Barbara McLarnan worked as a medical assistant and later taught college classes in this realm. However, thanks to an online master's in instructional design degree from Saint Leo University, she now has a corporate job that she loves in another facet of healthcare.

The 53-year-old native of Holt, Mich. now lives in Ormond Beach, Fla. She is married to her husband, Greg, and has two sons, Stephen and Sean, and a grandchild.

In terms of her previous education and work history, she originally did her certification to become a clinical medical assistant in doctor's offices in Michigan before moving to Florida. She worked in that role for 13 years prior to serving as an instructor at Keiser University. She taught for 15 years and earned her bachelor's in business administration during this time.

Her Path to an Online MSID at Saint Leo University

She recalls how she initially came across Saint Leo University.

"I didn't have an actual degree in education, so I was looking online at programs on curriculum  development and elementary education," she recalls. "I found Saint Leo and it seemed like it offered such a cool program. I read over the course descriptions, online reviews and saw it was fully accredited. I also saw how I could get a discount on my tuition because I was a college instructor at the time. I liked the 18-month plan. Plus, the enrollment counselor I talked to was so helpful and pretty much sealed the deal for me."

McLarnan enrolled in the program in August 2016.

"I especially enjoyed the actual design classes like e-Learning design, program evaluation and measuring performance and design. These classes have helped me a lot in my current job."

Some of the faculty members really stood out to her.

"I'd say Dr. Claudia Ruiz was my favorite professor," she says. "I had her for two different design courses. I really liked Dr. Keya Mukherjee as well. Both of them were very supportive and were always there for me whenever I had questions or needed help."

She wrapped up the online MSID program in the spring of 2018 shortly after taking an instructional design job.

From Medical Assisting to Health Insurance

After spending nearly three decades in a traditional medical setting and then teaching future medical assistants, McLarnan now finds herself in a different sphere of the healthcare sector. She is currently the administrator and designer for a learning management system for Florida Healthcare Plans, a subsidiary of the insurance company Florida Blue. She works in the human resources department.

"This was a brand new position they hired me for," she says. "They were just implementing this system when I started, and now I'm the administrator for it. I also teach instructor-led classes for our staff and design materials for our customers."

She attributes so many of the skills she uses today to what she learned in the master's program.

"It's easy to think that you'll never use certain things you learn in school. I can honestly say there was nothing in the program I didn't learn that I have not used in my job."

A Balancing Act

According to McLarnan, graduate students doing online degree programs must find ways to balance their coursework with their other obligations.

"I was still working full time as an instructor when I started this online MSID program. It was definitely a lot of work, but I would say it is very doable. I had to plan when I was going to do my homework and would have to tell my husband when I had to focus on the program."

The Benefits of Collaboration

Succeeding in an online degree program environment means making solid connections with fellow students, McLarnan suggests.

"Early on in my first class, I was able to align myself with three other students," she recalls. "We all helped each other. We stuck together throughout the whole program. Even though some of us lived in different states, we helped pull each other through it all."

She adds that the field of instructional design lends itself to group-oriented projects.

"We did a lot of team projects on Office 365 so we could all go in and make the changes we each had to make. We would also call each other, text, e-mail and use Skype."

For the coursework, she had to have a webcam and a headset with a microphone.

"We had live, weekly sessions in the evenings where we would log on to the course, turn on our webcams and then be able to see and talk to the other students and the professor. For me, this made the online format so much easier because you really felt connected to everyone."

McLarnan also felt like a true member of a university family in other ways.

"In all of my classes, at least one assignment or project had to incorporate something about Saint Leo's core values," she says. "The professors instilled these values in us. We even had to do something about the president of the university."

A Thrill Seeker

When she's not designing instructional materials, she considers herself a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

"I like to scuba dive, do offshore fishing and go hunting. I'm not satisfied unless I am challenged."

A Sample of McLarnan's Instructional Design Work

Photo credit: The photograph and screenshots included in this blog article were provided by Barbara McLarnan and are used with permission.