Career Development through Online Education

Career Development through Online Education

If you are like many online students, you are probably pursuing a degree while you are working, in an effort to advance your current career or increase your career options. Students motivated by career goals chose a degree or academic major based upon knowledge they believe is required to gain the targeted job or career. However, what you receive as a result of your class work is more than knowledge of a particular subject; you gain skill sets that allow you to become more marketable in the workplace. As an online student, you are also likely to find other opportunities for career development as a result of classroom interactions and involvement with your school.

Skills of Successful Online Students

You’ve enrolled in an online degree program, now what do you do? How can you develop your career as a student if you are already working? The answer is to get involved and utilize this educational opportunity to develop and enhance the skills you need. Peter D. Hart Research Associates interviewed employers and recent graduates in 2006, and produced a report: How Should Colleges Prepare Students To Succeed In Today’s Global Economy? While the study is five years old now there is an important aspect of the results that will guide your career development efforts:

Employers and recent college graduates reject a higher education approach that focuses narrowly on providing knowledge and skills in a specific field; majorities instead believe that an undergraduate college education should provide a balance of a well-rounded education and knowledge and skills in a specific field.

Based upon my experience as an online student and online instructor, there are specific skills you are likely to gain at all degree program levels that will have a positive impact on your career. Here’s a list of the most common skills:

1. Teamwork: You may believe that online learning is an individual process because you are not sitting in a traditional classroom at a specified time. However, this does not mean that collaboration and teambuilding are not occurring. Online courses address this through required participation in class discussion forums. In addition to posting an original discussion response, you are typically required to read and respond to the posts of other students, which create a form of interaction. This interaction prompts you to read, relate to, and consider other perspectives and ideas, which can lead to effective teamwork.

2. Communication: Not only are you interacting with other students through class discussions, you are also learning to convey your message through electronic means – from email to classroom posts. Because you are not present to explain the intent and meaning of your message you have to become skilled in crafting well-written posts that utilize a professional tone and clearly communicate your thoughts.

3. Technology: The use of technology is increasingly important in today’s workplace as it provides an ability to improve employee productivity and allow organizations to expand their reach to new customers and markets. Online students often become comfortable with the use of programs, software, multimedia, mobile technology and applications through the completion of their degree – and this translates into an immediate workplace benefit.

4. Time Management: Students who are working and going to school must learn to manage their time effectively in order to meet assignment deadlines. There are other skills associated with effective time management, including stress management and project management. The more effective you are with managing your priorities and responsibilities, the better able you are to identify sources of potential conflict or stress. You also become proficient in managing multiple projects or school related tasks.

5. Writing: This is a foundational skill for any educational program; however, it is even more important in an online class as written assignments are often a predominant component. While academic writing may be different than the type of writing required in the workplace, you learn how to structure your thoughts, ideas, projects, and reports with language that is clear and concise.

6. Goal Setting: As a student you quickly learn the value of setting goals. It is a process that helps you maintain momentum and focus as you work towards completion of your classes and your degree. Instead of telling an employer that you are “goal-oriented,” you can provide a specific example of how you established and then met an academic goal through completion of a full degree program or a particularly challenging course.

7. Analysis, Problem Solving: Regardless of your beginning skill level, by the time you complete your degree program you will have strengthened your critical thinking skills, which involve an ability to think logically and rationally. Through well-developed analytical skills you can address problems and develop meaningful solutions that enhance your individual and team performance in the workplace.

8. Ethical Responsibility: As a student you are expected to follow a code of conduct and act ethically with regards to your work as a student, which demonstrates to a potential employer that you understand issues such as plagiarism and proper ethical behavior.

CareerBuilder.com adds verbal communication, public speaking, math, and accounting skills to the list of skills employers seek from recent college graduates. Depending upon your degree program, the skills you develop to match this part of the list may vary. Many online schools incorporate interactive technologies such as presentation tools that will translate well into the workplace setting. Research is part of almost every class and that is a skill you can easily demonstrate with examples of papers or projects you have written.

Advice for Career Development

Your interactions in the classroom and involvement with your school also provide additional sources for career development. The level of benefit you’ll receive depends upon how effectively you utilize the opportunities that are available for you. For example, use the discussion board as an opportunity to bring real-world issues and scenarios (those related to the course topics) to the class as case studies and examples within your discussion contributions. This will allow you to gain input and insight from other students, and your instructor. Through the discussions you may discover new perspectives and find solutions you had not previously considered. As another example, if you are given a chance to choose a topic for a written assignment – use it as an opportunity to identify, research, and find solutions to workplace issues and problems.

Another method of career development occurs when you establish a network with other students, which can happen throughout your degree program as you connect with those you have studied with and hold similar professional interests. Once you have completed your degree, there are alumni associations available with most schools that often encourage networking and offer career-related services. For example, Capella University offers online networking and regional events through their alumni website and Walden University provides alumni career services and job listings.

You made a commitment of time and finances to your career development through enrollment in a degree program. What you gain is more than knowledge about your academic discipline – you acquire and develop skill sets that may enhance your marketability in the workplace and transform your performance. You will also likely develop connections through your interactions that can lead to future professional opportunities. Take every chance made available to further your development and you will likely reach all of your professional goals.

What methods of career development matter most to you for involvement in your online degree program? Share your feedback via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © Radius Images/Corbis

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