Now that we’re well into the Digital Age, technological advancement is becoming so fast that you can almost hear the sonic boom. Just look at our cellphones. In the past ten years alone, the cellphone has changed immensely, going from an antenna-ed brick to razor-thin and tiny to basically a color touchscreen the size of a shoebox. And don’t even get me started on the cameras our phones wield, high-quality cameras that can go toe-to-toe with just about any point-and-shoot.
We’re even wearing technology: Smartwatches have succeeded the now-dated wristwatch and even regular ‘ole computers have changed a lot, becoming slimmer and more streamlined and more powerful than we ever thought possible.
And all of this technological advancement hinges on a steady flow of innovation. Of course, not every attempt at technological innovation is a winner…
But there have been many recent developments that could very well revolutionize certain aspects of our lives if they haven’t done so already. At present, I’m referring to a certain concept that’s become a major buzzword lately…
Going into college, I wanted to either be an architect or an attorney, but of course my school offered neither. The most exotic major available was in recreation and leisure. It wasn’t until my second semester that I took an intro-level psychology course and was so enamored with the topic that I declared psychology as a major after only a week of class. Unfortunately, I chose a major in which it’s impossible to find a job without a masters or doctorate degree. After all that time spent in school, I wasn’t much better off than people who only had high school diplomas or GEDs. Determined to avoid customer service, sales, and anything having to do with food, I looked for the right job two years, but I always lacked either the specific skills or the experience that was required.
I started to regret all the time I spent in school. The countless hours of sleep I lost to grueling projects and assignments. The tests and exams that made me stressed out. Thousands of pages of notes taken. Even though my college years were the best of my life, I felt like I could’ve earned an associates degree in business from some nameless online college and been more employable than I was having actually done all the legwork, so to speak.
What is eLearning?
The basic definition of eLearning is a means of acquiring knowledge via some type of electronic media or platform, typically involving the internet. The concept is sometimes called m-learning (for “mobile learning”) and, less stylistically, online learning. But it seems that eLearning is the buzzword that’s being used most frequently.
It may sound very 2016, but eLearning is actually not a new concept. There have been online colleges offering degrees that you can earn without ever stepping foot out of your house. Most of them have financial aid departments, student services, and registrar just like a real-life, brick-and-mortar college, but the classes and collegiate experience are completely online. The lectures are videos, and the tests and exams are taken—and timed—via an online education platform. These online degree programs sometimes even dole out time-consuming assignments, capstone projects, and term papers, adding authenticity and reinforcing the course content so you learn more.
Recently, eLearning began to grow into something a bit different that really broadened the scope of online education. More and more educational programs and courses, typically called e-courses, are now being offered online, often made by people with years or decades of practical knowledge and experience who want to share that knowledge. And I’m sure monetizing their experience by turning it into an income isn’t a bad perk. However, these online courses are created and offered independently, so they won’t usually earn you any certifications, degrees, or even course credit at an actual college. At this point, the average person might ask: What’s the point?
A Skills-Based Job Market
In the not-too-distant past, the job market started to change. After years of being told that you’d need a college degree to get a good job, it suddenly got a lot harder for educated people, especially the recent college grads, to find jobs. Especially any upper-level management or administrative positions.
When those jobs did open up, the requirements would include years of experience in similar positions, which would immediately disqualify the college grads who didn’t have any experience yet. It was like some kind of conspiracy: You need experience to get the job, but you need the job to get experience.
The jobs that were available were typically service-based and skills-based. Anybody willing to work in a service industry—like retail or food service—had a selection of jobs to choose from. Aside from those, the only other jobs available were skills-based, positions that required some type of special knowledge or skill (i.e., carpenter, electrician, contractor, mechanic). In many cases, these weren’t jobs that required lots of education; you just had to be able to perform the duties required of the position. But isn’t college how you learn skills? Can’t we just learn the most essential parts of a trade without all the extra stuff?
eLearning is the Skills-Based Education System
In a job market where your skills and talents are your degree, there needs to be an accessible, convenient way for people to learn the skills they need to get the jobs they way. Instead of taking two years of classes with only a fraction of them giving you actual, practical knowledge, people should be able to just learn the most important parts without the theory and history and other filler.
A major asset to finding a career in the current job market is adaptability, and one of the best ways to be adaptable is to learn practical, marketable skills.
If you think about it, it’s kind of surprising that eLearning didn’t take off sooner. We’re able to buy things online, communicate online, so wouldn’t being able to quickly learn skills online seem obvious? Until relatively recently, if you wanted to learn a new skill you had to go find some resource—a degree, a program, a course, a person, a book—that you could learn from. With eLearning, you can take advantage of the technologies that are already a constant fixture in our lives, using them in order to make yourself a more adaptable, versatile prospect in a vast skills-based job market.
eLearning is not only practical, it’s also cost effective. Most e-courses cost as little as $10 or as much as $300 with there being many that are even free. Additionally, online learning is scalable; take a course by yourself or have your employees take a course so they’ll be knowledgeable about a new concept that will soon be vital to your business. eLearning is very flexible, allowing students to work on a course anytime and at their own paces using their smartphones, tablets, or computers. It also grants continuous access, which means that anyone can access their courses at anytime without having to rearrange their schedules so they can make it to lecture. There’s even the potential for better quality of learning and higher retention since most e-courses come with lifetime access to the course, including all its future updates. Since it involves less of a time commitment from the instructor, industry leaders will frequently collaborate with e-course instructors or even create e-courses of their own, which means students may get to learn from the experts. For instance, acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has a course available on Udemy.
Getting Started with eLearning
If you’re ready to dive into the eLearning world, the best way to get started is to get your feet wet by trying out some of the most popular eLearning platforms. You can simply browse the e-courses to get a feel for how they work, but I suggest you pick a course about something you’ve wanted to learn and just go for it. I’ve personally been using Udemy, which has a very diverse course selection although web development and coding seems to have more courses than the others. Best of all, Udemy can be used online as well as via the Android and iOS apps, which means you can work on your courses anytime. And while many of the best-rated courses seem priced high, you’ll rarely ever pay full price for them as Udemy is almost always running some sort of promotion that discounts most of the e-courses.
Another eLearning platform that I like is Udacity. Despite the similarity in name, Udacity is quite a bit different than Udemy. You might say that Udemy is more laid-back while Udacity takes itself more seriously, offering “nanodegrees” in addition to e-courses. Udacity is also a great starting point because many courses are free.
I also like Khan Academy, which is another free eLearning platform with probably the biggest variety of subjects. The purpose behind Khan Academy is pretty basic: To give everyone the opportunity and access to educational resources in math, history, science, art, technology, and pretty much any other subject you can think of. Oh, and it’s got this neat progress-tracking system where the courses you take earn you points that aggregate in the different academic categories. For instance, if you take a class on algebra, you’ll get math points; if you take a class on physics, you’ll get science points. Being able to track the points you earn in each of the different categories is kind of fun and a really unique feature. The only draw-back is that Khan Academy is less interactive; the courses are basically just YouTube videos containing ten-minute lectures.
HubSpot Academy is also considered an eLearning platform, but it has a much smaller, more focused scope. Basically, HubSpot is all about content marketing. And they don’t have courses per se; HubSpot offers various certifications related to marketing, but to earn a certification you must learn the materials by watching the educational videos and passing each section’s quizzes. I complete the free Inbound Certification last fall and found it to have a lot of really great information, so I’d recommend starting there. If you want more information related to content marketing, you can begin going for their other certifications. [Bonus: Once you’re certified, you get to put your certification badge on your website! You can see my Inbound Certification badge on my writing services page.]
Many will have at least heard of Moz, which is essentially an SEO and web marketing agency. However, they have a lot of useful, educational resources about search engine optimization, including guides on link building, social media marketing, on-page optimization, some webinars (called Mozinars), and more.
Have you ever dreamed of being smart enough to go to school at MIT? Well now you actually can no matter what your high school GPA was. MIT Open Courseware are actual MIT courses that are available online for free. The courses that are available give you a pretty diverse range of topics, including business, fine arts, engineering, teaching and education, science, social science, math, and a number of others. If you’ve recently started your own business, there’s an entrepreneurship page that compiles courses MIT believes to be the most beneficial to new business owners.
Coursera is one that you might consider to be the midpoint between Khan Academy and MIT Open Courseware. With courses contributed from over 100 academic institutions, Coursera offers free courses in a wide range of subjects. But one of the most unique features of Coursera is that it not only offers intro-level courses in many subjects, but also a variety of more specific or advanced courses, including “Data Management for Clinical Research”, which was contributed by Vanderbilt University.
Considering the state of today’s job market, I feel that eLearning is really going to revolutionize the way people seek jobs and the way employers do their hiring. But I can also see a lot of people learning these marketable skills and then using them to freelance, working for themselves instead of having to answer to some company’s bottom line. In effect, it gives a little choice back to those who are unemployed or unhappily employed or looking to change careers.
Some are trying to say that online learning is an insult to traditional academia, but I definitely don’t see it that way. In my opinion, eLearning isn’t taking anything away from collegiate education; instead, it’s making skills-oriented education more accessible to those who, for whatever reason, are unable to go to college. And at the end of the day, isn’t a person better off learning a skill than getting no education at all?
From what little I’ve seen, there’s a lot of high-quality eLearning resources available that can arm people with a wide variety of skills, especially those that are tech-related like web coding and development. So if you were considering learning some new skill or you’ve been intrigued about eLearning, head to one of the many eLearning platforms that are available and take them for a spin. Online learning gives people an accessible, portable means to better themselves, and I’m enthusiastically behind that.
What do you think of eLearning? Will it have an effect on the job market? Is online learning an insult to traditional education systems? Share and comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe.