In today’s fast-paced world, finding the time to further yourself professionally can be challenging, but it is not impossible. With rapidly advancing technology and the growing popularity of distance learning, professional development can be done on your own time and through the institutions you trust most (even if they are located a considerable distance from where you live).
Benefits of Distance Learning Versus On-Site Study
If you are considering pursuing a course of study online for your professional development, you may be wondering what benefits distance learning offers over more traditional on-site forms of education. While it is a different form of learning, studying through an accredited institution can offer some perks over attending a brick-and-mortar institution.
One of the chief benefits of online study is convenience. As growing numbers of people realize their careers would benefit by furthering their education, an abundance of universities have seen fit to help fill that demand. Although online learning has often faced problems with negative perceptions about the quality of education provided, even Ivy League universities are now coming onboard with the trend. Accredited programs are available around the country, and you don’t have to leave home to participate in the program that interests you most.
Distance learning suits people in a variety of circumstances. Whether you are juggling work and family responsibilities, or you don’t want to leave your current career while attending school, there’s a strong possibility online learning will allow you to fit professional development into your current schedule. Course materials are available round-the-clock with online learning, and as long as you meet project due dates or deadlines and participate in any online discussions when required, you are free to complete your work when you are able.
Your online experience is about you. If you are a better independent learner, pursuing your professional development online may be more suited to your needs.
Commuting can be an expensive endeavor when coupled with the other financial obligations you already face. By learning from home online, you’ll be cutting some of the costs you face by furthering your education somewhere else (and save yourself a little time as well).
Learning New Skills
Beyond the skills you will be learning in your online courses, you’ll also gain the benefit of learning more about how certain technologies work while you study online.
Online learning provides a different type of student interaction. Granted, you won’t be face-to-face with your classmates or instructor, but online chats and other virtual discussions have proven to be quite stimulating for students. Some instructors require their students to post gradable comments after each assignment. Other institutions employ Webcams and other helpful technology to make distance learning students a bigger part of the classroom experience.
What’s Required of You
Jeannette E. Riley, who was named best online teacher for 2008 by the Sloan Consortium, says people can actually learn more because online study asks more of students and teachers. ‘I love online teaching because no one can hide,’ she told U.S. News and World Report. ‘Every voice is heard.’
If you choose online study for your professional development, you’ll need to make sure you have the equipment required to have a productive learning experience. If your computer isn’t something you’d call reliable, for instance, you’ve got some preparations to make before you commit to distance learning.
Dependable Internet access is the first resource you will need to study online along with a good computer. Have current software as well, including a word processing program. Your computer should also be able to support plug-ins, like Adobe Acrobat Reader or the Macromedia Flash Player. You may also need a program like Microsoft Excel for spreadsheets.
The university or educational program you choose should post its technical requirements for current and prospective students. See that you have everything you need before your semester starts and that your equipment is all functioning properly. Perform any needed maintenance on your computer, including virus checks and software installations and updates, and check all of your connections.
If you have a problem with your technical equipment, know what help resources are available. For example, your school may have a help center that may be able to assist you with issues you are having regarding the technical aspects of your course. If your time is limited, be careful that you don’t waste too much time trying to address an issue on your own.
When an institution is accredited, an agency has verified that the school meets certain standards of excellence and quality in the education it provides. During your professional development, you will want to verify that any school you consider attending is accredited so any certification, degrees, or otherwise that you earn will be viewed favorably in the workplace.
Accreditation serves several purposes, according to the WorldWideLearn.com Web site. The process establishes standards to verify educational quality and serves as a means of encouraging schools to improve and be accountable for the training they provide. There are many types of accreditation. For example, a school may receive specialized accreditation for a certain program, or the entire school may be approved through institutional accreditation.
For a school or program to be accredited, it must undergo periodic reviews by a group of peers. A nonprofit organization studies the school, its curriculum, and programs and then decides whether to issue its seal of approval.
Public confidence in a school increases when it is accredited.
Employers want to know that the knowledge you have gained from a particular program is also endorsed by another trusted agency within your industry. ‘Only accredited universities guarantee a degree that will be honored by future employers and other schools,’ the Guide to Online Schools has explained.
While there are many accrediting institutions in the United States, only a few are recognized by the ‘major governing bodies of the accrediting process,’ the Guide to Online Schools cautioned. Some of the major accrediting institutions are the United States Department of Education (USDE), which is the most powerful organization in the accrediting process, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA).
As you carefully review a school’s accreditation, take time to verify that the accrediting agency is legitimate, too. The USDE and CHEA are good first stops for examining an accrediting agency’s credentials.
By going to school online, you can fit your studies into your schedule at the times that suit you and, hopefully, without disrupting your current job. You will be able to access your course materials any time of the week from the place you are most comfortable. Some people find online learning less intimidating than going to a classroom, as participating in discussions on the computer still provides a measure of anonymity.
However, distance learning has faced difficulties as some people have questioned the quality of this education method. That reputation is slowly fading, though, as even Ivy League universities implement online study programs.
Aside from post-secondary online institutions, your distance learning opportunities could also extend to the professional institutions in your field or to other quality resources.
For example, the United States Small Business Administration offers online business training for entrepreneurs. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP) both offer online learning opportunities.
You will need to consider carefully whether online learning is right for you. While you may save on travel expenses and can set your own schedule, do you need face time with your instructor to learn best? Do you have the necessary computer equipment and technological skills to study online? As you answer these questions, you will gain a better understanding of whether this is a feasible study option for you.