As the world moves to an increasingly more digitized and interconnected footing, tech skills are becoming ever more in demand. If you’re involved in or looking to enter an area such as web development or coding, then the necessity for tech-based skills seems pretty obvious. Even outside the field of IT, however, digital and other related tech skills are becoming more of a prerequisite.
A recent study by Burning Glass Technologies found that jobs requiring a higher level than high school education but less than a bachelor’s degree and that also require digital skills are now outpacing those “middle-skill” jobs that do not. A large majority (78 percent) of middle-skill jobs now require at least a basic level of skills, such as the ability to use spreadsheets and word processing. Digitally intensive middle-skill jobs are growing much faster than other middle-skill occupations, and pay is typically 18 percent higher for these positions.
Whether you’re looking to enter a specialist IT or tech-based industry, or just aiming to improve your skills for general employability, it’s important to make the right choice when it comes to choosing your learning pathway. Online courses are becoming increasingly more common and, when comparing online versus traditional classes, there are a number of factors to bear in mind.
One of the main advantages of e-learning for many people is the unmatched flexibility that it can offer. This can make it more suited to people who are already working and cannot afford to take a large chunk of time away, but who do want to enhance their career or change directions entirely. It could also be an option for learners who have existing family commitments – as parents or carers, for example – or who just don’t wish to move out of their area and have no suitable learning establishments close by. There are nearly 7 million learners enrolled in online courses across the US, studying at more than 275 accredited online universities. Pretty much anything that can be taught in a traditional online environment can also be taught online, so the choice of what can be studied is suitably diverse. You are not necessarily limited to full degree courses either. There are many other courses and qualifications that can be delivered and completed online.
Online learning can be shaped to fit around your own busy schedule. With more and more people accessing the internet from mobile devices, you can study on a train or during any spare moment. It’s also generally easier to tailor a program to your own specific needs. Rather than having to fit in with a large cohort of fellow students, you can learn at your own pace and in your own time. That doesn’t mean there’s no structure to online courses. Many are actually accelerated compared to traditional classes, but even when that is the case, there’s an inherent amount of flexibility built into the format.
Just as with traditional learning, the costs of online courses can vary quite widely depending on the course itself and the institution. In broad terms, however, online courses tend to cost considerably less than comparable classroom-based courses. In fact, the average cost of a traditional degree is $85,000, versus an average cost of $30,000 for gaining a degree via the e-learning route.
As well as the costs of tuition and delivery, e-learning can also mean substantial savings in areas such as travel and accommodation. Not having to drive or take public transport into a school or university each day can save a lot of money, as well as time that could be spent studying. It’s greener, with less environmental impact as well. As your learning resources are largely digital, you can even cut down on the amount of pens, paper, and other stationary you need – which is also good for both the environment and your budget.
Traditional classroom-based courses are increasingly borrowing elements of e-learning, whether in utilizing online resources or for elements of delivery for set work and assignments. New technological innovations mean that e-learning courses and techniques can be constantly improved, and learning theory and pedagogical research can be applied in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.
E-learning might not be the best choice for everyone. A certain degree of self-motivation is required, but that is largely true of all learning systems, especially at advanced levels when the learner is there by choice rather than mandatory obligations. It can also offer better outcomes for many, with around 70 percent of students who’d experienced it suggesting that online instruction was as good as or better than that delivered in a traditional classroom setting. Nearly four-fifths (77 percent) of professional educators agree, stating that they believe that online learning is just as good as traditional learning, if not even better.
Online learning is not just restricted to online universities but is also increasingly being used by businesses to deliver training. In the UK, for example, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Learning and Talent Development Study said that 74 percent of businesses reported using some level of e-learning, while the majority (91 percent) of companies reported it to be very useful when combined with other methods.
Support networks and online communities can also be useful. These may involve forums, group chats, and other groups specifically set up around and related to your course. There are also other channels that can help you to communicate and share with valuable contacts and like-minded people. In tech circles, for example, these could include YouTube channels offering free tutorials and large communities where users share code and help debug each others’ work.
Different learners thrive in different environments and under different teaching and learning methodologies. Some will always prefer the classroom, but online learning can be better suited to many learners’ individual circumstances, as well as their own learning requirements. Making the best use of the flexible options and innovative delivery that e-learning can offer will also ensure the best chance of a successful learning outcome.