Every day, students call the Writers’ Program and ask “What are the advantages of taking an online course?”

Online courses can be the most rewarding learning experience for the right student. For those with demanding day jobs, the flexibility to log on to Blackboard and “attend” class at odd hours is a huge benefit, as is doing homework in pajamas or turning in assignments during those late-night creative bursts.

For Angelenos sick of the seemingly nonstop traffic, online courses can offer a brief respite from the commute (not to mention the crunch at the pump). However, another benefit of online learning may not immediately come to mind. Writers’ Program online courses bring together people from all over the globe, and offer students the opportunity to work with writers from Bollywood to Hollywood!

The Writers’ Program has always been a leader in distance learning; we pioneered the largest online writing program in the country back in 1995 and we continually add new courses in diverse and emerging sub-genres of creative writing and screenwriting.

These days, Writers’ Program online students come from Los Angeles and beyond (key word being ‘beyond’). Students like Pamela Segger of Nova Scotia searched out writing programs on the internet. She says, “I did what any aspiring online student would do nowadays and Googled ‘best online screenwriting course.’ UCLA Extension turned up over and over.” Now Pamela is traveling the United States with her spouse on a 40-foot camper and is currently enrolled in an online screenwriting course.

Or sometimes interest is sparked by picking up a UCLA Extension catalog while visiting Los Angeles. Harley Karulis, a self-described “California fan,” picked up a catalog while touring Westwood Village on vacation. He took it back home to Toronto, signed up for the Certificate Program in Creative Writing (which can be completed entirely online), and quit his day job.

Sometimes writers are turned on to the program by a relative, as was Ashok Goyal of New Delhi, India, who took his first online course in screenwriting after his sister (also a fellow writer) recommended UCLA Extension. Ashok says, “After I visited the website, I found it enticing enough to try a course. Fortunately, the first course got me hooked on writing.”

Madhu Einsiedler, of Austria, wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a screenwriter but had trouble finding programs in Austria and Germany without age limitations. In the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension, Madhu found a “high-quality, top-notch program.”

Kerry Fisher, of the UK, began two novels she couldn’t finish, and loves the “discipline of having to deliver pages each week.” She encountered a fellow journalist on a press trip to Utrecht who was so enthusiastic about a Writers’ Program instructor that she had to investigate the program. She admits, “I thought I’d take a look and now I’m addicted.”

Pamela Stamatiou, of the small Greek village Ermioni (pop. 3000), got the idea to search out U.S.-based university extension programs via the internet after someone mentioned an extension program in Greece. She’s currently enrolled in Writing the Short Story: Intermediate Workshop, her fifth Writers’ Program online course.

Students considering online learning should think of their international classmates as a big plus. As Pamela of Nova Scotia notes, “The melding of cultures and experiences enriches the classroom dynamics. Often we see ‘story’ the same, but through different lenses.” And Madhu finds it “fascinating to learn that the issues and struggles of writers are the same no matter what nationality.” Harley brings up an interesting point about studying with a global community: “I believe that a world view enhances strong writing. And online courses enhance the world view.”

Writers draw inspiration and encouragement from their global peers. “I’ve been in class with students from so many different backgrounds with such diverse life experiences. Everyone from artists and scientists to IT consultants and teachers,” says Kerry. Adds Pamela of Greece, “If a group is international, it’s fascinating because their writing material is inevitably influenced by the environment and culture of the country they live or grew up in. It adds a more ‘worldly’ perspective and yet, their experiences are easily translated and related to everyone’s in the class. Online courses verify what a small world we truly live in.”

Ask an international student what they like best about Writers’ Program online courses, and you’ll get a host of answers. For screenwriter Ashok, the best part is “being instructed by people who are active writers themselves. I think this is tremendous real-world exposure for us.” For creative writing student Harley, the online courses offer a protective barrier: “In a traditional classroom setting, it can be difficult to stand up and read new work. It can be as hard as holding back the raging torrent of Niagara Falls. Online there is a freedom to power up the computer and write without worry.” For Kerry, the structure that writing courses provides is invaluable. Two years ago she almost lost hope in seeing her novel culminate, but now after numerous online writing courses, she says, “I simply couldn’t put my characters in the drawer and forget about them.” The fact that there is no visual contact is no problem for Pamela of Greece. In fact, she loves it and says, “You don’t necessarily have the feeling of embarrassment or insecurity and that gives students much greater opportunity to write freely and honestly.”

The verdict is in: online courses are a rewarding and exciting learning experience no matter where you call home. You just might start a writing group after a course ends, like Kerry, whose writing group includes members from Canada, the UK, India and Brazil.

So, veteran onliners and newbies alike, strike up a conversation with your international classmate the next time you’re at the virtual water cooler. After all, they’ve traveled a long way to write with you.

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For more information about the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program online courses contact writers@uclaextension.edu or (310) 825-9415.

Gabrielle Stephens is the Program Assistant in Creative Writing Online.

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