So you've already earned a degree, and you're lucky enough to have a job you love. The last thing you need to think about is more education--right?
In today's economy, everyone needs to be thinking about professional development. Whether you're looking for a job, anticipating your next job, or working toward a promotion, you need to ensure that your skills remain current. According to experts, workers who don't pursue professional development opportunities will find their skill sets out of date within five years. Changing careers--once, or even several times over the course of your working life--is no longer the exception: it's the norm.
This might sound exhausting. But in the twenty-first century, professional development doesn't have to be burdensome. In fact, it's as easy as going online, as more and more professionals are starting to discover. This is one trend that you can't afford to ignore.
For busy adults, online learning has myriad advantages over traditional face-to-face classes. For one, you don't have to stop the rest of your life to be successful in an online course. Most online learning is asynchronous, which means that you can fulfill your class obligations when (and where) it's convenient, and at a pace that's comfortable for you. You're free to spend more time on new concepts, and to breeze through the ones that are already familiar.
It's probably no surprise that online learning is more flexible. What fewer people realize is that online learning can actually be more effective. For example, online learning encourages high levels of interaction, and interactivity tends to promote information retention. And in a recent U.S. Department of Education study of K-12 students, it was found that learners performed slightly better in an online environment than in a face-to-face context. What's more, blended learning (online learning combined with face-to-face instruction) was even more effective than either approach used alone.
While this study focused on a younger population, it's likely that the benefits of online learning are even more pronounced for adult learners. Why? Because the characteristics of online classes very closely match the ideal conditions for adult learning, according to Online Learning: A Means to Enhance Professional Development. Adult students prefer self-directed learning, where they have greater responsibility for their own outcomes, and for large amounts of information to be doled out in smaller "bites"--all part of what makes online courses distinctive. Online courses also provide corrective feedback, which means that you can go over difficult material until you've mastered it.
One common misconception is that online learning is lonely--that you'll never know your classmates or have a meaningful interaction with your instructor. A little experience with online classes will dispel this myth. Between discussion boards, webinars, and good old-fashioned email, you may find that you have even more contact with your virtual learning cohort than you would in a traditional lecture-style class. Not convinced? Take a minute to consider how much the internet has amplified your contact with friends, family, and acquaintances. And if you still worry that the lack of face-to-face time will leave you feeling adrift, try joining the class with a friend or coworker.
One final note: If you're technology-impaired, taking an online course is a great way to give your computer skills a boost, which is itself one of the most valuable competencies you can bring to your evolving career. So go ahead and get online--and see where it takes you!