Real-World Learning: Online Programs With Heart

By fostering real-world engagement, Endicott College’s Van Loan School of Professional Studies has led in experiential online learning for years.

Endicott Van Loan School Madrid
Est. Read Time

Remote and online education has been a curve ball for many institutions who had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Van Loan School of Professional Studies at Endicott College has been leading the practice for years. The school offers real-world learning solutions as part of its online curriculum so that English-language learners, active military, veterans, parents, full- and part-time workers, professionals, and anyone else with a hectic schedule can achieve their educational goals—on their own timetable. Van Loan School staff and faculty fully understand that professional studies students are pursuing degrees while balancing work, family, and social commitments. But despite this juggling act, students are dedicated to learning and understand its importance to their future.

Even before COVID-19 caused disruptions, the Van Loan School was offering associate and bachelor’s degrees in the areas of computer science, psychology, business, criminal justice, and integrated/liberal studies fully online.

A main difference, when compared to other online programs, is that the Van Loan School’s model embraces experiential education no matter the course delivery method—a hallmark of Endicott College at large. Providing meaningful hands-on engagement to online learners is essential. Academic Dean of Professional Programs Laura Douglass, Ph.D., says, “We encourage faculty to embed experiential learning into their courses. For example, in American Court Systems, students actually go to a local courtroom, and students enrolled in the undergraduate course Addiction & Society attend a local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting and write up a case study (keeping anonymity of all participants).”

At some colleges, there are just a few experts in online learning. At the Van Loan School, it is an integral part of being a faculty member. Douglass explains, “We expect every faculty member to be as fluid in online pedagogy as we do the content of their course. It is the goal of faculty to develop multimedia, highly engaging, and experiential learning communities. Students expect high quality faculty who care about them and their future.”

However, you don’t have to be an innate technology aficionado to excel as a faculty member—you just need to be committed to becoming a better online educator each day. “We have instructional designers who can assist with the technical components of teaching, but faculty need the commitment and drive to create an environment in which student success is at the center,” says Douglass.

She continues, “The first type of interaction the student has is with the faculty. We want faculty who are highly engaged and participatory with a student focus. The second type of interaction is with peers—students learn from understanding new perspectives, and from being responded to by a wide range of voices. Third, students should interact in their field of study…with professionals, interviewing individuals in their field so that they can see their professional identity come into light.” 

As with other schools at Endicott, the Van Loan School knows the value of being part of the world—virtually and experientially. Douglass says, “I believe that learning is more than sitting in a classroom, and more than sitting at home alone with books. Learning is about finding out who you are a person, your strengths, your weaknesses and developing the persistence to acknowledge both and continue to grow—this happens through interaction.”

A typical three-credit course includes 90 hours of assignments while the rest of the time is orchestrated by the individual professor to encourage participation and hands-on learning. For example, students are urged to contribute to large discussion forums, visit museums, and observe classrooms.

Endicott Van Loan School MadridVan Loan School students abroad in Madrid, Spain.

Students also have the opportunity to go abroad, most recently to Madrid, Spain. “We have week-long study abroad options for students so they can see themselves as part of the larger world,” says Douglass. “This gives students a sense of being part of a global community that is dedicated to learning, exploring, and challenging one's self to be innovative. Students learn the world is bigger than their community.” Whether online, or on-site in Beverly or Boston, the Van Loan School offers an environment where individuals at various stages of learning, with different life circumstances, can thrive. A successful example is Carola Terreni ’19, who achieved her bachelor’s degree in psychology while simultaneously raising five children and working full-time as an expressive arts therapist in Buenos Aires, Argentina. To learn more about professional studies programs contact Director of Van Loan Undergraduate Programs Maureen Znoj at or visit