student learning on a laptop

Many things changed this year, and few so starkly as how we view education. Online learning is quickly becoming mainstream, especially in 2020, where online learning created a way to continue to learn while we made our best efforts to stay home and stay safe. There are many reasons for this shift toward alternative education, including high levels of accessibility and affordability. 

Inside Higher Ed recently reported that in recent months interest in skills-based, online credentials that are clearly tied to careers has skyrocketed. A four-year, in-person degree is not the only path to a meaningful career. Many people have used increased time at home during the pandemic as a time to re-evaluate their career goals, retrain, and refocus their careers. In fact, learning how to learn online could be the skill of the year. 

Before getting started, it’s important to identify a credible provider that will help you not only gain new skills, but is there to help you as you shift to an online learning environment. Avoid transactional training with no support. Instead, seek out organizations that help you engage with relevant courses and receive actionable training that’s equivalent to real-world job experience. This can help you enjoy long-term success. 

That’s why, at my organization, every course we offer is built upon five pillars of online learning designed to maximize skill level, boost hireability, and elevate careers. 

1. Accessible Courses

Exceptional training should be accessible to all, no matter where you live or what time of day you’re available to learn. Additionally,  your current schedule or living circumstances should not prevent you from learning effectively and pursuing an exciting career path. Seek out programs that offer: 

  • 24/7 online access.
  • Courses that are divided into self-paced, individual modules
  • You can learn anywhere (with WiFi)
  • Career Advisors who are always just a click, call, or chat away

With physical boundaries and time constraints removed, there’s nothing left to stop you from pursuing your dreams. 

2. Affordable Options

The cost of traditional education is steep to say the least. When it comes to traditional education, the stats can be daunting. 

  • College tuition has gone up 213% in the past few decades.
  • Most people take 6 years to earn a four-year college degree.
  • 44% of college graduates are underemployed.
  • The average student debt from four-year public schools in 2018 is $26,900.

Take heart and know that there are other options, especially now as we’ve seen more interest and availability in online training and education. Many of these online courses take less time, teach new skills, and cost less than a traditional program. 

When examining options, don’t forget to ask about scholarships, payment plans, and financial assistance programs to help you find the best way to fund your training for your personal situation. 

3. Actionable Skills & Externships 

Make sure your new skills don’t go to waste. When looking at options of what to study, look for highly specific, top-notch, job-skills training. It also helps to see if the organization has partnerships with companies hiring in your field. Don’t be afraid to ask about competitive externships. These can help set you up for potential employment opportunities. 

4. Relevant Content

If you are not sure about which course or career is best for you, don’t be afraid to ask around. And, don’t just read the course testimonials, talk with advisors, former program learners, and those who work in the industry of interest. Some of the best career advice I received was from experienced professionals in my areas of interest. Asking questions from the outset about career paths, opportunities to grow, and areas of specialization can help you determine if the program is a good fit. 

5. Post-Completion Support

“Start with the end in mind.” My grandmother used to always encourage us to see our final goal before tackling a big project. The same applies to online learning. Before starting any virtual learning program, visualize what it will help you achieve or what you will learn from it. Using this tip not only applies to you, but is very helpful if you have any K-12 students at home. Helping to see what you are working to achieve provides the fuel to finish when you have moments where you feel it’s not possible. 

Be sure to examine how the training organization or educational institution stays connected to you once you’ve completed the program. Alumni networks, advisory hours, and access to post-course resources are so important. 

These pillars of online learning are just the beginning as you step into new skills this year or plan for the next. Perhaps one of the most important things about 2020 has been a lesson in resilience and opening our minds to new ways to learn. Online learning has come a long way, and we can all find new ways to learn, gain new skills, and enter a new career or advance current skills to take us to the next level.