We have all seen how the digital age has changed so many aspects of our lives beyond recognition. From the way we chat with friends or order the weekly groceries to large-scale changes in big business transactions between multinational companies, the Internet has changed the way we look at everything.
So maybe it should come as no big surprise that the digital revolution has also led to major changes in education, and the way that people of all ages, backgrounds and academic levels go about obtaining the skills and qualifications they need to get into their career of choice.
Online learning makes education a possibility for people who had thought the doors were permanently closed to them. Even if you have a busy life, with kids to look after, a home to run and full or part time work to fit in, there is still an online course that can fit your lifestyle and, of course, your budget.
The rise of distance learning
A study by the Instructional Technology Council surveyed technology leaders at community colleges across the USA, and found that distance education enrollments account for almost all recent student growth at two-year institutions. They reported a year on year increase of about five percent in student enrollment in online programs. Meanwhile, overall community college enrollment shows a decline of around 3.5 percent according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
Ask any campus administrator and they will tell you intuitively that online courses are seeing a steady growth, but these research statistics are the first to back that up with solid numbers.
The advantages of online learning
The biggest advantage that online learning brings is flexibility. In years gone by, anyone wanting to take a bachelor’s or master’s degree needed to dedicate 2-4 years of their lives to full time study, and for many that was simply not feasible. This was particularly the case for those wanting to improve their academic qualifications a little later in life, and having to balance domestic and work commitments around their learning.
But whether you are sitting down to study in a coffee shop after the school run, or burning the midnight oil after a day at work, an online course means you can study when you like and from any location. Many are also self-paced, allowing you to fit as few or as many hours into the spare cracks in your life as you wish.
Alongside this flexibility, online learning is also far more affordable, as like any form of e-business, it has fewer overhead costs.
And finally yet importantly, the evolution of what are called “hybrid models” means you can mix and match your course content and tailor it to exactly what you need.
The range and scope of available courses is mind-boggling, and the distance learning portal has literally thousands of courses in its searchable database.
If you already have some business experience and are looking for the perfect course to give you that leg-up to the next level in your career, then an online master’s course could be the perfect option. MBA programs provide a great grounding in all areas of business management and will seriously impress potential employers.
An online course that secures a Master’s in Library and Information Science can open doors to jobs for library science graduates. This useful program teaches management strategies that aid you in defining your role as a potential leader. The curriculum involves the development of management skills through teamwork, project management and communication, as well as the more technical aspects encountered in the day-to-day administration of a business.
So is it all roses? There are, of course, some pitfalls to distance learning too, but the good thing is that they are all within your personal control.
Fred Lokken is the Chair of the Coalition of Affiliated Councils and was asked to discuss the ITC survey results. He remarked that the biggest problem he sees is student retention, commenting: “We generally see students less likely to complete a degree online.” The statistics bear this out, and nationwide, student retention in online courses is about 70 percent, compared with 77 percent for face-to-face instruction.
Much of this has to be down to the need for online and remote students to motivate themselves and keep studying, despite the other pressures of life and without the presence of peers and teaching staff.
However, given that most of us already engage in more social interaction online than in real life, the support structure is there, and for anyone who is committed, the disadvantages of online learning become insignificant.
The final point worth noting is that the ITC’s study found that more than two-thirds of online students are women, emphasizing the huge impact that the flexibility offered by online learning has had on everyone.
It really is so easy, there is no excuse not to. So pull out your smartphone and find the right course to get you on track for the career of your dreams.