Online education can open a whole new world of possibility to prospective students who have been putting off attending an on-campus program—or those who don’t have a school nearby that offers their chosen career training program. It may seem counterintuitive to get training online if you plan to pursue a hands-on career path, but technology, time and time again, has made the seemingly impossible possible—and there are more online options available for preparing for offline jobs than you might think.
Continuing your education is still a big commitment, though, whether you’ll be sitting in a classroom or logging in from your living room. The Imagine America Foundation is here to help you decide whether an online career training program is right for you!
One of the biggest benefits of pursuing your education online is flexible scheduling. Particularly if you’re an adult learner with other obligations—a job, even part-time, can quickly limit the availability on your calendar, and spouses, children, pets, hobbies, and other activities can also make committing to classes and lectures on-campus feel impossible. When you enroll in an online program, you can listen to a lecture first thing in the morning before you’ve even had your first coffee, complete a homework assignment on your lunch break at work, or review the textbook after the kids have been tucked in at night.
Online education also gives you the opportunity to work ahead or review something an extra time: you can learn at your own pace, not at the direction of a syllabus scheduled by the instructor. Maybe some of your introductory courses feel like a piece of cake and you can skim the materials confident in how you’ll do on the exam, but your next course is an uphill struggle and you find yourself needing to re-review the information several times before it sinks in. Studying to become a nurse, for example, involves a lot of foundational math and science, in addition to some complex concepts about biology and anatomy. Particularly if you’ve been out of school awhile or if you struggled with some of those STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) topics, having the availability to re-watch, re-listen, and re-read your course materials as often as you need to can be a lifesaver. By taking these classes online, you can take as little or as much time as you need to ensure you have a firm grasp of the curricula.
But procrastinators, beware! Learning at your own pace can also mean you have less accountability: If you don’t have regular classes to attend where you’d have to be prepared to discuss the assignment face-to-face, it may feel easier to put the work off and you may risk falling behind. Make sure you’re ready to stay committed to a general study plan so your education stays on track.
Get a solid foundation
To earn your degree and appropriate certifications, you may need to participate in some lessons, tests, and experiences away from your computer screen. Having learned all the fundamentals before you’re attempting a task like taking someone’s vitals or replacing a transmission in real life, however, can help set you up for success. Online degree programs can offer you the opportunity to learn the context and importance, as well as the best practices, for all the most critical skills you’ll need in your new career.
The terminology can be a lot to learn in and of itself if you’re entering a brand-new industry or career field. Getting a good handle on the terminology, acronyms, and short-hand references common to your job can make all the difference in how you learn. Working on these concepts from home—but with the aid of discussion boards, internet search engines, and your textbooks—can help you get those terms down pat before you even take your first introductory level course. Take the time to make sure you understand the language before you jump in to some of the higher-level classes!
While on-campus libraries, resource centers, and office hours can be a great help, there’s definitely something to be said for having everything you need right at your fingertips—and right at home, no less. While you’re pursuing a degree or certificate through an online program, you can have your textbooks, course materials, online discussion boards, access to your instructor, and the magic of search engines right there at once. No need to sprint across campus or make it to class only to realize you left your notebook at home. All of your best tools are right there 24/7/365!
It can be tricky when you lose the in-person interaction, which can be helpful when discussing complex topics or when you’re having a hard time understanding the course materials on your own. Being an online student means being extra diligent in communicating clearly, concisely, and often in order to develop those relationships with your peers and teachers and to get the most out of your career training program.
But communicating with your instructor and your classmates over the internet also means you can send messages and questions any time, day or night. It can also be quite handy to have records of those conversations: in a classroom setting, you’re likely to be responsible for catching and recording by hand helpful information or extra additions that the instructor mentions off the cuff. Online, lectures and course materials are saved in full for you and your one-on-one conversations or discussion board chats are likely to be recorded and saved through the course platform, possibly even in a conveniently searchable format—allowing you to go back and reference them later on.
This is a crucial component of choosing a school: accrediting agencies help ensure that schools and their programs meet certain standards and comply with various best practices. There are accrediting bodies that operate nationally, regionally, and programmatically. If you’re unsure whether your prospective school is accredited, talk to the admissions office to ensure they’re in good standing with the appropriate agencies. It’s also worth taking a little time to research whether your program of interest has its own accrediting body.
Graduating from an accredited school can be a determining factor for employers when they make hiring decisions, and attending a non-accredited institution can cost you time and money in the long run if you decide to change institutions after you’ve begun: many accredited schools cannot or will not accept a transfer of credits from an unaccredited school.
In addition, accreditation helps determine whether a school can accept federal funding on behalf of students. If you intend to pay for any portion of your education through federal student aid programs, you’ll need to make sure the institution you’re enrolling at is approved to accept those funds.
There may be some classes that just can’t be taken online. This usually depends primarily on the program you’re taking and what your career goals are. Your school may also offer some additional benefits that are best taken advantage of in person: libraries, career centers, financial aid offices, and other resources might be located on-campus only.
If there’s any aspect of your career training program that you expect will require you to be on campus, it’s always a good idea to go check it out. Planning a tour of the campus can also help give you a sense of the school’s identity, personality, or values. Taking the time to chat with staff or instructors face-to-face can give you a great foundation for your education with the school—even if you don’t ever step foot on campus again.
Many students assume that because it’s online, it’s definitely cheaper. But that’s not always the case! While your school may not have facility costs to pay for, they still have plenty of other expenses, including trained and experienced instructors, curricula and course materials, and those accreditation fees to keep them in good standing. Your personal costs will also vary if you’re not going to school on-campus: you won’t have any commuter expenses, but you will need to ensure you’ve got the right equipment and technology at home to complete your coursework.
Take a look at the tuition and all fees associated with your online education and compare it to the cost of other online or nearby programs. Factor in what you would be spending whether you decide to attend class on-campus or from your home and make the right decision for you.
Ready to find an online school and program? IAF has a robust directory of online career training schools on our website and can help you find the best fit for your education and career goals. We even offer scholarship programs that allow high school seniors, current and honorably discharged military personnel, and adult learners to receive a $1,000 discount on their tuition at partnership institutions. Visit www.imagine-america.org to learn more about our partner institutions, our scholarship programs, and how we can help you find real-world success with an online degree.