No Holds Barred Truth About Online vs. Traditional Education, From Someone Who’s Been There!

online-degree-programs-education.

Ten years ago, I would have bet good money that I would never earn a bachelor’s degree. For more years than I can remember, I wanted to go back to school, and oftentimes even said if I were rich and never needed to work, I would be a student for the rest of my life. The reasons I hadn’t pursued higher education were:

  • I was convinced I wasn’t smart enough to earn a degree. Since I did poorly in high school, it was a “given” that I was too stupid to do anything.
  • I could never afford to pay for a college education, and didn’t know the first thing about student financial aid.
  • I was under the impression my prior credits were only good for 20 years, and had no intention of repeating the “Introduction to Everything” classes, I took after high school.
  • I had no idea what I would major in. I had no goals or objectives in mind; I simply like learning about different subjects and new things.

In short, my wish came close to being true. From June 2005, through March 2010, I was a student, pursuing a degree, online. Had it not been for the innovation of “virtual education,” I could never have made one of my dreams come true.

How it all came about isn’t important. What’s important is the fact that I did it, and did it very well! Of the 32 total classes I completed, I received 27 grades of “A,” and 5 grades of “B.” Pretty good for a gal who barely graduated high school. Besides giving me the credibility I lacked, I gained something much more valuable than just education alone. I finally had confidence in my abilities, and the unconditional sense of self-worth it gave me knowing once and for all, I was NOT stupid!

Whether  Online vs. Traditional Education Is Better, Depends On Your Specific Situation

While it is evident that online education has become extremely popular, especially in the last five years, there is still much deliberation over which is better — online programs, or programs from the more traditional brick and mortar schools.

This is not a situation where the answer is black or white. Furthermore, it’s almost like comparing oranges to apples, because which choice is better depends on the particular person, his or her situation, and the specific type of program. I don’t think I’d want my surgeon or dentist to have received their entire education online! Clearly, there are certain disciplines not at all appropriate to do online. Any program where a considerable amount of laboratory work or “hands on” training is required, is best pursued on a campus, not in front of the computer.  On the other side of the coin, a program such as writing couldn’t be better suited to do online.

Online Education Is More Flexible And Accessible

One of the greatest advantages of online education is it can be done from anywhere, at any time. People who otherwise would never be able to attend school, for numerous reasons, now are as close as the keyboard of their computer. What’s more, even if a suitable brick and mortar university is within your vicinity, going online enables you to apply to any school, anywhere, as you are not limited by location. I am the perfect example. The University of Wisconsin has its main campus within a 10-minute drive from my home. We also have a wonderful private college, in town, and one of the finest technical colleges in the Midwest. Yet, I chose to study online.

The Average Age of Participants Is Higher, For Online Degree Programs

An advantage not found in any of my research, and something I hadn’t considered when I first enrolled; it was more common to find younger, right out of high school students attending campuses, while I was surprised to find the average age group of my fellow online classmates, across the board, to be in their 40s, 50s and even 60s. The majority of online students are “older,” working professionals, people in the military, or mothers with small children, all wanting a higher education, but due to other commitments had put it off, just like I did.

You Can Tailor The Pace Of Online Education To Meet Your Requirements

Most online degree programs can be accelerated, so doesn’t have to take four years to earn a degree. Of course, if you prefer a slower pace, then you do have the option of spreading the courses over a few years.

I went for the faster option. My studies focused on the skill set needed for my profession, in the real world. What is more, both online schools I attended did not follow a typical semester schedule. Instead, each class was six weeks long, which meant I had to take a class each session. After every two sessions, a weeklong break was built in, and twice a year, I had two weeks off.

While the faster pace isn’t for everyone, since they cram a lot of work in that six-week session, I could complete eight courses in a year, giving me 24 credits, instead of four or five classes, on a campus, giving me only 12 or 15 credits. Since it was very difficult for me to focus this intensely on more than one course at a time, taking one every six weeks suited me just fine.

No Exams

Another great advantage, typical of schools providing the accelerated schedule, is they don’t have tests or exams. You heard me. All assignments were project based. I wrote essays, reports, reviews, letters, memos, etc., participated in discussion board conversations, [same as any group forum] incorporated graphic elements into text, and did power point presentations. I never read so much, so fast, in my life. This was probably the most demanding task, since every week was a new unit. With every unit came a new unit’s worth of reading, and one to three written assignments. Often times, it became tremendously difficult to keep up with the work, and because there was hardly a minute of additional time, when I fell behind [and I did quite often] it was almost impossible to catch up.

Many online programs do have exams though. They will typically have a few examination locations around the world and you would need to travel to the location closet to you, to take the exams.

Beware of Online Degree Mills

When looking into online schools you must be careful not to be scammed by “degree/diploma mills.” These are fraudulent institutions (?) that sell unaccredited degrees, for a “small” fee. You answer several questions, and they tell you which level degree you are qualified to earn. I could have a PhD, for $500! They are phony as a three-dollar-bill. Thankfully, they are not as prevalent now as when online education first started.

So make sure the online school you want to attend is fully accredited. There are several different types of accreditation, which I don’t understand, but all you need to do is check their accreditation status and reputation on the Internet. A major clue that a school is not accredited is if they do not have federal student financial aid available. That is a dead giveaway.

Money, Money, Money

Cost is the biggest difference between online and traditional education. While the tuition at some online schools is as much as brick and mortar institutions, you don’t have to pay for housing, travel, time, etc. When I was looking into graduate programs, at various schools, I paid close attention to the cost per credit hour. I found huge variations in charges. Two schools I was particularly interested in had almost identical programs for technical and professional communications. However, one had tuition of $900+ per credit hour, while the other was around the $350 figure. Since most courses are three credits, I would be paying almost $3,000 to take one class, while it was only about $1000 at the other school. The school charging the outrageous costs couldn’t really justify why it was so high.

Pay strict attention to how much tuition is, per credit, as some institutions like to give a cost per program. Break it down, because you may find out you are being ripped off! In all my experiences with online universities, an average cost is somewhere between $350 and $500 per credit. Any more or any less than that, I’d be very suspicious.

The first online school I “attended” included all materials. I didn’t have to purchase textbooks for each class. At first I thought this was great; however, don’t be fooled; those costs are built into the price of tuition. The school where I earned my BS degree, did not include textbooks, and other than specific journal articles, etc. Almost every course required a hard copy book; often several. Another lesson to be learned, never purchase materials through the school’s bookstore. I found every single text I needed on eBay or Amazon, for pennies on the dollar — and I’m not talking about used books, in terrible condition, but new or as good as new books.

I never paid more than $30 for a textbook, which would have cost $150 through the school. You can also resell them; however, I love books; still have every single textbook, and used many of them as reference materials for articles and such.

Student Placement And Services Offered, Is More Comprehensive For Traditional Education

Online schools offer a long list of services to students, however, it can’t be as comprehensive as traditional education. Each student is assigned to a student advisor, who is the “go to” person with any problems, issues, questions, etc. My advisors were indispensible sources of advice and answers for me. I also had access to some of the finest online libraries and sources for research. Most online schools have career centers that help with things like writing a resume, interviewing, and so on, but none had genuine job placement services. So you’re left to yourself for the job search.

No Community, Campus & Extra-Curricular Activities For Online Students 

When people describe their traditional education experience, more than the actual education, they cherish and value all the other activities, people and experiences they were exposed to. It is a very rich experience and one which is missing in online education.

Educational Quality Of Online And Traditional Education Is Similar

The quality of online education vs. traditional education is like anything else. There will always be some that are excellent and others not so good. Even though virtual education is a fairly recent manifestation, the quantity of programs has increased by leaps and bounds (and is as good as traditional schools).  Students who take classes online do just as well, if not better than students who are on campus.

Furthermore, online instructors are highly qualified. They are required to have at least a Master’s degree, but most even have PhDs. What’s more, they don’t need to have teaching degrees, per se, but rather significant practical experience working in the field they teach. I can’t recall one professor I had that wasn’t thoroughly qualified to teach the class.

My feeling is online degree programs students must be more focused, more determined, more motivated, and have a significant amount of self-management and time-management skills. The quality of your education and grades you get are totally up to how committed and serious you are about your education. There is no one kicking you in the butt, making you do anything!

Online Education Has Made Great Strides In Popularity And Recognition

A report about online degree programs stated that during 2008, over 4.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course, an increase of 17% from the previous year, far beyond the 1.2% advancement of the general higher education enrolments.

Not too long ago there was much controversy over whether online degree programs were as worthy as traditional degrees, from an employers point of view. A 2008 survey showed that 83% of employers and hiring managers said they would hire someone who earned a degree online. Many corporations even have agreements with certain online institutions to provide online courses for their employees, at a discounted rate.

There’s been extensive research into the quality of online education, and now it’s finally been proven that there is no major difference between the results of online verses face-to-face education. The studies determined that quality of the education and what the students learned were much more dependent on the merits of teaching and how much effort the student puts into the work. It had little to do with where or how the education takes place.

That being said, all things being equal, I think deep down people will always view traditional education more favourably. If there were two candidates looking for a job and everything about them was similar, except that one person had an online degree and the other a traditional degree –  I think a company would hire the person with a traditional degree.  What do you think?

Passion Is Not Only For The Bedroom

Unless you happen to have been living in a cave during the past 10 or so years, you can’t fail to have noticed the start of a revolution in terms of people’s attitudes to work.  While some blame it on Generation Y, a generation which is less prepared than any other before it to accept the status quo without question, others accredit it to the growing need for the human race to rediscover its sense of spirituality and find meaning in all aspects of life.

Whichever is the case though, the belief that work is something to be endured but not enjoyed is one which is gaining less and less acceptance in countries around the world.

Since the days of slavery when the only two choices were work or perish, men and women have worked tirelessly to put bread on the table, to improve their quality of life and to “make something of themselves.”  In the vast, vast majority of cases, however, they have tried to achieve these aims through jobs which have bored and frustrated them, for which they have felt no sense of passion and to which they have seldom been particularly well suited.  Society has dictated that to have any expectation of gaining personal satisfaction or fulfillment from their work is not only unrealistic, but downright irresponsible.  The result?  Millions and millions of miserable workers who struggle even to find the motivation to get out of bed each morning, let alone find it within themselves to put in their best performances and truly be able to excel at what they do.

During the course of a 40-year working life which entails putting in an eight-hour day, five days a week and allows four weeks of annual leave per year, each of us will work an incredible 76,800 hours.  That figure represents a full third of our waking hours during what is typically the period of our lives when we are at our fittest and most energetic, and yet in most cases that time is squandered.  If each working day is filled with drudgery or boredom or feels like an uphill battle, we have no hope of reaching our full capabilities or our full earning capacities.  We simply can’t maintain sufficient motivation to make ourselves stand out from the crowd and so merely end up languishing amongst the ranks of the mediocre.

Just imagine how much could be achieved during those 76,800 hours if we were to put our efforts into something that we truly believed in with all our hearts; something that made us want to bounce out of bed in the mornings, that aligned with our personal values and that felt more like a hobby than a job; something that made us want to work for the sake of working and to learn for the sake of learning.  With such a sense of passion we would literally be unstoppable.  There would be nothing that we couldn’t achieve.

Whenever we are fuelled by passion in life, we have the drive, enthusiasm and energy to make things happen.  In the work arena, that passion drives away fear, lets us take risks which would otherwise be inconceivable, allows us to become experts in our fields and to earn salaries far beyond our wildest dreams.  All of these things though, come almost effortlessly.  Simply by doing what we love and what we are naturally attuned to, we become so engrossed in our daily activities that we scarcely notice the passing of the hours and how success is building on success.

Whatever stage you are at in your working life, take a moment to stop and imagine a career filled with inspiration and excitement.  It’s no less than any of us deserves.

What Job Suits Me? – Reality Testing Is The Answer

So you are not happy in your current job/career and have finally reached a point where you decided to make a career change. You also have a few alternative job/career options in mind but are not sure whether they will be right for you and if they will meet your expectations. What next?

What job suits me?  – Reducing uncertainty is the key

It is natural and very common for people to feel uncertain at this stage, which causes them to get stuck and not move forward with their career change plans. Even if they have a good idea of what they want from a job and have shortlisted a few matching/ideal options, it is hard to make the leap because they have no way of relating to the career options they selected. Without having done the actual job, it is hard to really know what it will be like and no matter how much you research on the internet or in the library, it is all too theoretical.

The best way to know what what job suits you, is by doing the actual work involved. However, this is not a very feasible and practical option, since you cannot be employed in and try-out all the jobs you have shortlisted. Therefore the solution is to go for the next best option, in order to get a first-hand feel of what a job is really like. This can be done by ‘reality testing’, which involves conducting small/low risk experiments to get a better idea of potential career options. Reality testing takes you beyond introspection and theoretical research, into an action mode, which is very beneficial. It moves you from saying ‘I think I might like this job’ closer to ‘I know I will like this job’. Some ways in which you can reality test are:

  • Internships: Work in the job for a few months
  • Job shadowing: Tag along with someone who does the job you want, for a day/week
  • Volunteering: Offer your services for free for a short period of time (part-time especially)
  • Projects: Take on projects (in your current job or outside) which have aspects/elements of the type of work you want
  • Joining relevant clubs, associations: To meet people and take part in activities which are closely related to your job target
  • Participating in workshops, courses and seminars: Again, in order to learn more about your job target and meet people who know more about it
  • Just meeting people for a chat: It is also very useful to meet people who are actually doing (or have done) the job you are interested in. You can ask them questions to confirm if the job is really what you expect it to be

By going a step further and ‘reality testing’ your career options, you will get rid of a lot of uncertainly/ambiguity, be more certain of your choices and finally know the answer to that nagging question – What job suits me?

Protean and Boundaryless careers

Two trends have changed the world of work in many ways. The first is the shift towards a knowledge based economy that many countries are seeing and the second is global connectivity, interdependence and integration. The new career context that is emerging as a result of these trends has given rise to the terms – Protean and Boundaryless careers.

Protean careers

Companies are operating in a more complex (knowledge-based/global) environment, which is constantly changing. They need to be flexible and nimble in order to stay in business and hence many companies have given-up the idea of keeping employees for a lifetime. By doing, so they have transferred the responsibility and risk of managing careers to the individual. So in order to survive this change, individuals need to become more self-reliant in managing their careers. This means knowing what they want from their careers, developing the skills/knowledge/network that is necessary to achieve their goals and being able to ‘change with change’.

Hence the term Protean career, the origin of of which comes from Proteus, a Greek sea-god who could change in form as the situation demanded. A more formal definition is provided below:

“The protean career is driven by the person, not the organization, based on individually defined goals, encompassing the whole life space, and being driven by psychological success (rather than) objective measures of success such as pay, rank or power. It is a career in which the person is (1) values driven in the sense that the individual’s personal values provide the guidance and measure of success for the individual’s career, and (2) self-directed in personal career management—having the ability to be adaptive in performance and learning demands.”

Boundaryless careers Continue reading “Protean and Boundaryless careers”