soldier sitting behind a laptopEarning a degree from an online university is a challenging—albeit respectable—endeavor, especially for those living a life of military service. Even though a number of military friendly schools offer online degrees for military personnel, the potential obstacles these students face can impact their success if not managed appropriately.

There are three primary groups of individuals who are considered “military students.” They include:

Service members: These students can be deployed or placed on active duty at a moment’s notice. Sometimes the nature of their work can prevent military students from notifying their instructor prior to their departure and may keep them from accessing their online classroom.

Military spouses: Due to a special provision of the Post 9/11 GI Bill that allows immediate family members to share in educational benefits, there are a number of military spouses enrolled in online degree programs for military, earning what some call GI Bill degrees. Some are raising families alone while their spouse is away serving, and others are caring for a spouse suffering from war-related mental or physical injuries.

Veterans: Online degree programs for veterans are certainly available. However, a number of veterans returning to the classroom have injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hearing loss, speech issues, and other physical limitations that can affect their performance as a student. Some are in rehabilitation programs, as well.

So, how can these individuals remain successful at an online university in order to earn their degree? Below is a list of best practices that can be helpful to all.

COMMUNICATION
Pride is a common character trait among military personnel—taking pride in our country and pride in the work being done. However, sometimes pride can stand in the way of success for those students who shy away from telling their instructors (and possibly classmates) they are with the military. Many fear they will be labeled as someone who needs special treatment. On the contrary, one of the most beneficial ways to begin your program at a military friendly school is by making your instructors aware of your particular situation. “We never are notified that we have active military in the class,” says Walden faculty member Dr. Carla Lane. “And many military students don’t want to be treated as special, so they don’t share their situation. They think they can do it all, but they often can’t. The truth is, military students have different learning needs and different capacities. So, let your instructor know privately what your military situation is. Build a collaborative relationship with your instructor. As teachers, we want to be seen as a vehicle for success, not as an obstacle.”

FLEXIBILITY
Whether you’re enrolled in an online degree program for military or an online degree program for veterans, embrace the flexibility the program offers. “The beauty of online education, especially for service men and women, is you have so much flexibility. You can go to school in the early morning, at night, on the weekends, or while stationed overseas. You control your time and you do not need to commute to a building to learn with others,” said Dr. Yvonne Doll, a faculty member in Walden University’s School of Management and West Point graduate.

RESOURCES
Online universities, especially those seen as military friendly schools, offer a great number of resources to help ensure student success. Walden University is well known for its student support services, which include a writing center, an extensive online library, free tutoring services, student success courses, research services, graduate-level mentoring, and more. Take advantage of these resources whenever possible.

The military is a great stepping-stone for many individuals, and online degrees for military can take students further than they ever imagined. The key is to work closely with your instructors. “As facilitators, we need to be helpful. We need to be life coaches and consultants. We want to find out what we can do to support our students so we can help them to be successful,” offered Dr. Lane. With good communication and by taking advantage of the flexibility that is already built into online university programs, military students can find great success in the online classroom.

Carla Lane, EdD, is a faculty member with Walden University and executive director of The Education Coalition. Dr. Lane has also been conducting research in online instructional strategies for active military, veterans, and spouses for the Federal Government Distance Learning Association (FGDLA) where she is the vice president of the Higher Education Sector.

Yvonne Doll, DM, is a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) core course consultant for Walden, with a focus on training DBA faculty and enhancing faculty expertise. Dr. Doll joined Walden in 2010 as a contributing faculty member, teaching courses in the DBA program. Previously, she spent 22 years as an Army military police officer.