Given the exponential growth of online learning over the last decade, I’m surprised to find people who still believe that online education must be less effective than “traditional” classroom methods. As an online student, I have to say nothing could be further from the truth. Online learning can be just as challenging – maybe even more so – than conventional classroom learning. There are also several benefits of online learning that will help you acquire valuable career skills that you won’t get from any textbook. These 4 beneficial skills are essential to succeed in the workforce; they’re also skills that traditional classroom students often won’t develop until long after they’ve graduated – if ever.
Benefit 1 — Self-Motivation: Traditional students are required to attend a class. They meet with an instructor on a regular basis. Instructors deliver lessons, answer questions, and keep students on task. But in an online learning setting, you rarely have a set class time. It’s unlikely you’ll ever see your instructor face-to-face. On the plus side, this allows for a flexible schedule, but since there's no one there to make you show up and learn, you have to learn how to stay motivated. You have to hold yourself accountable. Self-motivation, once mastered, is an amazingly beneficial skill to possess in the real work world.
Benefit 2 — Communication: Being a highly motivated go-getter is terrific, but what good is that when you can’t convey your ideas to others? Being an ace communicator will be highly valued wherever you work. Online learning is perfect for flexing those communication “muscles.”Just because you don't get to sit next to your classmates doesn't mean you won't still have to work with them. In fact, online group projects are very common and carry their own unique communication challenges. As I’ve already mentioned, you’ll likely never see your classmates or your instructor face-to-face. The primary way you will communicate with them will be through written assignments, e-mails, and posts. To them, you’re essentially just “words” on a screen. As a result, you have to make every one of those words count. Your communication skills have to be sharp. You want every message, every paper you submit, to communicate your thoughts as clearly as possible. Simple written misunderstandings can lead to bad grades. Online learning teaches you to communicate well and often.
Benefit 3 — Organization & Time Management: It doesn't matter how motivated and eloquent you are if you can't juggle your schoolwork with the rest of your life. As an online student, you have to develop a time management plan and prioritize your coursework, otherwise you can easily get left behind. How much time will you have each day to study? How can you make the most of that time? Will you be able to be more productive during the morning or evening? How many classes will you be able to take at once and still stay sane? You have to ask yourself questions about time management from the beginning, and constantly re-evaluate your time use as your tasks and priorities change.
Benefit 4 — Adaptability: No matter how well you plan and prioritize, there's always the chance that something unexpected will happen. You must be able to adapt quickly whether it’s a crashed computer, loss of internet connection, or something else. My best example of “something else” was during my first year as an online learning student. I was working on a group assignment with four other students, when I got an email from one of them (a soldier) saying that he couldn't assist with the assignment for at least the next week because his unit was going on patrol. He wasn't sure when — indeed if — he would be back. How could we say no to that? Obviously, we couldn't... this soldier/student had bigger things on his mind than his homework, so we split up his duties as best we could. We pulled several late-nighters, and managed to complete the assignment. Employers today are looking for individuals with these four highly beneficial skills: 1) self-motivation; 2) communication; 3) time management; 4) adaptability. Online learning students must acquire these same four skills in order to graduate. Highlight your skills in these four areas will be especially beneficial if your potential employer questions your education credentials. When it comes to online learning, virtual education isn’t just a way to earn your degree with a flexible schedule. Regardless of the field you choose, the benefits of online learning will help you build career strengths that will pay off daily in the real world of work.
About the Author: In addition to pursuing and writing about higher education, David Handlos works as a Lead Software Performance Engineer at Fiserv. He has also worked for Kansas State University as the webmaster, managing both the College of Engineering and Engineering Extension web sites. Handlos holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from Kansas State University and a Masters in Information Systems which he earned online from Dakota State University.
Image Credit: Michal Hadaassah/flickr