Are You Ready to Face the Business World?
Business students taking online courses are likely to find that their skills are not only relevant in today’s job market, but that they are well-prepared for working in many business-related positions. Because of the evolving nature of organizations, online business degrees have a unique opportunity to teach skills that are relevant and necessary for a successful career.
The Evolving Nature of Business and Education
Business operations and employees continue to make a transition to a virtual working environment. In a 2011 report it was estimated that “off-site workers now represent up to 40 percent of the U.S. workforce in companies with 5,000 employees or more and as many as three out of four organizations already using remote employees.” By allowing employees to work remotely it is possible for organizations to find talent beyond the local market, while reducing operating expenses. Working as a virtual employee also has advantages, including fuel cost savings and the potential for a flexible schedule.
It is also common for organizations to conduct virtual meetings through the use of teleconferences and webinars. This is a business practice that has been utilized to connect employees at different locations, including those who work from a home office, for team meetings, announcements, strategic planning, and training. If this is beginning to sound like a match to the online classroom environment, it is. Business educator Robyn MacKillop, Ph.D. confirms that “students who take business classes online are at an advantage because as shifts in the business world take place, students are there to see them, follow them, and know them.”
Thomas Malone, professor of management and information technology at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, also recognizes the benefit of online learning – even though he believes (based upon his experience perhaps?) that students may still prefer to attend a traditional class. Malone states that “there is an additional dimension to the growth of online management learning that has nothing to do with access, flexibility or cost, but relevance to the realities of today’s business environment.”
There is another reason why business students will benefit from the development of skills learned in an online classroom – the growth of global business operations. Gustavo Demoner, an adjunct professor who teaches a global business skills course through the U.C.L.A. Extension, believes that “a lot of businesses are expanding globally and you have to learn to interact with people in different locations.” This requires having skillsets that may not be learned unless business students have had an opportunity to interact with others in a virtual environment.
Relevant Skills for the Virtual Business World
Many of the skills that online business students learn throughout their degree program are also developed by students in a traditional classroom; however, the difference for the online learner is that these basic skillsets have been adapted for interactions that do not occur face-to-face, which many employees find is a common operational practice in today’s global business environment. Employers also view these skills as highly desirable qualities of potential employees.
1. Personal Management
All students have assignments and other learning activities with due dates. They know what is due and when – and they have to allocate the time necessary to complete their tasks. In a virtual environment, there isn’t an instructor present to watch what they are doing or dictate at what times they must work. This is similar to work as a virtual employee. It requires the development of an effective time management plan, along with other personal management factors such as stress management, self-motivation, self-discipline, and organizational skills. Students have to recognize and management the use of their time, potential to experience stress, motivation to keep putting in the best effort possible, discipline necessary to avoid procrastination, and keep their work organized for maximum productivity.
Online students primarily have words and text that forms the basis of communication. It is necessary for students to read posts and emails from others without reacting emotionally and maintain professionalism at all times as a means of developing productive working relationships. All of these communication skills, synchronous and asynchronous, are immediately transferrable to the workplace as employees are likely to participate in meetings without the benefit of seeing all of the participants. In addition, all employees must respond to electronic communication, which includes emails at a very minimum. If they are assigned to a virtual team, it becomes necessary to interact through a variety of technologically-enabled tools, from software programs to document sharing websites.
3. Social Networking
Instructors have begun to encourage the use of social networking by students, as a means of connecting them to a larger, often global, academic community. This also helps students prepare for the business world as many businesses use social networking websites as a means of staying in touch with customers to help develop long-term relationships and cultivate future sales. This is another form of electronic communication and many platforms require short and concise posts that deliver a message effectively, which takes time and practice to learn to become proficient in using.
4. Project Management
For many online schools, learning assessments take the form of a written work product, such as discussion board posts and written assignments. While all students must learn how to conduct research and develop skills such as analysis and critical thinking, online students must be able to accomplish these tasks without the benefit of direct support. This is also similar to the workplace, especially a virtual environment, as employees must learn to become self-directed.
One of the most important skills gained by online students, which is immediately transferrable to the business world, is proficiency with technology. Students gain experience throughout their degree program working with learning management systems, computer hardware, software programs, and other technological tools. This is an important skillset as most organizational environments rely upon the use of some form of technology.
Online students typically earn a business degree with specific career goals in mind. Through the unique skillsets acquired in this technologically-enabled environment they are prepared to work in many business settings. It may be challenging at first for students to adapt to this environment; however, the long-term benefits include gaining a competitive advantage when conducting a job search.
What skills are necessary for your career or targeted job? Share your thoughts via Twitter @DrBruceJ.
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