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How to Balance Work, Life, and an Online EdD

March 18, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic launched a period of immense change in US education, reshaping how students experience the classroom and exposing a crisis in student development. In response to these challenges, the federal government requested a 21 percent increase in education spending in its 2023 budget. Such funding increases make possible innovative, effective policies that benefit students and teachers. 

Good policy doesn’t just happen, of course. It requires expertise and research—the very activities that define an education doctorate program. Programs like the online Doctorate in Education Policy and Leadership (online EdD) from American University empower education leaders with the practical experience and theoretical knowledge to effect widespread change. Earning an EdD can also open doors to positions of influence in administration, research, and public policy. 

Whether pursuing your doctorate in education is a long-held dream or a more recent goal, this rewarding challenge can advance your career. While completing a doctoral degree program may seem formidable alongside your other responsibilities, it doesn’t have to be. Online EdD programs, like the one American University offers, provide a flexible way to earn your degree. If you’re wondering whether an online EdD program is right for you, read on to explore the qualities needed to be a successful online learner.

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Characteristics of Successful Online Learners

As an EdD candidate, you likely have a master’s degree and have spent a significant amount of time in classrooms. You’re probably familiar with how to succeed in a traditional in-person learning environment. But what about learning online? What does it take to succeed in the virtual classroom?

The most successful online learners are driven, persistent, and motivated with clear goals. They’re also strong communicators and problem-solvers who take a proactive approach to learning and are comfortable with online technology. 

They are, in short, the same sort of people who make excellent education leaders. The qualities that help students complete the American University online EdD program also position them to pursue senior positions in school districts, independent schools, nonprofits, government agencies, and more. 

Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics many successful online learners share. 


While the online EdD program includes real-time interactions with peers and instructors, it also requires significant independent work. You’ll need to manage your time and keep track of important dates. Successful online students are also self-sufficient outside the classroom and take the initiative to find answers rather than waiting for them. 

Goal-Oriented and Motivated

Online learners must be self-disciplined and motivated to complete their work. Meeting deadlines, posting on discussion boards, and collaborating on projects are all necessary to make progress toward earning your degree. Setting aside blocks of time to finish assignments can help make the workload easier to manage. 


Completing an online degree program when you have other obligations can be a challenging balancing act. Persistence is critical, and it’s essential to lean on your support network when you need help juggling it all. Consider sharing contact information with one or more of your peers so you can support each other throughout the semester. Additionally, talk to your friends and family about your new time commitments.

Comfortable with Online Technology

Online learning is a multimodal experience that requires various technologies. It’s important to feel comfortable accessing course materials, navigating virtual platforms, and engaging in online discussions on your preferred device. 

In the online EdD program, your peers and faculty will get to know your virtual persona through how you present yourself online. Be mindful of how you express your thoughts in discussion board posts; ensure you convey your points clearly and respectfully. 


Flexibility and adaptability are essential traits, because unexpected obstacles inevitably arise. Whether experiencing an internet outage or struggling with a particular assignment, facing these frustrations with a calm, solutions-oriented mindset is essential.

Successful online learners identify ways to fix potential problems, leveraging available resources to solve them. As a student in the online EdD program at American University, you can count on support staff and student success coaches to help troubleshoot technical issues and academic challenges. 

Strong Communicator

Communication is critical to success in an online degree program. Since you will engage with others across multiple formats, you must be comfortable expressing yourself and asking questions both verbally and in writing. Confidently and clearly communicating your ideas, needs, and questions will help you build stronger connections with your peers and faculty.


Active learning is essential for online learners. The more effort you put into your class and study time, the more you’ll gain from the online EdD program. Take advantage of every opportunity to contribute to discussions and explore new ideas. By taking ownership of your experience, you’ll optimize your learning experience. 

Why Earn Your EdD from AU?

As a proud part of The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate, American University’s online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership prepares educational leaders to become scholarly practitioners who steward the profession forward. With a focus on systems change, personal leadership, social justice and antiracism, and policy and research, the program prepares graduates to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Through practitioner-focused coursework, research projects, and in-person residencies, you’ll develop the skills needed to pursue opportunities in educational instruction, organizational leadership, or policymaking. Each week, you’ll dedicate roughly 14-16 hours to live, online classes and self-paced work. You’ll also complete three, four-day residencies in Washington, DC, where you’ll engage with faculty and peers and present research projects. Residencies are typically scheduled Thursday through Sunday to accommodate students’ work schedules. The program’s cohort model enables students to learn from one another through classroom conversations, shared experiences, and research presentations.

If you’re ready to transform your organization or education system, contact an enrollment advisor to learn more about the online EdD program. They’ll guide you through the application process and answer any questions you have about the program curriculum, tuition, and online student experience.

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