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Is An Online Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Respected in the Field?

Is An Online Master's in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Respected in the Field?

Many professionals like you might be interested in advancing their education. However, like you, they might wonder if an online master’s in industrial-organizational psychology could be the right pathway forward for them.

The question is, is an online master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology respected in the field?

It’s a critical question because many working professionals often choose the online pathway in order to continue with their career while they go to school.

While the field generally respects online degrees, it’s important for professionals to understand that just like on-campus programs, not all online graduate programs are the same. The result of this is that some programs are more respected than others.

Let’s take a look at how online education is perceived amongst industrial-organizational psychology and explore some of the key differences in programs of which you should be aware.

The Field’s Perspective

American Psychological AssociationThe I/O psychology field has grown in recent decades; indeed, for a field that has only been around since the 1980s, it has provided a lot of valuable data for businesses and various industries that has allowed business owners, executives, and managers to make more informed decisions that improve the company’s bottom line.

The field’s perspective surrounding online degrees has also changed over the decades.

Admittedly, when online learning began to emerge, it was viewed with a great deal of skepticism. How could one possibly get a quality education when they are learning remotely from their couch?

Yet, as the years have gone by, online master’s programs in industrial-organizational psychology have put out high-quality graduate after high-quality graduate. What’s more, with more graduates providing viable research through online programs, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the quality of the education of an I/O psychologist is more important than how they received their education.

Even the American Psychological Association, which delivers various I/O psychology papers to its members, agrees: the APA is known for providing ample opportunities for online graduate students to submit their research.

Besides, it takes a certain type of stick-to-it-ness to engage in higher learning in a more self-directed environment of online learning. Being able to set and meet your own deadlines, manage your time wisely, and maintain motivation without traditional interaction with classmates and professors speaks volumes to your worth ethic and value as a potential employee.

Additionally, as the lure of online learning has grown, many colleges and universities have improved the delivery methods for online learning. For example, 20 years ago, an online course might have included little more than email “conversations” with your professor, an occasional teleconference, or a group chat board where you could banter with other students.

Today, though, higher education institutions offer real-time videos of courses, interactive learning portals, online mentoring and tutoring, and many other support services to help distance learners get the most out of their experience.

Online courses in I/O graduate programs are often taught by the same professors that teach on campus as well. This means that you benefit from getting the same type and quality of education, even though you aren’t physically on campus.

So, taking these factors into account, it’s easy to see why online graduate programs in this field are viewed as being wholly respected in the industrial-organizational community.

Online Versus Traditional Degrees

Online Versus Traditional DegreesAs noted earlier, over the years, graduate schools around the country have made a concerted effort to remove the stigma surrounding earning an online degree.

In fact, some schools only offer psychology graduate programs online. And in other cases, colleges and universities spend as much – if not more – money in supporting online learning initiatives as compared to on-campus programs.

This has led to the schools removing the distinction of whether a student earned their online degree online or not – it used to be common practice to denote that a degree was earned online. 

However, with this practice now abolished, it means that employers have no way of knowing how a student was conferred their degree (without directly asking them, of course). This has led to the field’s view that an online graduate degree in I/O psychology should be every bit as respected as any other degree.

And as it should be. Online education has come a long way, as discussed above. So the education one receives in an online program truly is commensurate with an education one receives in a traditional on-campus environment.

While the learning experience is still vastly different, online and on-campus programs have far more in common than they don’t. In many cases, it’s the same curriculum taught by the same professors in the same sequence no matter if you’re taking courses online or in-person. From an academic standpoint, it’s a wash. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that online learning is somehow not as worthy as on-campus learning.

The most difficult aspect of online learning is perhaps not having that in-person connection with professors and classmates. To get around this, many programs have implemented technologies like those discussed earlier – livestreams, video conferences, and so forth – to give distance learners that collegiality that in the past might have been missing.

What’s more, some online master’s programs in industrial-organizational psychology require students to meet on campus for intensive learning weekends. Some programs might require just one or two intensive weekends while others might have four, five, or even six. Again, these weekends give distance learners the chance to get that in-person learning experience, if only for a few weekends over the course of the program.

Ultimately, one of the biggest factors in your success in a graduate program is your commitment to learning. Whether you take courses in-person or online, you have to be willing to put in the requisite time and effort to successfully complete your courses. Students that learn online have every bit the opportunity to succeed as students that learn on campus. So it’s less about how the courses are delivered and more about what you do with the opportunities you’re given to learn.

Accredited Versus Non-Accredited

A hugely important issue for you as you think about entering graduate school is whether or not the programs you’re interested in are accredited.

No matter what school you choose, or even whether the program is delivered in an online or traditional format, the powers that be in industrial-organizational psychology expect a student to earn a degree from an accredited institution.

Why is accreditation so important?

It’s simple: accreditation ensures that an institution of higher learning has met or exceeded minimum standards of quality for education.

Of course, accreditation is much more complex than that. Accreditation helps colleges and universities manage transfer credits, helps employers determine the quality of the programs from which prospective employees have graduated, and helps you, the student, identify which schools provide the best educational opportunities.

Accreditation is voluntary, but is rigorous in that it involves a long planning and evaluative process to be accredited and to retain accreditation. Colleges and universities that are accredited must outline goals for future success, adhere to another layer of regulations beyond the state and federal departments of education, and help personnel determine student eligibility for federal student assistance.

In other words, accreditation benefits everyone involved.

Institutional-level accreditations can come in various forms. Regional accreditation from one of the nation’s six regional bodies is preferred, though national accreditation is also common, particularly for online schools.

Furthermore, some online master’s degrees in psychology are accredited by the American Psychological Association. In some instances, a program might have APA accreditation and offer institutional accreditation from a regional or national body as well.

It is also important to note that many schools that obtain accreditation from the APA also adhere to the guidelines put forth by the Graduate Training Programs in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Related Fields guidebook. This is delivered by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and remains the highlight of any graduate degree that is respected in the field.

Designed for Working Professionals

Master's in Industrial- Organizational Psychology is Designed for Working ProfessionalsOne of the main things to remember about the I/O psychology field is that it is well understood that working professionals are the ones who most often earn graduate degrees. Because of this, the online format is the best choice.

Unlike on-campus learning, online learning typically doesn’t occur at a specific time of day. Rather than attending class meetings at set times, you might find that you have much more independent learning time. Sure, you’ll have occasional online meetings via video or chat, but likely not to the extent that you would in an on-campus environment.

Being allowed to work on your degree on your own time is critical to continuing your education as a professional. Not everyone can quit their job and go to graduate school full-time, let alone on campus, so online learning delivers the flexibility needed in order to study and work full-time.

Additionally, graduate programs are aware that working professionals are the majority of their students, so offering an online alternative that is in accordance with the standards of the field allows more people to get a respected degree in the field.

It’s a symbiotic relationship that benefits both sides – I/O programs enable themselves to attract the best and brightest students while working professionals are able to get a quality education to advance their careers.

It makes sense that I/O graduate degrees be offered online, anyway. If you think about the mission of industrial-organizational psychology, it’s to improve the performance and likelihood of success of employees, to improve job satisfaction, increase motivation, and ensure a safe working environment. When colleges and universities offer online I/O programs, they’re seeking the very same goals. They want to make learning easier and more accessible, provide you with means to improve yourself, increase your motivation to learn, and give you the proper tools to do the job of learning with the fewest barriers.

What Employers Think

When you interview for a job as an industrial-organizational psychologist, the interviewer will be more interested in your knowledge base and skillset and how you can utilize those tools to help the business or organization achieve its goals.

If you demonstrate a great depth of knowledge and the skills needed to be successful, an interviewer will likely not care at all whether your degree was earned online or in-person. As long as you’ve been successful in school, have graduated from an accredited institution, and can demonstrate to an interviewer that you have what it takes to do the job well, that’s what truly matters – not whether you studied online or not.

Now, 20 years ago, this might not have been the case. But as we’ve already discussed, the quality of online learning is so much greater today that the distinction between online and in-person degrees no longer exists.

In fact, the Department of Education has found that “students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.” So not only is online education a valid means of learning, it appears that students in online environments actually do better.

Are Online Master’s Degrees in Industrial-Organizational Psychology the Future?

I/O psychology is a field that continues to expand, enabling more professionals to find better career options in their field.

An online program may be a great way to advance your career, and with so many employers indicating that such a degree is not a detriment to employment, the time has come to take it into serious consideration.

As much as the landscape of education has changed over the last two decades, it’s easy to imagine that in the not too distant future, online master’s degrees might become the norm, with on-campus learning becoming the less-common way to get a degree. Only time will tell, but for now and in the future, getting an online master’s in I/O psychology is a great choice for many students.

If you feel as though you’re ready to advance your studies and prepare yourself for a career in this field, your first step should be to investigate what online programs might be a good fit for you. Just keep the pointers presented here in mind to help guide you towards an appropriate master’s degree program.

Sean Jackson

B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming

M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming

B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts

Updated July 2021

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