus MHA, content has been redesigned to take advantage of the online environment and to accommodate the audience's learning style.
For example, courses have been bundled into eight modules, with one model every 10-week term.
"Learning objectives in the online program have been designed to tap heavily into what these mid-career students already know and can build upon in classes," Althaus explained. "Adult students learn best when they gain knowledge through exploration and active learning.
"In this program, students construct the necessary knowledge rather than having it given to them," she added, saying the program replicates the social and iterative learning that occurs in organizations.
The move helps the College of Health and Human Services broaden its reach into the steadily growing field of health care, which now employs 12 percent of the total U.S. workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
To reach its audience, the university has been working with Embanet, a partner experienced in formatting and marketing online programs.
"Working with Embanet has helped us to develop and launch the online MHA more quickly than we could have using only our in-house resources," said Masha Ham, executive director of Lifelong and Distance Learning. "They bring a level of technical expertise and access to marketing channels that is their business. And they are helping us to provide a student experience with 24/7 support that is needed for and expected by adult learner."
The partnership has allowed faculty to concentrate on developing the courses and interacting with students.
"Embanet has helped us to put the modules online in a very sophisticated way – providing technological and pedagogical help so that we can take advantage of the wonderful options available to those teaching online," Althaus said.
The online MHA students will have one special opportunity to come to campus.
"They can complete all of the learning activity from their home location," Ham said, "but they are definitely invited to graduation if they want to come to campus."