Mythbusting: The truth about 7 myths and misconceptions about online learning

By Nicholas Serpa / Starbucks Newsroom

When Andrew Steinmetz, 25, decided to return to school, he knew he wanted to earn a college degree in an environment where he could really learn and grow. An online degree offered flexibility, but Steinmetz wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be as valuable as a traditional degree? Is it harder to focus? Would he miss out on the opportunity to meet people?

Since 2014, Starbucks has offered eligible partners working 20 hours a week or more the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree through a partnership with Arizona State University with their tuition fully reimbursed. As new enrollees in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan gear up for fall classes, we spoke to seven of the 7,500 partners participating in ASU’s online degree program to bust some frequent myths associated with online education.

Myth # 1: Online courses aren’t challenging.

Online courses are not “easy A’s,” said Steinmetz, a Starbucks barista and shift supervisor from San Diego.

“I would say that the classes have been just as hard, if not harder, taking them online as opposed to in a classroom," he said.

Steinmetz, who spent summer 2017 interning with Starbucks’ point-of-sale development team, is currently studying Software Engineering through ASU Online. Before joining SCAP, he took classes in person at San Diego State University, but he said he’s had a more rewarding experience through the College Achievement Plan.

“I actually got more out of my online classes—I would say coding is one of the most interactive and self-gratifying programs at ASU,” he shared. “With programming, the second you build and compile your program, you instantly see the results of what you're doing.”

Myth #2: Online courses aren’t hands-on or interactive.

Online courses may be done in front of a computer, but that’s not where all of the work takes place. Graphic Information Technology (GIT) major Daniel Collins, 23, said he has had a both human and hands-on experience.

“So many of my GIT classes have been very applied and hands-on,” said the barista from Illinois. “I've been working with graphic software since I started at Arizona State.”

One project that sticks out to Collins involved redesigning a website.

“We actually had to go out and conduct guerrilla user testing, so we would actually sit people down and have them run through a mockup," he said.

Collins did similar research for his senior project. This summer, he interned on Starbucks’ Retail Communications & Partner Engagement team in Seattle, and is planning on graduating from ASU this August. Overall, he says that his experience at ASU has been positive.

“I've had a very rewarding experience at Arizona State,” he said.

Myth #3: Online professors don’t engage with online students.

Seattle retail partner Christine Keohokapu, 23, didn’t ever attend an in-person university—her first college credits were obtained through Starbucks and ASU’s Pathway to Admission program. But she learned that just because you don’t meet in a classroom doesn’t mean online professors aren’t there to help.

“I've never had a professor go longer than a day without answering my emails,” she said.

Keohokapu started studying accounting through SCAP in spring 2017. So far, she’s had great experiences with her professors, and said students shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if they need it.

“They are typically very in contact with you if you choose to be in contact with them,” she explained. “I think professors help a lot.”

Keohokapu pointed out that most professors have multiple ways to contact them, including online chat rooms. She also said she feels that video lectures help make learning online feel more personable.

“Professors are really good at sending out videos,” she said. “You feel like they're talking to you.”

Myth # 4: You can’t meet people in online courses.

When Shelly Banks, a 24-year-old shift supervisor from Kennesaw, Georgia, made the transition from community college to the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, she initially had some reservations about making friends online. But less than a year into the program, she said she’s been able to meet people.

“It's not that hard to find other people who are in your major or who are SCAP scholars going through the same thing you are," Banks said. “You can Skype with them, talk with them on the phone, talk to them on Facebook--there's all sorts of ways to connect.”

Banks, who is working on an interdisciplinary studies degree with concentrations in psychology and sociology, was even able to participate in ASU’s philosophy club, which recently began engaging with online students.

“I've had some really good discussions with people from the philosophy club online,” she said. “That's been a way to connect about academics.”

Banks has used a wide range of tools to connect with classmates—she said she found a study partner through one of her class’s discussion boards, and even organized a “Secret Santa” school supply exchange on Workplace.

Ultimately, Banks said that connecting with others is possible for those who are willing to take some chances.

“There are ways to be social—you just have to put your foot out there,” she said.

“The opportunities don't just come to you."

Myth #5: Online students don’t have access to resources.

Hikaru McCrory, 46, moved to the United States from Japan in 2000. She fell in love with Starbucks and was hired in 2014 as an administrative assistant at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle. Through SCAP, she began working towards a Bachelor’s in Women & Gender Studies in 2017.

McCrory said that, in addition to resources like tutoring and online access to the university library, the staff and faculty at ASU have helped her navigate her education.

"Success Coaches are always there—I talk to them every couple months,” she said. “They ask the right questions to guide you to stay on track.”

Success Coaches are a major resource available to ASU Online students. They help guide students throughout their degree programs, and help connect them with other resources as they need them, like tutoring or health and wellness services.

“If you pick up the phone and call, somebody is going to answer your question right away,” McCrory said. “They are there to answer whatever you need.”

Myth #6: It’s harder to focus in online classes.

A retail partner from Tempe, Ariz., and a summer intern on Starbucks retail payment technologies team in Seattle, Aaron Musengo thinks that a great way to focus at least as well as by sitting in a classroom is to find a healthy environment to study in.

“The best thing to do is leave your house and go to a library, or something that resembles a classroom setting, where you can really just put the time into it,” he said.

Musengo also thinks that it’s important to block out time on your schedule to get work done, and to not be afraid to take breaks every now and then.

“If you're just not focusing, you're wasting your time,” he said. “So you need to take a break, regroup, and figure out what's going on.”

And while everyone studies differently, Musengo suggested utilizing the flexibility of online courses to help accommodate different learning styles.

“What’s nice about taking the online classes is that you have lecture videos you can go back and rewatch at a later time,” he said. “You have that ability to stop mid-lecture and revamp before going back to it.”

Myth #7: Degrees earned online aren’t taken seriously.

A former retail partner from Houston, Texas, and a current mass communications student, Ashley Reynolds, 31, is proof that the online model is taken seriously in the business world. She currently works as an executive care operations manager at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle, and hasn’t even graduated yet.

“Going to ASU for the past three years has had a pretty profound impact on my career success,” she said. “Starbucks shopped around for the perfect university for this program.”

In addition to the fact that all of ASU’s online degrees are fully accredited, the university was ranked #1 in Innovation in the country by U.S. News and World Report, two years in a row. McCrory thinks the name of the university holds weight in today’s job market.

“If an employer sees Arizona State University on your diploma, I think that's going to represent very well the skills you gained in college, just because they have such a great reputation,” she said.

Reynolds is planning on graduating from ASU later this year. She said that from personal experience, participating in SCAP has been essential in achieving her long-term goals.

“The support from ASU and Starbucks has really elevated me into these opportunities,” she said. “It's been my dream since I was 18 to be doing what I am now, and I definitely attribute this program into me getting here.”

thumbnail for New Starbucks merch collaboration celebrates togetherness and joy in the everyday

New Starbucks merch collaboration celebrates togetherness and joy in the everyday