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Understand Your Options: Online Education as a Stepping Stone for Career Change and/or Advancement

A Q&A between Jullien Gordon and the experts at Pounding the Pavement

Jullien: Who is the typical online student?

PtP: According to most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, over 12.2 million students were engaged in some form of distance learning in 2006-7. Many associate online schooling with continuing education for graduate or professional programs, however, the seventh annual Sloan Consortium Survey of Online Learning indicated that 82% of online students were studying at the undergraduate level in 2008 and as many as 25% of traditional college students were taking at least one online course.

These numbers indicate that the typical online student is someone who is drawn to the flexibility that online courses afford, regardless of their current education level or life situation.

Jullien: What is the typical online student looking for when he or she enrolls?

PtP: In this competitive economy, the demand for college-educated workers is higher than ever. Many people are flocking to get those degrees, in hopes that the credentials will later earn them higher paying and/or more flexible jobs. However, many people do not have the flexibility to sit in a classroom all day. Online learning appeals to those with children and those who can’t afford to ditch their day job because it offers the opportunity to pursue an education at your own pace, on your own time from the comfort of one’s home or favorite coffee shop.

Jullien: What are the hottest online degrees today?

PtP: According to U.S. News & World Report, the most popular online degrees today are business degrees, nursing programs, and criminal justice programs. These many jobs in these sectors have shown strong growth. For those interested in researching employment trends to ensure they’re preparing for a degree in an in-demand field, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is always a great resource.

Jullien: What new trends and innovations do you see in today’s online education from the student, teaching, and technology perspectives?

PtP: The proliferation of online learning continues to bring with it many new modes of transmitting information. In order to appeal to the whole spectrum of learning styles, many schools offer a blended or hybrid courses, composed of some face-to-face interaction and some of the course material is delivered online. Course formats (including video lectures, chatrooms, forums, and more) are continually evolving as access to new technology and software development continues to improve. Downloadable e-textbooks are now big at many schools.

Jullien: What is the best way to position an online degree when job searching and interviewing against candidates with offline degrees?

PtP: More and more employers are beginning to recognize the value of an online degree and respect the dedication and discipline it takes to complete coursework online. However, not all online programs are respectable and “diploma mill” scams are out there. For this reason, it is imperative to ensure the validity of your program before you enroll. Make sure you understand the importance of accreditation.

If you’re interviewing with a hiring manager who seems skeptical about the integrity of your online education, make sure you’re prepared to demonstrate your high standards and prove you did your homework and picked a reputable, accredited program. If you’re interested, this article offers further insight into other common reservations about online degrees, and how to discuss them with prospective employers.


Check the Pounding the Pavement blog for more career-oriented insights. And for guidance on online schools or how to earn your high school diploma at home, be sure to visit Guide to Career Education.

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