Today, people are more knowledge-hungry than ever before, and an increasing number of adults are deciding to return to school, whether it's to catch up on getting a high school diploma that they missed out on in the past, get a degree for the first time or improve their employment prospects by building on the graduate education that they already have. Whether you are considering taking a high school level qualification or want to embark on a master's degree, there's no denying that re-entering education as an adult can be a tricky path to take.
Historically, adults looking to return to school may have had to cut down or rearrange work hours in order to be able to attend classes, take evening, night or weekend courses, arrange additional childcare, and make more adjustments that may not always be possible for everybody. Thankfully, times have changed and learning at any level is becoming more and more accessible to everybody thanks to the growing rise of online learning. Whether you want to take a short vocational course to boost your career prospects or are considering investing years into a master's or another post-graduate degree, online learning has many benefits – let's explore some of the main ones here.
What is Online Learning?
Online learning is an educational medium that allows students to gain their qualifications by participating in online courses. All materials, classes and more are available via the internet and students do not need to attend classes or visit lecture halls in person; they can instead choose to learn wherever is best for them from the comfort of their own home or another chosen location. In addition, online learning has also become a gratifying method of passing on their own knowledge for subject experts.
For many students, online learning means getting a degree from a college or university. In 2014, almost six million students were enrolled in at least one distance learning or online program provided by a major educational institution.
Freedom to Learn Whatever You Want:
There are certainly plenty of options available today when it comes to learning and increasing your knowledge of a particular subject. Colleges and universities offer hundreds of subjects and majors at a range of different levels, and most students find that a suitable program is available to them from a college or university of their choice. But what if the program that you want to study isn't that popular? Unless you are willing to travel often a long while to study at a university that offers what you need or are lucky enough to have a local college that provides it, getting the qualification that you really want can be tricky.
On the other hand, online learning tears down many common barriers faced by traditional learning institutions, such as budget, staffing, and syllabus issues that often define the programs that a college can and can't offer. Since these problems are less of an issue for online institutions, you are more likely to find specialized programs or programs that are not hugely popular in the traditional setting.
The comfort of Learning From Home:
If you're an adult considering the idea of returning to education, then you may have already worried about how you're going to manage fitting attending classes and lectures around your already busy schedule. For many adult learners, the pressure of getting to evening classes after a long day at work can easily become too much, or the financial constraints that come with reducing working hours in order to attend lectures during the day can make it even more difficult for them to reach their academic goals.
However, online learning provides students with the option to learn from the comfort of their own homes – after a long day at work, there's no need to get back up, go out and attend a class. You can simply switch on your PC or open your laptop and get on with studying right there in your living room, bedroom or kitchen. You don't even need to get out of your pajamas.
In many schools, there is often a very competitive atmosphere – professors posting grade-point averages and test results for everybody to see, or simply being around fellow students discussing grades and results can create a lot of pressure on other students. Even if your classmates can't tell which student ID number is yours, they will probably know how you are comparing to the rest of the class.
For some students, it's impossible to thrive in this environment and many become disheartened as a result. And, the pressure can have an effect on your work, leading to problems like apathy, poor performance and reduced absorption of knowledge. On the other hand, online learning is a completely different environment in comparison. Although it's still easy – and encouraged – for students to interact with one another and with their tutors, there is no need to face a competitive classroom atmosphere every day.
Flexibility and Convenience:
Many adult students find themselves becoming far too over-scheduled, with barely any time left in the day between work, school, family responsibilities and everything else. You could easily end up in a situation where you can account for every minute of your day from waking up to going to sleep, and spare time for yourself becomes a thing of the past.
Even if you like keeping busy, over-scheduling can be dangerous for your health both mentally and physically as you no longer have the time to simply relax, decompress, and enjoy your life. As a result, it's easy to begin feeling resentment towards every activity that you participate in. And, whilst it's important that you take online classes seriously and come up with a schedule to stick to that works for you, you do have the added flexibility of deciding to study when it is most convenient for you. As a result, you can work studying around your fixed commitments and ensure that some 'me time' is scheduled in there too.
Another great reason to consider studying for your next qualification online is that it's cheaper. Compared to the tuition and associated costs of studying in a traditional classroom setting, online courses like these CCNE accredited online RN to BSN programs can cost you around a third less, or even more. Reduced tuition fees are a welcome breath of fresh air for many aspiring students today, with student debt worries a mounting concern nationwide.
And along with reduced student debt, studying online can help you spend less as you get your degree. The ability to study from home means that any potential extra costs for putting more gas in your car or using public transport to get to classes or paying for parking on campus can be forgotten about. Additionally, many online programs will have all materials included, and some will often include the key textbooks leaving you with less to worry about when it comes to the materials you will need to buy in order to get started.
More Interactive Opportunities:
You would be forgiven for thinking that online learning is a lonely place – it's a common misconception, but quite often, the opposite is true. University and college campuses can often seem like social places, but they can often actually create an insular environment where you're exposed to the same people every day in classes, giving you less of a chance to branch out when it comes to your social interactions.
On the other hand, an online program gives you opportunities to meet people from all over the country – and in many cases, across the world too. When studying online, there will be numerous opportunities for you to converse with fellow students through chat rooms, forums and both official and unofficial social media groups. And, with online students generally being more diverse, you can often learn just as much from your fellow classmates as you can from tutors and professors in an online learning environment.
Expand Your Career Horizons:
Finally, if you are looking to boost your work opportunities and expand your horizons when it comes to your career, an online learning program could be an ideal choice for you. Thanks to their flexibility and convenience they are the perfect option for anybody who wishes to continue working full-time whilst they study towards earning a qualification that may allow them to gain a promotion in their current workplace or even switch out to a new employer or a completely different career. Learning online is also ideal if you are not planning to inform your employer of your plans just yet, as you will not need to request any time off to attend lectures or changes to your working hours in order to accommodate your studies.
Today, online learning is bigger than ever with millions of students from all around the globe enrolled in an online or distance learning program. There are many reasons you may be thinking of starting or returning to studying. Whatever your reason, there are thousands of online programs to choose from that offer all of these benefits and more.
"Who are you meeting for lunch this week?"
Without fail, my former boss would ask me this question in every weekly status we had. And I dreaded the question. Because my answer was generally a stammering "Umm… No One." Occasionally I could remember what I actually had for lunch. And almost always it was sitting in my windowless cube eating a soggy sad sandwich.
I didn't understand why "who I had lunch with this week" was worthy of being a topic on our weekly status. After all, I was only 6 months into this new job. I was still figuring out how to pull data from Nielsen. I was still figuring out how to write an innovation brief. I was still trying to figure out where the bathrooms were in this maze of a building.
And despite knowing this question would come up in every weekly status, I was reluctant to change my behavior. I didn't see the value in the question. I didn't see the importance of it in my career. I didn't understand why I had to have lunch with anyone.
Because I hated the idea of having to network, to meet people, to put myself out there. Because networking was something slimy and strange and weird and scary. It made my stomach hurt, my throat go dry. And I could feel a faint headache coming on.
Even Oxford's definition of networking only reaffirmed my fears of what networking looked like: the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
Because please don't ask me to walk into a room where I don't know anyone. And stand in the corner sipping a bad glass of Chardonnay. Please don't ask me to slide my business card out and not so subtly shove it in your face. And ask you to do something for me. Please don't ask me to network. Because I hate networking.
And I used to hate networking (okay, maybe hate is too strong.) I still really dislike the term. "Networking" seemed about getting something from someone. Or someone getting something from you. A favor, a job, a referral. "Networking" seemed very transactional. And someone shoving a business card at you (which happened to me recently at event) only solidified by feelings.
And over the years, I came to really understand that networking wasn't about "the action or process of interacting with others." It was about building authentic connections. It was about meeting people who were different than you. It was about expanding my community. And creating new communities. It was tapping into more and more communities I could belong to.
And as I slowly started to change my view on networking- I mean building authentic connections- I started to realize my communities were more inclusive than I thought. My best friends from middle school. Former bosses. College Alumni I met after we had graduated. Colleagues from past companies. Vendors and agency partners I had once worked with. Colleagues I had once managed. As my family expanded, my husband, my two sister-in laws and my brother in-law. A whole host of fabulous cousin-in-laws. My baby brother as his career skyrocketed. And fellow parents in my kids' school.
I still hate networking. And I love building connections. And helping to build connections and be a bridge for other people.
Now, when I go to a large event, I try to go with a friend. We have a drink at the bar and then part ways to try and make new friends. If we don't authentically connect with other people, and we have made the effort, we always have each other to back to.
Now, I try to meet one new person a week at my company or in my broader community, or reconnect with someone I miss seeing. (This doesn't always have to be in person, can be text, Zoom or Facetime.) And if you can't commit to doing that, that you should seriously relook at your schedule. I thank my former boss for that constant reminder.
Now, I joined Luminary, a women's collaboration hub in NYC, which has been life changing for me. I am also on the advisory board. It's all about women supporting and lifting each other up- to get more money, get that next big promotion, or start their own venture. It's a built-in community of unwavering support.
Now, I am working on expanding my community of moms. Not too long ago, I worked up the nerve to ask a fellow mom in my daughter's class if she wanted to get together. She thought I meant a playdate. I meant drinks. And after one late night out drinking, I have bonded with a whole new set of badass women.
And all of these communities. I am there for my communities. And they are all there for me. Referral for a job at my company. Coaching on how to survive a bad boss. Advice on how to ask for more money. Supporting each other as we care for aging parents. Candid feedback on why they didn't get that promotion. Commiserating over a cocktail on which working parent had the worst week ever.
So please don't ask me to network. Because I hate it. And well actually I don't have a business card to give you. I haven't printed one in four years.