The demographic makeup of college students has changed in the last three decades. Before the advent of online education, most high school students in the U.S. finished their primary education and attended a trade school or college/university. Some people chose to attend college after entering the workforce, and many academic programs offered night and weekend classes geared toward this population of students.
While this was a step toward making education more accessible to non-traditional college students, this demographic was still limited in their options. For one, depending on the school size or program demand, colleges might not always offer an adequate number of classes to meet the needs of this increasingly growing group of students. Worse yet, if the course was not offered that semester, the student was delayed in obtaining their degree.
Furthermore, night and weekend classes typically lasted anywhere between three and four hours, which meant a student who left work to go to school often did not return home until late, leaving little time for family or study. Alternatively, if taking classes on the weekend, the student sacrificed leisure and family time in the pursuit of higher education.
For many adult students returning to earn a certificate or a degree to advance their careers, enrolling in a college program required them to make personal sacrifices. Today, however, educational platforms have alleviated this burden, giving students who would otherwise not be able to attend a program the ability to enroll. Not only have universities and colleges risen to the demand of making receiving a college degree as an adult possible, but adult learners have responded by using the online educational platform to earn their degrees.
Online educational platforms started cropping up in the latter part of the 20th century, allowing many students to complete their degrees. More schools offered students the chance to take courses partially or completely online, creating a quiet educational movement where institutions found ingenious ways to impart knowledge to students.
Moreover, learning management systems (LMS) made instruction much easier for professors, who were soon able to do pretty much everything that a face-to-face classroom instructor did. Video conferencing, receiving assignments through a submission drop box, and giving tests are just a few of the functions that these systems offer instructors who choose to teach online.
Today, a pandemic-impacted society forced those who had not experienced learning in the online platform to adapt to an environment that has become very user-friendly. The figures also show, in terms of online education, that this learning style has surpassed being a trend to become a firmly entrenched part of higher education.
Long past the days of Blackboard, the field has become filled with LMS platforms offering institutions various ways to impart knowledge, and online learning has become so popular that platforms not affiliated with academic institutions are cropping up, such as Coursera, Skillshare, Udacity, and Udemy. The demand for online educational courses, whether associated with a college program or not, is expected to grow to $350 billion by 2025. This demand includes professionals who want to advance their careers.
Why are more people choosing online education to advance their careers?
Here is a look at some of the reasons people are choosing online study to give their career prospects a boost.
1. Earn a living while you earn a degree
Adult students who return to school do so for a myriad of reasons. The online landscape makes it possible for a student to earn a degree in a few years, and in some cases a few months. Students do not have to choose between attending a university program or working full-time because online courses are designed to allow students to learn at their convenience.
While some of the courses require students to log on to the course shell for video conferencing (synchronous courses), other courses allow students to learn the material at their convenience, whether it is early in the morning, at lunch, on a break, or late in the evening. This provides flexibility for students who work standard business hours, work from home, or students whose shifts vary, such as professionals in law enforcement. These professionals can earn a Wilfrid Laurier University online policing degree by attending classes around their work schedule. Unlike in the past, when every semester a student remained out of the workforce meant delaying their earning potential, today’s students no longer must sacrifice earning a salary to advance their career by getting an education.
2. Avoid excessive college debt
After attending a baccalaureate and graduate program, some students owe thousands of dollars in student debt, paying it off years after they finish their academic program. Working while in school mitigates the need for a large financial aid package. Because students can feasibly attend an educational program while working, they avoid some of the pitfalls related to taking on college debt. In professions where the student’s salary is higher, students can pay for classes out of pocket because they are earning an income. Even if the professional does not have a high income, remaining employed gives them the choice of paying for tuition and books themselves and relying only partially on loans to fund their education.
3. Online education allows students to adapt to changing needs
The online educational platform allows students to adjust their program based on what is happening in their personal lives. For example, a student might begin their program by choosing to take online classes. Let’s say the person is a law enforcement officer who works an overnight shift because it makes it possible to spend more time with their family and studying. If the student’s work schedule changes to working days, the student’s academics are not affected. In the online course environment, the student’s ability to enroll in or attend classes is not interrupted because the course can be completed at the student’s convenience in many cases.
4. Online course flexibility
The online curriculum provides students with the ability to learn anywhere in the world. Many programs make it possible to access the online course shell with any device, as long as the student has a connection to the internet.
Ideally, a student could work and view online videos, access course materials and resources, and even engage in online chat through the course shell while on break at work using their mobile phone. This same student can access the course shell while riding the bus or sitting in their favorite bookstore or coffee shop. The online learning platform at many colleges and universities makes learning effortless for a student who wants to advance their career by getting another degree or certificate.
5. Online education can also be more affordable
When enrolling in a traditional academic program as a professional who is a student, there will be certain costs. In addition to paying for fuel to commute to the university, they must pay for parking. Furthermore, students who live some distance away from the academic institution would have to pay for room and board to attend college. These expenses are eliminated with online learning
A student who graduates from high school and enters the workforce, for example, does not have to move hundreds of miles away from home to earn a degree toward a better career. These individuals can live at home with their parents or roommates, remain employed, and earn their degree without incurring more costs related to living expenses. Finally, in some cases, students might find that they save on the costs of textbooks as many professors place a copy of the textbook in .pdf form online, saving students hundreds of dollars in textbook costs.
6. Online education has improved dramatically in recent years
In the day of digitized everything, online educational institutions have gotten smart about gathering data. Some academic institutions have integrated data mining algorithms that collect information about how students learn, which is used to improve their online learning offering. In the last several years, the online learning environment has evolved to the point where professors can engage the students in their online classrooms in the same way they do for students who attend a conventional university program. Much of this has to do with the information gleaned from student learning data being used for the constant improvement of online courses.
7. A great way to test the waters
For professionals who are unsure whether they want to return to school, the online platform is the perfect setting to test the waters. Sometimes, it is difficult to decide whether you want to embark on such a journey that requires committing to allocating time to not only studying but also participating in classes. In the past, students thinking about returning to school might audit a course, which means sitting in on an actual university course for free.
However, in doing so, the student is at the mercy of the institution’s schedule and their work schedule. Even auditing one face-to-face course requires the student to adjust their work or family obligations. However, the convenience and flexibility of the online format allow people to easily take a course online. The online learning platform enables individuals to get a sense of what attending a degree program virtually might entail. The convenience, reduced costs, and adaptability of online learning mean that students can immerse themselves in an academic environment without worrying about the impact on their work or personal life.
8. A great opportunity for millennials
Millennials have taken technology and reinvented it to do amazing things this century. In doing so, this generation has maximized tech’s ability to generate income outside of the conventional structure. The result has created an economy that one Forbes article written a few years ago called the “independent class.” This group of workers has eschewed the traditional work structure for freelance work, job hopping, and the side hustle.
The online educational platform provides this group of professionals with more control over their education as well. A freelancer who must devote much of their time during the day to work is no longer constrained by a conventional university program that only allows them to attend programs at set times during the day. Someone who is a full-time worker with a side hustle can feasibly work all day long and attend courses online, completing coursework when time in their schedule permits. Finally, job hoppers can get their education online when they do find a field of interest.
Respect for the online educational program
The online educational landscape has grown leaps and bounds, to the point where even prestigious institutions such as Harvard University have provided online offerings. More and more professionals who need an advanced degree see the value in programs that do not require quitting working to attend school.
Moreover, industries across health, education, and social services recognize the importance of these programs in preparing and training professionals to advance up the career ladder. Ultimately, online educational programs are viewed as legitimate educational institutions and have become an established part of education in the U.S.
Online education has become a staple in the university landscape. In the last decade, the labor market has seen a marked shift in how people choose to work. Furthermore, with the rise of technology, health, tech, and manufacturing, among other fields, the economy will require an increased supply of workers to fulfill the demands of the next few decades.
As the working economy continues to shift and transform, workers will take greater control over their work and how they work, including their work schedules. Moreover, these workers will influence the way trade, colleges, and universities train people across fields. For many in the workforce, this is an opportunity to advance their careers by getting an advanced degree. Finding a good program that meets their professional aspirations is no longer a problem for many professionals who want to advance their careers. More importantly, online education has eliminated the dilemma of sacrificing school for work.