Do graduates of mainly online education programs possess the people skills that are necessary for optimum performance as school leaders?

Online education: Perspectives from a college professor

Do graduates of mainly online education programs possess the people skills that are necessary for optimum performance as school leaders?

The surge in popularity of online degree programs has revolutionized the landscape of higher education in recent years, with an astonishing 46% of college students in the United States experiencing online learning, according to eLearning Industry statistics. This shift, driven by the need for accessibility and cost-effectiveness, has been further emphasized by The Future of State Universities analysis, highlighting the appeal of online education for older, tech-savvy students.

However, amidst this growth, skepticism persists within academia regarding the efficacy and legitimacy of online learning. The Babson Study underscores this skepticism, revealing a stark contrast between the increasing adoption of online learning strategies by academic leaders and the reluctance of faculty to embrace its value fully. Furthermore, questions linger about the academic rigour, grading standards, and the development of essential interpersonal skills in online learners.

This essay delves into the nuanced complexities surrounding online education, exploring the experiences and perspectives of a college professor teaching online courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Through a critical examination of the researcher’s journey and the broader discourse on online education, this paper aims to address fundamental questions regarding the effectiveness of online education in preparing graduates for leadership roles in education, particularly focusing on emotional intelligence and its implications for educational leadership.

This research is important due to the need for graduates of primarily online education programs to possess the people skills necessary for quality performance in school leadership positions.

Todd William

What led to the research?

Due to the popularity and convenience of online degree programs, participation in online learning has surged, with approximately 46% of college students in the United States having taken at least one online course. The growth of online learning is driven by factors such as accessibility and cost-effectiveness, catering to a demographic of older, tech-savvy students seeking flexible educational options. Despite its rising prominence, skepticism remains within academia regarding the efficacy and legitimacy of online education.

The Babson Study highlights the disparity between the increasing adoption of online learning by academic leaders and faculty reluctance to endorse its value fully. Concerns persist regarding academic rigour, grading standards, and perceptions of online degrees, with debates over the credibility of online versus traditional face-to-face instruction. This skepticism reflects broader anxieties about maintaining educational standards and avoiding the perception of universities as “diploma mills,” underscoring the commitment of educators to deliver meaningful and impactful curricula.

PositionSuperintendentAssistant SuperintendentPrincipalAssistant PrincipalOther
12.12%12.12%36.36%18.18%21.21%
Years Served in Education0-506-OctNov-1516-2021-2526 or more
6.06%15.15%9.09%15.15%27.27%27.27%
Years in Current Position0-506-OctNov-1516-2021-2526 or more
54.55%30.30%0.00%12.12%3.03%0.03%
School and CommunityUrbanSuburbanRural
12.12%36.36%51.52%
Current Level of EducationBachelor’sMastersDoctorate
0.00%84.85%15.15%
Table 1.  Background Data

The individual writing this paper is a college professor teaching online courses for Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma. He was hired in 2017 and has been teaching educational administration courses for 4.5 years. Most of the courses taught by the writer/researcher have been delivered online. However, the professor is quite comfortable teaching face-to-face to the students.

In a somewhat dated but very important contribution to the field of education, Paolo Freire indicated that a relationship with a caring, supportive teacher is critical to student success. The researcher shares this viewpoint as he has tried to be a supportive educator who not only can empathize with his students but one who tries to teach in a way that prepares students for success once they have graduated from the program.

One concern that has consistently reared its ugly head is the idea that graduates of online programs do not have the requisite people skills necessary for success as a school administrator. Evidently, there is a lack of interest in educational service providers to hire a graduate from an online program. You can imagine how the previous statement has caused not just a little bit of anxiety as our faculty has tried to navigate the conundrum of trying to avoid this reputation and design learning activities that are relevant yet cognizant of the need to develop an awareness of and sensitivity to others.

Figure 1. Response on people skills
Credit. Author

The specific question that this research attempts to address is this: “Do graduates of the online master’s in education (MED) program offered at Southeastern Oklahoma State University possess the necessary interpersonal skills that allow them to be successful school leaders?” As you can tell from the question above, the researcher targeted emotional intelligence, and the reader will understand this better as you see the questions related to the survey. Goleman estimated that “close to 90% of a leader’s success is attributable to emotional intelligence.”

Education is a people-intensive enterprise, requiring school leaders to have a skill set that includes sensitivity to others – especially children. In addition to the obvious overtures about people skills, another item the researcher was hoping to target is whether we, as a staff, need to address some of these issues in our curriculum and possibly update our approach to instruction as it relates to these matters. The setting for the research conducted in this study was a group of public schools in the state of Oklahoma near a regional university. What prompted the research was a desire to know the answers to the following questions:

  1. Do the graduates of the online MED (master’s in education) at Southeastern Oklahoma State University have the people skills necessary for success as school leaders?
  2. Do we (as a staff) at Southeastern Oklahoma State University need to focus more of our curriculum on the development of emotional intelligence in our students in the MED program?

Findings of the study

Overall, the respondents for this survey were generally positive about their experiences with graduates of our online program. Questions 7, 8, and 13 were designed to measure the degree to which respondents view online learning as a legitimate form of instructional delivery. Question 8 was intentionally worded in a negative tone in order to verify the reliability of responses for a similarly worded question. The results for these three questions confirm that the respondents do not negatively view online learning.

The remaining questions on the survey (6, 9-12, and 14-22) all dealt with items related to interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. The results of these items on the survey also verify that school leaders who have a supervisory role relating to the evaluation of graduates of our program indicated they were generally satisfied when it comes to these areas. Multiple questions were designed to measure perceptions about emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills for these sections of the survey, and administrator responses to those questions were generally favorable.

One key takeaway for the researcher is that people skills can be conveyed during online class sessions. Based on the evidence from the study, we are doing a good job of stressing the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL).

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Journal reference

Williams, C. T. (2022, October). People Skills and Online Learning: To Assume Makes an Ass Out of U and Me. In Proceedings of the Future Technologies Conference (pp. 710-723). Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-18344-7_50

Todd Williams is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Information and Leadership (EIL) at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He has been a full-time university professor at SOSU since 2017 and has taught courses in educational leadership/administration since 2015. Prior to becoming a college professor, he served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent during a career which spanned 30 years in public schools in Texas. The last 21 years of his career in public education were spent as a school administrator, the final 16 years as a superintendent of three different school systems. His time as a practitioner has now been followed with time as a researcher, and he thoroughly enjoys his position as a professor of educational leadership and administration.