So, you’re thinking of taking an online course? As you take your time choosing the right subject, checking that it is properly accredited and working out what qualification you want to get at the end of it, you may encounter people who are dismissive about this sort of learning.
They argue that it’s not about dealing with the real world. This is an old-fashioned way of thinking, and you will be pleased to hear that it is not true. In fact, your online course – no matter what you study – will give you all sorts of real-world skills and will help a good deal in preparing you for the world of work.
These are just a few of the reasons why.
When you study online you will, obviously, need to use a computer to do it. Some people manage on their phones, but although this is fine for watching videos and talking to people, you will find some parts of the work much easier with a proper keyboard and a bigger screen.
Although courses vary, most of them will require you to use basic word processing software as well as learning to use the course platform itself. You may use online meeting software like Zoom for group discussions, and you may also use databases and spreadsheets. All of this is a valuable experience. Even if you’ve already used such programs privately, your course certificate will provide proof that you have done so, making prospective future employers confident about your abilities.
One of the aspects of online study which some people find really challenging is developing the necessary organizational skills. If you struggle in this area, you will find that making the effort to improve has great benefits in other areas of life.
If you’re taking an online Masters of Operations Management, like the excellent one taught at Kettering University Online, then it’s obvious that you will need strong organizational skills. What you may not realize, however, is that every online course sharpens these abilities simply because you will be expected to manage your own study, keeping track of everything, establishing priorities, and working out when you need additional help. This will improve the way you stay on top of tasks in your private life, and it will also make you more employable.
Related to organizational skills is time management. This is something which everybody studying online needs to get to grips with early on. Whatever else is going on in your life, you will need to find sufficient time for learning. This means working out how long it takes you to complete certain types of tasks and scheduling enough time for what you need to do, so that you don’t end up having to ask for extensions or watching class videos late at night when you are too tired to take them in properly.
It means arranging your time so that you can deal with emergencies without being knocked off track, and it means finding enough time to go back over what you have learned so that you are sufficiently prepared for exams.
Once you have established a clear schedule, you will only be able to stick to it if you work when you are supposed to. When you are alone on your computer, it is easy to get distracted. You might feel sucked into playing games or spending time on social media, but if you’re serious about your course, you must be strict with yourself about setting these things aside until you have met your commitments, even if it means that sometimes you do not get the chance to relax and do fun things for a prolonged period.
You will also need to be ready to get up early on days when you are not at work and could benefit from spending time studying. You cannot afford to be lazy. It should be obvious why the ability to take a disciplined approach like this and display a strong work ethic is attractive to employers.
One of the trickier things about self-discipline is that it doesn’t just mean cutting back on your own downtime – it can also mean doing less for others. If you have kids who want your attention all the time or a partner who asks for your support with all sorts of minor day-to-day things, you are going to have to get used to saying no.
If your partner doesn’t do a fair share of the housework, now is the time to talk about it. Your education matters, and that means that you will need to set boundaries. This is a skill that will prove invaluable in the workplace when all sorts of colleagues are pressuring you to do things. Good employers will respect a boundary because they recognize that it makes you less vulnerable to burnout.
Once you have mastered the art of working by yourself, it will be time to learn how to work within a team. Most online courses introduce teamwork only after their students have had some time to become established.
You will usually be placed in a team rather than getting to choose your own, which is good because it means that you must learn how to work with different people and not just those to who you might ordinarily find yourself drawn.
You will learn to recognize the individual strengths and weaknesses of the team members and find ways of accommodating these. Learn to play to the strengths of the whole, rather than thinking only about your own advantages. In the process, you will become a more flexible and respectful worker.
To work successfully within a team, you will need to develop your communication skills. You will need to engage with people you find difficult while keeping their cooperation, and you will need to learn how to assert yourself in group situations, as well as when and how to back down or apologize.
Your communication skills will also grow as you talk to your tutors and instructors, so you know when and how to show respect, but you can also put your own ideas forward and express them clearly.
Finally, you will improve your written communication skills when completing writing tasks for your course – and do so more quickly if you pay serious attention to feedback.
As you engage with different people on and around your course, you’ll start making friends, and you’ll also begin to identify people whom it would be useful to stay in touch with for practical reasons related to your subject of study or planned career. This is the beginning of networking skills.
People often say that getting a good job is not about what you know but who you know. What they don’t tell you is that you can make deliberate decisions about who you get to know with this kind of advantage in mind.
It is not just the direct connections you build (which do matter) but also the people they know and the people their contacts know. Even if you struggle with making friends, there are useful ways you can approach this, such as looking for other outsiders whom you might click with more easily.
As well as listening to instruction, working by yourself, and doing simple teamwork, as part of most online courses, you will be assigned projects to work on. These will require you to bring together several of the skills already discussed here and demonstrate that you can make them work in concert.
You will need to set realistic goals, establish priorities and schedules, and cooperate with others to bring the work to completion. You will also need to demonstrate creativity and the ability to think outside the box to find solutions to problems that emerge along the way. Experience of this sort is highly sought after in the workplace and is a good material to discuss in an interview.
Often people who are entering further education for the first time assume that they are going to be told everything they need to know to get a great qualification. In most cases, this isn’t true because part of what your instructors are trying to teach you is how to go about teaching yourself.
This could involve anything from learning to search physical or online libraries effectively to learning how to read and evaluate a research paper. It could also include learning how to develop your own studies, collect data through surveys, or interview people. You will find tasks like these cropping up – with appropriate guidance and support – in all sorts of ways throughout your course, and they will give you skills that employers find incredibly useful.
Of course, carrying out research is only useful to other people if you know how to present it. Most online courses will require you to write various reports, take data that you have been provided with or have acquired for yourself, and set it out in ways appropriate to your subject area. You will learn to create reports that anyone with a similar background can look at and immediately understand and make use of.
The chances are that when you find a job, you will not be asked to report in identical ways, as the company you work for will have its own way of doing things. However, your experience and the adaptability it gives you mean that you will need very little time to get up to speed and demonstrate your value as an employee.
Because most online courses have very large class sizes compared to traditional ones, they make extensive use of peer marking. This means that you will be asked to evaluate some of your fellow students’ essays, reports, and project work and decide whether they fit the criteria that the class has given.
This gives you the advantage of seeing how others approach their work, perhaps identifying ways in which you can improve your own as a result. It also gives you experience in thinking critically about a piece of work, identifying its strengths and weaknesses, and considering how much you could rely on it if you had encountered it during research. Your tutors will help you with this until you are confident that you can do a good job independently.
In the end, confidence is what it is all about. Nothing helps more when it comes to impressing employers and getting ahead in life – as long as that confidence is justified, of course.
Your online course will give you the expertise you need to assert yourself on the topics you studied, to speak with authority and know that you can answer any reasonable questions which might follow. If you struggle with shyness and self-doubt at the start of your studies, they will be much less of a problem by the end. You will emerge from your course knowing that you can talk to all kinds of people and get them to listen and accept you. You will know that you are a capable person who can set goals and achieve them, and you will be ready to make an impression on the wider world.
Anybody who claims that online study does not reflect the real world has a poor understanding of the nature of online courses and the way the modern world works. If you are prepared to commit yourself seriously to your studies and work through difficulties, to face your insecurities head on and keep an open mind, you will finish your course with much more than just a paper qualification. You will be ready for the world of work, and ready to start living your life on your own terms – ready for a better future.