Productivity Online Class is Now in Session

by Sara Bliss | June 17, 2020

For those who want to sharpen their professional skills, learn new ones, switch professions or launch a business, additional education can be the key to career success.

The challenge is that traditional continuing education classes, certificate programs and courses at brick-and-mortar universities can be pricey and time consuming. That’s why online classes and schools — which offer cost-effective and versatile alternatives for learning — have been a game changer.

Are you ready to learn a new subject, skill or earn a degree? Then here are some things to consider when exploring online classes.

Who are online classes right for?

The student mix is as diverse as the education or certification classes and include:

  • Professionals looking to add skills that will take their career to the next level
  • Those pursuing a new career path that requires an additional degree to make the switch
  • Someone reentering the workforce looking to brush up on qualifications
  • Anyone balancing work, family and other full-time life commitments in need of a more flexible (and affordable) learning option than on-site college or university classes

For Amy Chu, a former financial management consultant, the flexibility of an online class that worked with her schedule as a parent became a portal into an entirely new career.

“On a whim I took a six-week evening course called Introduction to Comic Book Writing. It was 2 1/2 hours long, taught once a week and run by a former comic book editor. It was my first online class, and, as I had two young children, the format worked better than an in-person class for me,” explains Chu who is now an established comic book author. “It was $595 and it basically changed my life.”

Online learning opens up opportunities and access for a greater number of students. Anthony Tattersall, senior director of enterprise at the online platform Coursera believes that the certificate programs are ideal for anyone wanting to change jobs or get a promotion.

Online learning opens up opportunities and access for a greater number of students.
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“We support learners at every stage, whether entering the job market, changing fields, seeking a promotion or exploring new interests,” says Anant Agarwal, Founder and CEO of edX, an online learning platform that was started by Harvard and MIT. “As a global nonprofit, edX is transforming traditional education, removing the barriers of cost, location and access,” says Agarwal.

What classes are available online?

Online class offerings are vast, with options to study everything from literature to nutrition. However, the most popular online courses tend to be the ones that can directly impact a career path, paycheck or skill set. Students have the option to take individual classes, get professional certificates or go for a full online master’s degree.

“There are training programs from top universities and companies that help learners become job-ready. Some prepare learners to pass an industry certification exam, while others help them get the experience needed to launch a career in a specific field, such as IT support,” says Tattersall.  

“Other certificates are designed to help learners get the experience needed to launch a career in a field like information technology, data science, healthcare, graphic design, marketing or journalism,” Tattersall adds.

Coursera and edX report that career-focused subjects such as data science, computer science and business classes boast the highest enrollment.

Woman watching virtual presentation on laptop.

What is online learning like?

There are different models for online learning, and you’ll want to think about what type of experience is best suited for your learning style. Do you prefer a set time with other students? Or classes you can pop into on your timeline? Think about what structure is most motivating and supportive for you.

For a more traditional class model explore synchronous classes which are taught live at a set time. In these “live” virtual classes, students can ask questions and participate via video or text, just like in a physical classroom.

However, the bulk of online classes are asynchronous, featuring a mix of recorded lectures, discussion forums, and online quizzes and exams. Asynchronous classes can have hundreds or thousands of students and are also known as massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Emanuela Manea, a London-based consultant in general pediatrics has taken two classes through Coursera to build new skills and expand her practice towards academic research. Both were asynchronous, which she preferred the flexibility of. “You enroll in a course at a convenient time for you; every week there are few lectures up to 20-minutes long in a video format with attached links to further reading material and a test. It takes 4-10 hours per week to complete.”

Think about what structure is most motivating and supportive for you.
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For Manea, the ability to take the course on her own schedule was a huge perk. Although it was on her schedule, she was still able to communicate with teachers and students throughout. “You interact with the other students and teachers in the discussion forums where you can ask questions and seek clarification.”

Jon Deng has tried both options and prefers synchronous classes. During his final months in the military, Deng took online classes to prepare for a new career as a software engineer. He did an intensive coding boot camp that met six hours a day for 12 weeks.

For him, the collaborative assignments and teacher interaction were key. “It's a long stretch to completely learn a new skill and change careers, and it's even harder if you're in a room by yourself all day. Make sure you have an in-person support network and are making connections with your teachers and classmates,” Deng advises.

What about cost and time commitment?

While online classes are generally less expensive than in-person classes, prices vary. Some platforms offer the ability to audit a class for free, but, while you may get to see all the lectures, you may not have access to tests or quizzes. Others offer a free model to take a class, but charge a fee for a certificate. Others charge per course or offer a monthly subscription fee for unlimited courses.

Certificate classes may cost a few hundred dollars, and a master’s degree online starts at several thousand dollars (significantly less than a university where you can expect to pay an average of $30,000 to $40,000 according to educational services company

Time commitments vary as well, from a few hours to several weeks or months. Deng opted for a balance of free and paid courses when pursuing his degree. “I did a mixture of MOOCs which were generally self-paced and either free or low priced (less than $100). These were enough to learn some basics, but to really ramp up into the career, I felt like I had to do a coding boot camp…. the fee was $12k at the time. The outcomes can vary, but I got a job right out of boot camp so I felt it was worth it,” Deng shares.

Father working at home with his baby girl

The ability to take classes on your own schedule and still maintain your current job, the lower cost and the impressive range of courses and certificates could provide you with real value. Plus, many courses are often by professionals in their field, so you may have the opportunity to network for your next job as you build up your skill set.

For those ready to make an impact on their career, an online course or certificate that you can add to your resume or use to help your business, might be the perfect fit.

5 programs to consider

If you’re ready to advance your career or degree, the following are five virtual education programs with a range of classes on offer.

1. Skillshare

This subscription-based online learning community is ideal for those pursuing a career or side hustle in creative fields. Animation, graphic design, UX/UI development and business courses are just some of the disciplines taught by creative industry leaders.

2. Google Analytics Academy

Practice skills to collect data, conduct analysis and track performance to grow in your current role or prepare for a career pivot down the line at the Google Analytics Academy. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced analytics and measurement tools user, there are classes for all levels and career goals.

3. Class Central

Class Central aggregates top MOOC classes in subjects like computer science, business, humanities and data science along with reviews from students to help you weigh your options. Search for classes based on topic, level or university and receive personalized updates with new opportunities.

4. Rouxbe Online Culinary School

Train to be a professional chef right from your kitchen with a monthly subscription to courses led by chefs and culinary field experts in Rouxbe Online Culinary School. Ready to set yourself apart in the field? Take the plant-based professional certification course with a leading chef.

5. Alison

This learning platform aims to make education and online learning inclusive — whether you’re looking to build a career in nutrition, carpentry, finance or video game development. Try one of 1,000 free online courses across nine different categories including humanities, business, marketing and languages.

Sara Bliss

is a Writer & Brand Strategist. She is the author of Take the Leap: Change Your Career, Change Your Life.