College and perhaps graduate school have long been considered the educational finish line for ready-to-launch professionals. Young men and women would learn the skills they needed, get jobs, and never look back. Today, though, this reality is changing. The landscape of a career may change over time. Additionally, what was once considered cutting edge has dulled as new techniques or methods arise. Some people decide to change careers altogether.
But how do busy professionals make time to go back to school? The answer is, they usually don’t—at least not in the physical sense. More and more people today are taking courses online to fill a wide variety of needs, from a quick brush-up on a specific topic or skill to earning advanced degrees and certifications. They are doing this work in a way that fits into their professional and personal lives—and many institutions are happy to make this possible. Many online programs now offer coursework to fill any need.
Comparing classroom learning vs. online learning, along with the benefits of the latter, can help prospective degree seekers decide which mode of education is best suited to help them reach their career goals.
Classroom Learning vs. Online Learning: How Does It Work?
Online courses have various formats. Some are synchronous, which means that all enrolled students access the course material simultaneously. Synchronous courses require scheduled attendance through online chats or teleconferencing. In asynchronous courses, participants can view course materials, such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, and syllabi, any time they like.
Like traditional students, those taking online courses must submit assignments and take tests. All material is submitted electronically, often through education-specific programs such as Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle. Students are expected to keep track of all requirements and deadlines, and submit materials according to the course’s schedule, with little to no oversight or reminders.
10 Key Benefits of Online Learning for Professionals
Online programs have many advantages compared to traditional in-person programs. Although these advantages hold true for any student, they are particularly beneficial for professionals who wish to maintain their jobs while taking coursework. Here are a few of the key benefits that an online education can offer those looking to further their career.
1. Variety of Programs and Courses
Students today can earn any academic degree online, from a single career-specific certificate to a doctorate. They are not limited by geography but can choose the program that best suits their needs, no matter where it is located physically.
2. Lower Total Costs
Online programs tend to be more affordable than a traditional in-person college education. While online tuition rates are not always lower, associated expenses are almost always less. Online courses make the costs of transportation and sometimes course materials irrelevant. Additionally, schools will often recognize credits from online courses, many of which can be a fraction of the cost of in-person classes, and many are free.
3. More Comfortable Learning Environment
The most visible difference between classroom learning and online learning is each mode’s physical environment, the latter of which is typically more comfortable. Online learning allows students to seek an education at their convenience and in the setting of their choosing. Allowing students to choose the environment in which they learn can be a boon to those who find standard learning environments stressful or unsuited to their physical needs.
4. Convenience and Flexibility
Online students can plan study time around the rest of their day, instead of the other way around. Students can work at their convenience, which makes balancing job and family commitments with education possible. Those who have strict work schedules or children who require supervision often can’t find the time for a traditional education, so learning from home is an excellent option given an online program’s flexible nature.
5. More Interaction and Greater Ability to Concentrate
While not true for every student, studies suggest that students who are shy participate in online class discussions more easily than face-to-face. Some students also report better concentration in online classes due to the lack of classroom distractions.
6. Career Advancement
Online courses position students for career advancement even while they are working, between jobs, or taking time to raise a family. This academic work will explain any discontinuity or gaps in a resume as well. Earning a degree also shows prospective employers that individuals are ambitious and motivated.
7. Continue in Your Profession
Many students today begin as traditional students but discover that they need to keep working to afford school. Online courses allow these students to continue in their jobs while also pursuing academic credentials.
8. Avoid Commuting
Instead of driving an hour to class through snowstorms and thunderstorms, then fighting to find a parking spot, online students simply stroll to the computer and turn it on. Not only does this save time and inconvenience, many online students also reap substantial savings on transportation costs.
9. Improve Your Technical Skills
Even the most basic online course requires the development of new computer skills as students learn to navigate different learning management systems and programs. In addition, the participation skills students learn within their online courses translate to many professions. Examples include creating and sharing documents, incorporating audio/video materials into assignments, and completing online training sessions.
10. Transfer Credits
The ability to transfer credits can be extremely helpful in many different circumstances. College students, for example, may want to attend summer classes away from their physical college while enjoying their summer vacation or doing seasonal jobs at home. They can take a course online and transfer the credits. Or, if desired courses at their regular college are full, they can take the courses online for credit.
Classroom Learning vs. Online Learning: Are the Degrees Equal?
All of these benefits are worthless if an online degree doesn’t deliver results—in other words, if it lags in quality or prestige behind brick-and-mortar programs. While there may be certain social benefits to face-to-face education options, there really is no difference between online vs. classroom learning in terms of the quality of education. Both cover the same material and require the same exams. The standards of an accredited online program are of the same value as on-campus coursework.
The Instructional Technology Council’s Annual National eLearning Survey, which tracks participants’ experiences with online learning, stated in 2022 that 84% of respondents found their experiences to be equivalent to conventional classrooms.
Online learning will only continue to grow in acceptance and prestige. Busy professionals have plenty of reasons to take advantage of this flexible, convenient, and career-boosting option.
Tips for Professionals Returning to School
Those who are returning to school may need an adjustment period to adapt to taking courses while also maintaining a job. Here are a few tips for professionals who are furthering their education.
1. Create a Strict Schedule
New responsibilities can be difficult to incorporate into an existing routine. Setting a schedule and sticking to it is a good way to make coursework a part of daily life.
2. Prioritize Your Classes
Education can be a means of launching a career forward. Putting schoolwork at the top of the to-do list means it won’t fall by the wayside when other parts of life demand attention.
3. Stay Organized
Whether it’s keeping a planner to track assignments or establishing effective note-taking, organization is key. It’s easy to misplace important notes or lose track of when an assignment is due.
4. Make Good Use of Your PTO
Working students may find that they occasionally need to take a personal day to catch up on schoolwork. Instead of worrying about missing work, use paid time off.
5. Avoid Overloading Yourself
Take work and family responsibilities into account when deciding on course load. Burning out can negatively impact a career and/or an education.
6. Make Time For You
Be sure to take personal time when possible. Enriching life with friends and family, entertainment, or even a well-earned nap can keep spirits high when balancing classes and career demands.
Is a Flexible Online Learning Program Right for You?
If learning at your own pace without having to sacrifice your current career and other obligations sounds appealing, you may want to look into an advanced degree. Explore the Washington State University Carson College of Business Online MBA. The program’s courses are designed to equip students with the tactics, knowledge, skills, strategies, and other resources utilized by today’s high-profile business leaders.
WSU’s Online MBA degree program offers four concentrations—marketing, finance, hospitality business management, and international business—and a general MBA. Learn more about how to advance your education while maintaining a satisfying work-life balance.