What comes to mind when you think of online learning? Imagery of a sketchy, unknown institution with a website full of smoke and mirrors designed to hoodwink students, maybe?
If it does, then you’re thinking of what online learning was a decade ago. Yes, poor experiences with online universities happen. These poor examples of distance education are vastly outnumbered by the legitimate online learning opportunities available today.
Many people are now taking full advantage of online learning, not just to earn a degree, but for career development.
Online Learning as a Career Development Tool
In days gone by, one might have to attend a conference in-person to develop relevant and ongoing professional skills. Because choices were limited and you had to be available for the specific dates of the conference when you did find a good one, this method of learning became a deterrent to growing professionally.
Online learning, on the other hand, gives you flexibility in when and where you learn. It allows you to find and complete a course on virtually any topic, anytime, and anywhere. Online learning also helps you develop two particular soft skills: self-direction and a thirst for learning. And completing online courses and showcasing the results on your resume shows employers you have the lifelong learning mentality they desire from new hires.
And, as you know, employers want an employee who is a sponge for knowledge.
Online Learning Options
Conventional learning options at brick-and-mortar institutions are expensive. Even one class can set you back several hundred dollars. So what do you do if don’t have the time or funds needed?
Coursera and edX combine the progressive aspects of online learning with the same legitimacy as earning credits from brick-and-mortar universities. Both Coursera and edX have an extensive list of partner Universities and hundreds of courses across dozens of fields.
I have used Coursera myself, and I am now. Through Coursera, I am currently taking a course in Career Brand Management from SUNY Empire State and have begun a ten-course specialization on Career Success from the University of California at Irvine. What’s a specialization you ask? It’s Coursera’s version of a mini-degree. EdX has something similar in their MicroMasters programs.
What I love about Coursera is I am able to easily upload my Coursera course certifications to my LinkedIn profile and display them to potential employers. Each certification is verified by both Coursera and the issuing University, which gives these courses legitimacy in the eyes of hiring managers.
Other than Coursera and EdX, other options include sites like Teachable and Udemy. There, anyone can create and sell a course. These sites cater to more niches and also tend to have cheaper courses. As you consider using these channels, do your homework to make sure the course is worth your money.
Developing an Online Learning Plan of Action
Are you ready to leverage online learning to help your career?
First, do some research on job boards to find job descriptions for the position you want. Make a list of the desired skills outlined in the description. Also, make note of the job duties. Next, perform an honest self-audit. Rank yourself on these desired skills from 1 to 3: 3 is mastery, 2 is a working knowledge, 1 is little to no knowledge. Those skills that scored 1s and 2s are your areas for improvement. That is where online learning can be a huge asset.
As you look for the right courses for you, use these skills as keyword search terms. Then check out what which online learning platforms have to offer to help gain these skills. For example, find the best available courses on public speaking, project management, and leadership. Want to expand your knowledge base? Consider courses outside your current area of specialization. Digital and social media marketing, for example, are good options for almost any career pursuit.
Gain a professional edge. Leverage online learning. And take your career to the next level, one course at a time.
About the Author: Brett Pucino is a ghost writer with five years of experience crafting blog posts, e-books, and product copy for small businesses and entrepreneurs. He is also a Career Coach apprentice learning the ins and outs of Career Development and Recruiting under the guidance of Jay R. Lang: author of “ Breakthrough: How to Get Hired in Today’s Tough Job Market”. You can reach Brett on Twitter @BPucino.