The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications has just launched a program that allows graduates of its online master’s degrees a chance to continue engaging with online classes for the rest of their lives. It gives access to high-quality, lifelong learning. It ensures that the knowledge and skills we provide our graduate students need never rust. And we are offering it for an annual cost that is less than that of a single graduate credit. We call the program Master Access, and it is the first of its kind at UF.
Why did we launch this program? Because we are committed to our students and alumni and because we think it helps make our distance graduate degrees stand out.
Lifelong learning delivered online is still a fairly recent innovation in higher education. But as leadership consultant Brian Tracy has written: “Lifelong learning is the minimum requirement for success in your field. Since information and knowledge in every field is doubling every 2-3 years, this means that your knowledge has to double every 2-3 years as well, just for you to stay even.”
And few fields challenge their workforces more to keep pace than communication. Hundreds of thousands of talented communication professionals finished their education before the revolutionary changes brought by digital technologies took root. Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and Instagram did not exist when these people graduated with degrees in advertising, public relations, journalism, telecommunication or related fields.
Maintenance Learning, Growth Learning and Shock Learning
The changes brought by digital media are not trivial either. A media planner trained in the world of buying newspaper or radio ads is ill-prepared to participate in programmatic advertising or search advertising. The public relations professional who studied how to create press releases has a steep learning curve when trying to figure out how to be a brand advocate in social media.
So how does Master Access help? Tracy describes three kinds of lifelong educational experiences: maintenance learning, growth learning and shock learning.
Maintenance learning is keeps you current with a field. “Maintenance learning is absolutely essential. It is very similar to light physical exercise that keeps you at a particular level of fitness but does not increase your level of fitness or improve your conditioning in any way.” Master Access helps meet this goal by giving grads the chance to dive in on specific modules within courses. Should strategies, state-of-the-art tools, software, metrics or best practice change, students can quickly keep pace with these changes.
Growth learning, according to Tracy, is “the kind of learning that adds knowledge and skills to your repertoire that you did not have before. . . Growth learning helps you expand your mind and you are acquiring information that you did not have before that enables you to do things that you could not do before.” Master Access gives grads the opportunity for growth learning by providing access to courses in specializations that differ from the one our alums matriculated in. In other words, a graduate from the Global Strategic Communications specialization gets access not only to all classes in her specialization, but also to classes in the Web Design and Online Communication specializations and the Social Media Management specialization, as well.
A third type of learning that Tracy describes is shock learning. He writes that this “is where something happens that contradicts or reverses a piece of knowledge or understanding that you already have. Shock learning can be extremely valuable if you act upon it. . . This “shock” can give you insights that can enable you to either take advantage of a major change in the marketplace or guard against a serious reversal.
Shock learning cannot be predicted, of course, but Master Access provides students with the opportunity to experience shock learning faster than their peers for several reasons. First, many of our courses are taught by working professionals. They have their ears to the ground and their eyes on the latest industry trends. When change comes, they will be the first to know.
Second, we revamp our courses continuously. As Tracy writes, “Unfortunately, most people are creatures of habit. When something happens that is completely unexpected, they choose to ignore it in favor of the old information with which they are more comfortable.” Old courses don’t do our students any good, and we place a premium on teaching state-of-the-art.
Tracy concludes that “Knowledge is the primary source of value in our world today and your ability to expand your mind and devote yourself to lifelong learning is the key to breaking any success barriers that may be in front of you.” We couldn’t agree more. Master Access is one tool that gives UF’s alumni a lifelong edge.
Mike Weigold, Ph.D., is the associate dean for undergraduate affairs and enrollment management in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications’ Professional Advising and Teaching Hub. He heads the college’s distance learning program and is also a professor in the Department of Advertising.