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Unemployed? Update Your Skills/ Knowledge on the Internet

Updated on May 22, 2014
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Dr. Middlebrook is a self-publishing expert, author (pen name Beax Rivers), online course developer, and former university professor.

Considering Online Education/Training?

If you are unemployed, it could be the best time to begin looking into acquiring new skills or training. Are you trying to decide whether or not to enroll in training/skills courses or in a degree program? Are you considering avenues of learning that are not classroom-based? This Hub Page is meant to be a useful guide for job seekers and workers who might need to learn more about education and training opportunities that take place outside the traditional classroom environment.

If you’re an employee seeking a better or different job, or you’ve been laid off and are now considering finding a training or certification program, there are many reasons you might want to consider online alternatives to traditional educational institutions. You may want to:

  • Earn a degree or course credit to prepare for promotion or advancement in your current job or career area.
  • Take courses that may be required in order to acquire certification, licensing or specialist status in a particular field.
  • If unemployed, increase/improve your skills, and give yourself hope by doing something positive and proactive to help you open new doors.
  • Gain new knowledge, skills, or training in preparation for a career change or to pursue a new aspect of a current career or job.
  • Learn a new language.
  • Learn simply for the purpose of self-actualization; to become more at peace with self by using broadening your knowledge horizons.

Change Drivers

Widespread unemployment in the U. S. is continuing to widen the potential pool of adult distance learning prospects. At the same time, employees are seeking education and training while facing the very real possibility of layoffs and financial down-sizing on the part of companies they work for. Realizing they must accept more responsibility for their continued employment, and/or for their own career development, many workers are looking for ways to earn certifications and/or degrees, or they are seeking training from education providers offering minimal disruption of work and/or family life. For these and other reasons, the continued and widespread growing acceptance of online and distance education is being seen by more and more potential adult learners as a good way to enhance and/or broaden career opportunities.

Demographic and workforce changes and challenges of the past decade have opened new markets for non-traditional education and non-traditional ways of delivering educational services. Because many older adults are choosing to work longer rather than retiring early, many employers are seeking methods of training and retraining to maintain costs while keeping their companies competitive in the marketplace. With this in mind, distance education alternatives offer a potentially effective and cost efficient way for employers, employees, and job or skills-training seekers to accomplish their objectives.

Because of drastic, hard-felt societal and economic changes and challenges, many adults are finding a need to turn to the Internet for furthering their education or for acquiring new skills or training. These adults are potential students who may have many basic questions about distance education or distance training, and they might need to get some answers before seriously considering distance education options.

Following are some of the basic questions and answers someone might have/need when considering Internet-based education as a training/learning alternative.

What are people referring to when they say “non-traditional” college or university?

“Non-traditional,” when used to describe a college or university usually refers to schools offering courses and study externally, rather than within a classroom environment. Education/training that takes place from a distance is becoming more and more commonplace in our society, even though distance education/learning is still considered to be a non-traditional method of study. Today, most providers of education/training from a distance offer all of their courses/learning opportunities online, or they might offer a combination of physical location and online offerings. Some schools will utilize technology allowing students to "chat" in real time with instructors who are located at a distance.

What is a “non-traditional” college student?

Adults over the age of 24, going to college for the first time, are considered by those who work in the educational communities of this nation as non-traditional college students. It is age, and not political views or the style of clothing you wear that makes you non-traditional by educational standards. Traditionally, a typical first-time college enrollee is a man or woman between the ages of 18 and 24. And, even though colleges and universities these days are seeing more and more first-time enrollees who are older than 24, first-time enrollees older than the traditional age of first-time college enrollees are still considered as non-traditional students. Although a non-traditional student can be a graduate student who is older than the typical or average age of students who pursue graduate degrees, for some reason, the words non-traditional student have primarily become associated with those first-time college undergraduates who are older than 24.

How does online/distance education and distance training/learning work?

What distinguishes distance education and learning from traditional education and learning is the physical distance between student and teacher. Instead of being together in a classroom environment, the teacher and student can be many miles, or many thousands of miles apart. Students enrolled in distance education courses generally have an instructor/professor, and an agreement with the institution with regard to what is to be taught or offered through a particular course, degree, or training program. There is also usually an agreement about how communication will take place between student and teacher. Typically, course materials are prepared by outside consultants, or by industry experts working with administrative personnel and/or faculty who work for the distance education provider. Student usually pay for course materials when they pay tuition, or, the cost of these materials may be separate, in addition to tuition. There is also usually an agreed upon amount of time allowed for the completion of courses. Some schools are somewhat rigid about course completion time, while others allow flexibility with regard to the amount of time a student is given to complete either a course or a set of courses, or to earn a degree or certificate.

How do online institutions conduct admissions?

Schools have different methods of screening and admitting students. And while I can’t tell you which methods are used by all online education providers, I can give you an idea about some of the things you might expect from some schools. Initial contact between the prospective student and the school usually occurs when the student contacts the school by calling an 800 number.

For example, if you find out about a particular school through a reference guide or by other means, you will most likely be provided with a phone number, or be referred to the school’s Internet site. If you choose to look at the school’s website, then your initial contact might occur through a contact form that you will fill out and submit online. After initial contact, you’ll be sent information by email or postal mail, about the schools program and study offerings, and there will be a way for you indicate your interest in a particular program. Next, you might be asked to fill out forms designed to screen you as a potential student or trainee, asking for things such as information about other schools you’ve attended or work you've performed to assess your skill level. If you're attempting to enroll in college, you will be given instructions and procedures for acquiring transcripts of your previous academic work, and you might be given financial aid forms to fill out. Some schools/programs might ask you to provide references to write a recommendation that speaks of your potential as a student (some schools ask for this, others don’t).

Usually, it takes only a short while, a few weeks, to find out if you’ve been admitted to the school and program of your choice. The final step involves filling out the necessary forms, or going through the necessary procedures to get enrolled in your courses. After that, you'll most likely be assigned an adviser or counselor to help you through each process that is part of gaining admission and becoming an enrolled student.

No matter how courses are delivered, commitment to study and learning is crucial to learner success.
No matter how courses are delivered, commitment to study and learning is crucial to learner success.

How might my courses be delivered as a student/trainee learning from a distance?

There are a variety of ways courses can be delivered to the distance learner. Different schools/providers of distance education and/or training have a variety of delivery vehicles from which to choose. Courses can be delivered by video tape, video conferencing, postal correspondence, multimedia computer programs, by computer via the Internet, and by use of television broadcasts (usually cable television), and even live presentations. Even though most distance education teaching and learning is completed outside of the traditional classroom environment, some schools offer regional seminars and workshops which a student may elect to take, or might be required to attend.

Schools may use one or a combination of delivery methods for distance learning. Some schools offer tele-courses which may be scheduled during different times of day or night, giving students multiple opportunities to view a particular lesson. Others provide pre-recorded courses and lessons on video tape, which students can purchase and view at their leisure. Students may also be provided with books and other reading materials and lessons to complete through independent study, and then use email or postal mail to deliver completed assignments to professors. It is also common for students to have 24-hour access to online classes through the Internet, where they may retrieve reading assignments and/or coursework, complete assignments, and/or turn in completed work.

Correspondence schools (students complete work independently at home, then mail or email assignments to instructors for evaluation) pioneered the foundation of distance education in the U. S. And while independent learning is not for everyone, there have been some rather “famous” graduates of correspondence schools, including:

  • Cartoonist Charles Schultz (Peanuts)
  • South African President Nelson Mandela
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Walter Cronkite (former CBS News Anchor)
  • Walter P. Chrysler (Founder of Chrysler Motors)

What about tests? How are they usually handled by distance educators?

If tests are required for completion of a distance learning course, they can be administered in a variety of ways. Schools requiring tests to be taken may arrange for students to go to a location in the student’s local area where test-taking can be proctored (supervised), or the student may be required to arrange transportation to a regional testing location. Students may also be allowed to take tests at home, and there are a variety of ways tests can be administered online. However, many distance learning schools use evaluative measures that are not contingent on testing (such as research papers, reports, field work, or other written work) to assess student development and progress.

How does communication occur between the distant student and professors and/or academic advisers?

Communication between the distant student and his or her instructor may occur in a variety of ways. Just as distance education providers may utilize several vehicles for delivery of courses, they can also utilize different channels for person-to-person communication. Much of the communication between student and instructor might likely take place via scheduled or unscheduled telephone conferences, through use of Internet/online portals, through email portals, and, in the case of correspondence schools, through postal mail.

Some schools sponsor live seminars and workshops throughout the year, in various locations across the nation. This allows students opportunities to speak face-to-face with professors and/or academic advisers, even though travel and lodging may be required (at the student’s expense) in order to attend several days of seminars or workshops. Sometimes, when seminars and/or workshops are offered, students may have to pay a registration fee to attend them, or the cost of attendance could be included as part of the student’s tuition.

If a period of residency (time spent in residence at a particular location) is required, a distance education provider might offer a summer program, or academic sessions occurring at various times of the year which could last anywhere from two to six or more weeks. Not all distance learning schools have residency requirements. During residency, a student might need to complete coursework, attend workshops and/or seminars, and spend time in an environment where he or she may interact, face-to-face, with professors and academic advisers. Students may be able to fulfilling at least some credit-hour requirements during residency that will count toward completion of a degree or certificate.

In conclusion, ongoing technological innovations are continuing to place education and training within the reach of many working adults who once would not have been able to take advantage of them due to constraints of work and family life. Personal responsibilities have, in the past, prohibited many from returning to school for additional or advanced study, degrees or training. The outlook continues to look promising for arrangements between corporations and educational institutions providing distance education. Employers interested in training and employee development continue to find distance alternatives to be a cost efficient choice for many of their training and development needs. Advanced technology provides ease of access for lifelong learning and information sharing, while providing opportunities for quickly updating course materials and other information related to education and learning.

If you’re a self-directed, self-motivated person who enjoys independent study and learning, then you may be well-suited for distance education. Back in the mid 1990’s when I first began studying for my doctorate at Walden University, things such as online education, correspondence study, and taking televised courses were the primary methods of delivery of “distance learning.” All were relatively new in the United States, and all were considered “less than” traditional educational alternatives. Thanks to innovations in technology, and to the quality of graduates produced by many non-traditional institutions, the image and offerings of distance education providers is improving at a steady pace.

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD

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    • ananceleste profile image

      Anan Celeste 5 years ago from California

      Very useful information for those of us that have to reinvent ourselves. Voted up!

    • drmiddlebrook profile image
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      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Ananceleste, what a beautiful moniker, just heavenly. Thanks so much for the comment, and the vote. I appreciate it!

    • drmiddlebrook profile image
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      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 3 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, Yadav SK, for vising my Hub, and thanks for leaving your insightful comment. I agree with you, that completing courses or training online can provide you with something positive to say when/if you're asked that "trickiest question" that employers sometimes ask in a job interview. Providers of education and training services have harnessed the positive power and possibilities of the Internet, and they've certainly brought online training to a stage where it is viable and thorough, allowing learners to acquire new or advanced knowledge and skills without leaving home. And you're absolutely right; many of these courses and programs are very demanding, indeed--as they should be. Anything worthwhile is worth working hard to achieve.

    • bestonlineschools profile image

      Best Online Schools 2 years ago from UK

      When you are unemployed that is the time to take a leap of faith to upgrade your professional skills. The higher you go the less the competition is. Great Hub drmiddlebrook .

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