As my classes at Royal Roads have "opened" today, I was thinking back to the process of what lead me to choose Royal Roads. This process shows not only the value of social networks, but also the power of Internet as an invaluable research tool.
As a prospective grad student, my determining criteria was: a) opportunity to learn - I wanted courses I cared about and an effective way to learn b) reputation of university - I benefit from the perception of the university's value c) opportunity to meet interesting, influential faculty & students d) had to be offered either by distance or in proximity to Toronto.
I scoured the websites of universities around the world. I found many possibilities, but was able to eliminate some by looking at their course calendar and being unimpressed with their offerings. I found some distance programs, but didn't feel their methods were good, ie. not fully using e-Learning. Several universities had outdated or incomplete information, which I was able to rectify from e-mails and then discount (eg. inappropriate faculty, program was shut down, or just a research centre not degree granting, etc.)
Here's how communication vehicles helped me cull the list:
1) ordered, from the websites, print brochures- this was a waste of trees as without exception all the material in print - and then some - was on their websites
2) emailed most of my Address Book - this had the most success, more later
3) posted to various web forums, specifically Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn, and Lonely Planet. Yahoo Answers was little help, but did scare me about e-Learning. LinkedIn got no response except two replies by Royal Roads staff, which showed they are tuned in. LonelyPlanet, who has a very active forum site, was the most success as I got a lot of positive and negative feedback.
4) telephoned - this was a determining factor for a Toronto university were staff and a program head were so uniformly rude and unhelpful, it made me very reluctant to go there.
In emailing my Address Book, I got some insider help and tips for new directions. When I came to specifically deciding whether or not Royal Roads was suitable emails to my contacts netted people I knew who knew: a current RR student, one of their e-Learning software developers, the chancellor of the university (probably the real reason I got in).
My friends put me in touch with their friends and the insider information I got on the quality of the program and the e-Learning platform was instrumental in my decision. This was the second time I can remember where I asked my online contacts to help me out and I never imagined it would be so successful - definitely a case study for the power of social networks.
I was favouring Royal Roads early on, but was discounting it due to my concerns that e-Learning would not be an effective way to learn, I wouldn't get to know students & faculty, and the reputation of a mostly online university and an online degree.
Largely through the Internet, via e-mailing various people and reading online articles & posts, I was able to dispell these concerns. I got to know a lot about the program, the technology, and their reputation.
As a result of my Internet research and my online social network, I was much better consumer. I was way more informed of my options and had a much better idea of what I was buying.