Personal develoment and transformational outcomes for women earning an online degree



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This qualitative study was designed to investigate the changes that occurred in the lives of women as a result of earning a fully online master?s degree. Eighteen women were asked to describe why they chose to earn an online degree, what barriers they faced in trying to gain an education and advance professionally, how their lives changed as a result of earning the degree, and whether the outcomes met or surpassed their expectations. Constant comparative and narrative analysis of interview data revealed that women who overcame barriers and resistance to their pursuit of education experienced a range of benefits from earning the online degree. Benefits encompassed personal gains in self-confidence, respect, the strength to be a role model, and professional gains such as new career opportunities, connectedness in a professional community, and credibility among peers. Participants reported the online environment uniquely connected them to a more diverse group of peers, provided greater access to instructors and peers, offered highly valued anonymity, introduced them to a more engaged form of learning, and created a safe learning environment. Online learning emphasized students? writing, reflection, articulation, timely feedback from the facilitator, caring and respect for students, and effective communication. Participants shared that earning the degree had a ?domino effect? that led others to emulate their behavior, and some experienced relationship changes. Significantly, several of the women had a transformational learning experience that included: (1) an unexpected discovery leading to heightened personal awareness that resulted from the learning experience; (2) an openness to change and the process of becoming; (3) a willingness to overcome internal or external resistance in order to redefine self; and (4) a retrospective affirmation of altered personality and identity. Participants suggested women still face discrimination in their professional lives, making advanced degrees more critical for women. They recommended that institutions of higher education provide more advanced online degree programs for the benefit of women who have a variety of other demands placed on their lives as they strive to attain their personal and professional goals. Implications and recommendations for future research and policy changes are provided.