Interview with Debbie Cavalier, Vice President Online Learning & Continuing Education/CEO Berklee Online,

Debbie Cavalier Berklee Online CEO

Please tell us about Berklee Online, its history and its mission.

For over 65 years, Berklee College of Music has evolved to support its belief that the best way to prepare students for careers in music is through the study and practice of contemporary music. With a diverse student body representing over 130 countries and a music industry “who’s who” of alumni and faculty that have received 229 Grammy Awards, Berklee is the world’s premier learning lab for the music of today – and tomorrow.

Berklee Online is the online continuing education division of Berklee College of Music, delivering access to Berklee’s acclaimed curriculum from anywhere in the world. Berklee Online’s award-winning online courses and multi-course certificate programs are accredited and taught by the college’s world-renowned faculty, providing lifelong learning opportunities to people interested in music and working in the music industry.

How does Berklee prepare their students for careers in music?

The mission of Berklee College of Music is to educate, train, and develop students to excel in music as a career. Developing the musicianship of all our students is the foundation of our curriculum. We believe that the lessons and qualities derived from that work—the self-discipline needed for excellence, the empathy required of music making and the openness and inquisitiveness essential to creativity—are critical to achievement in any pursuit, musical or otherwise; and that music is a powerful catalyst for personal growth, which is central to any collegiate experience.

Founded on jazz and popular music rooted in the African cultural diaspora, our comprehensive curriculum is distinctly contemporary in its content and approach, and embraces the principal musical movements of our time. Through a course of scholarly and practical learning experiences integrating performance and writing, our curriculum covers the variety of influential styles, relevant technologies, and career opportunities open to today’s music professional.

The Berklee College of Music is famous all over the world; is it also active outside of the U.S.?

Yes. Our online and on campus programs typically have a 30% international population. Berklee Online has documented students from more than 141 countries.

Berklee offers much more than just learning musical instruments. What makes Berklee so unique?

Berklee Online offers more than 200 New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)-accredited courses and certificate programs in the major areas of Music Business, Theory, Harmony, Ear Training, Arranging/Orchestration, Performance, Music Production, and Songwriting. In addition, Berklee Online has been acknowledged for quality, having been awarded the University and Professional Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) Award for Best Online Course at the college level for an unprecedented eight years in a row. In 2013, UPCEA offered a new award category for Excellence in Online Teaching, and Berklee Online  Production Instructor Loudon Stearns won this award.

When did Berklee start offering courses online?

Berklee has always been at the forefront of distance learning. In the 1960s, there was the Berklee Correspondence course with 26 lessons and assignments sent between students and faculty via US Mail. In 2002, Berklee Online was established as the first fully online music education program. Berklee Online currently teaches over 200 courses and multi-course certificate programs to 13,000 continuing education students per year. In the fall of 2014, Berklee will launch its first ever fully online degrees: Bachelor of Professional Studies in two majors initially, Music Business and Music Production.

What are the benefits of studying with Berklee Online?

Online learning makes Berklee’s faculty and curriculum available to a much wider audience—especially people for whom coming to Boston for four years isn’t possible. Students can stay in the home they live in, in the country they live in, in the job they’re in, and learn at a time that’s convenient for them. Whatever their life circumstances are, this allows them more control over their education.  These benefits extend to the faculty as well. Last spring, Berklee Online Jazz Improvisation instructor, Gary Burton was touring with Chick Corea and was able to to teach his online course from all over Europe, week after week.

Proponents of online education say that today’s students have developed the social skills necessary to form meaningful communities online. Berklee Online Music Business Instructor, Mike King says, “I’ve found that the students often form lasting bonds. In fact, the Internet marketing company Passion Fire Media was formed after its founders, Daniel McCormick and Steve Lenard, met in a Berklee Online class.

Is it possible to combine courses at the physical college with the online courses?

There are all kinds of models out there where classrooms are flipped, blended, or fully online. Berklee Online is the online continuing education division of Berklee College of Music. If a Berklee Online student wanted to take courses—online or face-to-face—at the Boston campus, he or she would have to apply and be accepted to the college. Specifics about transferrable courses can be found on the Web site.

What training methods or study aids do you use? Can the high standard for which Berklee College of Music is renowned also be achieved online? Do you use different audio-visual material or video content?

Berklee Online spent the past eleven years developing courses and refining educational software tools that deliver the Berklee Continuing Education curriculum online.

The scope and learning outcomes for our online courses are all very much the same as a traditional face-to-face environment, but the path to get there is quite different. Berklee Online courses are media rich, filled with text, interactions, movies, audio files, etc. Over the course of 12 weeks, Berklee Online students work through the lesson material each week. They post questions, upload assignments, listen to and critique each other’s work, answer questions, interact with their instructor, receive feedback on their weekly assignments from their instructor, and participate in a weekly class meeting online. The class community becomes a vibrant online learning environment with lots of communication and musical exchange. Students who are new to Berklee Online are often surprised by how much they learn, how rigorous the Berklee Online online courses are, and how connected they feel to their classmates and instructor throughout the 12-week term.

We’ve structured our online courses to address many different learning modalities. Text, audio, video, live chat, discussion board activities, interactions and hands-on projects are all provided throughout the lessons to help students gain knowledge through their preferred learning style.

Can you get a degree at Berklee Online and how does this work?

Berklee Online’s inaugural class for the new Bachelor of Professional Studies degree will matriculate in the fall of 2014. Applications will be accepted in the fall of 2013. Berklee Online will be offering two majors initially for the degree program: Music Business and Music Production. More information about our new online degree program can be found here:

What else does Berklee offer its students?

Berklee provides many options for students online as well as on campus in Boston and in Valencia, Spain. There are Bachelors and Masters programs, online certificate programs, summer programs, free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) through Coursera and soon to be edX. We also have free lessons available through our Berklee Shares Web site. Below are some links to more information:

Berklee College of Music, Boston, US

Berklee College of Music, Valencia, Spain

Berklee Summer Programs

Berklee Online

SNHU/Berklee Music Business MBA

Berklee Shares

What are Berklee’s plans for the future?

To continue to expand the reach of the college and provide ever expanding music education opportunities to a global base of aspiring musicians.

by Sara Shirazi

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