Online learning Featured

6:29am EDT July 30, 2006
Online education isn’t what it used to be. Online distance learning programs provide courses that will improve your skills, expand your knowledge and advance your career. In fact, at many institutions, enrollment has doubled in the last year. From language classes, nursing certification and law enforcement to learning how to sell on Ebay, people of all ages are flocking to the relatively new medium.

For many individuals, the desire to excel in the workplace is strong -- but not at the expense of family and other personal commitments away from the office. Online learning allows students to gain knowledge that will be instrumental for career growth in a convenient setting and on their own schedules. Many online classes offer coursework that can be completed when and where it is convenient for the student.

Some programs combine classroom and online learning, offering the best of both worlds to accommodate a wider range of learning styles and schedules. The ability to deliver material online helps reduce the cost of such programs and can help increase their effectiveness.

More in-depth academic curriculum and materials can be effectively delivered electronically. Some schools have developed an extensive, state-of-the-art library consisting of digitized books and the most up-to-date information. These online research libraries and services provide immediate access to all the tools a student needs.

Further, skills such as written communication are even more pronounced through distance learning, because the majority of interaction takes place through e-mails, chat sessions and other forms of written dialogue.

Smart Business asked Patty Brennan, program manager for online training and education at Tri-C’s Corporate College, what some of the benefits of “e-learning” are.

What is driving the popularity of online courses?
The short answer is that online classes are easily accessible, practical and dependable. Training is customized to students’ schedules and is available 24/7. Everyone can work at their own pace. You can log on and do an exercise and take a test whenever you feel like it, even if you are traveling and away from home.

More and more people are opting for a virtual education. Online classes are especially popular with home-bound individuals, such as parents of young children and those with limited transportation.

Are online courses good for everyone?
It depends on your learning style. Individuals who are disciplined and don’t need a lot of face-to-face interaction seem to do the best. It is also valuable for busy professionals who want to save time. For example, if you are a licensed professional and just realized your certification will expire in two months and you need to take a class in the near future, online services could be for you. With an online class, you don’t have to wait for the next scheduled course in a classroom to start -- you can start right away.

Employers like online courses because, of course, they save time and money. Employers are using the Internet as a classroom for in-house employee training, and online education is one vehicle they can use to increase employee skills, which leads to improved employee performance.

How have the offerings changed in the past five years?
Online learning was all the rage when it first became popular around 1999 and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. But at that time, much of the curriculum was little more than throwing a textbook online and interest quickly cooled. Today, the quality offerings have more visuals and interactivity with simulations, pictures, sound bites and video.

Can you interact with other students and the instructor?
You can join a discussion board with others who are taking the same class and instructors are available by e-mail. Each class also offers links to relevant Web sites with more information on the topics being studied.

Typically, what kinds of classes are offered?
Most online curriculum development companies and organizations listen to the demands of industry when they develop their online curriculum tracks, so they follow business and industry trends. Many times, one size doesn’t fit all, so clients such as fire departments, health care providers and manufacturing companies frequently request customized offerings. Online courses run the full gambit -- they cover soft skill subjects like writing, customer service and leadership development as well as technical skills that can result in vendor certifications from Microsoft, Six Sigma and others.

PATTY BRENNAN is the program manager for online training and education at Tri-C’s Corporate College. For further information on Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College, phone (866) 806-2677 or visit www.corporatecollege.com.