Online degrees have come a long way from their early days, and now offer professionals and even young people the means to access a greater number of degrees with greater flexibility than ever before.
Though the online degree still has a way to go and will surely adapt and change in the coming years to further, where they are now offers a great number of benefits for professionals all around the country, and even the world. They offer so many new opportunities for your professional career, thanks to their greater number opportunities and increasing accessibility options.
History of the “Online Degree”
Online degrees have taken the world by storm. Yes, many of them began as a matter of necessity. Colleges and universities around the world had to quickly transition to a fully digital educational model in light of the pandemic, but online degrees themselves have a much longer history.
The Correspondence Degree
The concept of learning remotely began long before the advent of computers, and though not online in any way, did set a precedent for distanced learning that we still use today. The very first correspondence programs began sometime around the 1850s, offered primarily from the University of London, but it wasn’t long before these degree types reached the United States.
In those early days many different methods were used. In the UK even the radio and television were used. In the US, however, correspondence degrees primarily occurred via the postal service.
The Online Degree
Correspondence degrees, of course, left a lot to be desired. In fact, the success of the online degree is primarily because it offers three key characteristics that the correspondence degree simply could not:
- Interaction with the curriculum
- Interaction with the faculty
- Interaction with peers
Online degrees really began in the late 1990s, and even then, this was only after many universities finally played around and discovered a means to make online learning profitable. In those early days online degrees were primarily taken up by the millions of Americans who had some college experience, but no degree under their belt.
Still, by 2010, there were only 3 million students enrolled in online degrees in the United States. This relatively low number, and the drop off in interest between 2010 and the pandemic, is largely due to a lack of product development on behalf of the universities.
The pandemic has completely revamped interest and developed for online learning, making it more intuitive, informative, and interactive than ever before. Today online learning isn’t just an offshoot interest for universities, but a main driver and means to connect with the professional market, especially when it comes to retraining and specializing.
The Rise in Job Changes
It wasn’t just online degrees that experienced a massive shift due to the pandemic. On-average it is estimated that 1 in 4 workers either have, or are at least considering changing jobs after the pandemic.
In the United States a record number of people (4.2 million) quit their jobs due to the pandemic. This, of course, is on top of the number of people who lost their job due to cut-backs and redundancies at their work.
This massive overhaul has changed workers in two main ways: one, it forced many to consider their career path and what they want out of their career and two, it has opened up a whole new world of hybrid or remote work.
For many of these who were laid off, or reconsidered their career path, retraining became one of the most important next steps that they could make.
The rise in online degrees and education was not solely due to existing students being unable to attend on-campus classes, but also due to a massive shift from the working populace.
Online Degrees: What they Mean for Your Career
Online degrees themselves received a massive overhaul and huge injections of investment for product development. A greater number of workers are looking to retrain, recertify, or specialize further without having to quit, or move from where they currently live. These two components have come together to form the perfect opportunity for everyone looking to change careers or take their career into a new direction.
Digital Marketing and the Job Market
One of the biggest barriers to finding the perfect career option for you is simply awareness. There are many incredible jobs that allow workers to earn a very healthy wage that simply are not well known to those who don’t have a friend or loved one already in the industry.
The online world has completely changed this, with many micro influencers actually working to advertise unique job opportunities and roles than ever before. This means that an increasing number of people are discovering new passions, and what they can do with them, all at once.
Not every job has to be a childhood dream come true. Not every job needs to follow one of the main pillars for success that we have been taught through media and even through the education system. Thanks to digital marketing and social media a greater number of roles have been advertised, and more people have found new ideas on what they can do for a living that exists outside the standard path available.
Accelerated Options for New Career Paths
Many have discovered the need to retrain, or at the very least finally received that shocking point of no return that has allowed them to finally follow through. Many who worked within the hospitality industry and within retail, for example, have started to retrain in more lucrative industries, from healthcare to the trades.
There are huge shortages in many key areas. In healthcare there is not only a looming shortage crisis that will push the existing shortage to the brink, but there is also the issue where the pandemic has stretched healthcare to the brink. This may seem like the system is failing, but what it really means is that there are ample career opportunities within healthcare, and, thanks to the online degree, an increasing number of ways to get involved.
Not only are there accelerated BSN degrees now, but certain institutions also even offer accelerated MSN degrees. The Elmhurst University direct entry MSN, for example, allows non-nurses to certify as a NCLEX-RN and as a CNL all with the same program that will take students just 20 months to complete full-time.
Accelerated degrees aren’t all full time, either, with many BSN and similar degrees offering part-time opportunities so that students can continue to work to support themselves while retraining in this essential field.
The Chance to Redistribute Workers to Key Areas
It isn’t just workers who have the chance to retrain into a career they dream of; society as a whole has a unique opportunity to shift workers into essential areas that are currently facing shortages. They can easily take advantage of the natural shift in workers to encourage and market key roles, and of course can even sponsor further education and retraining opportunities to help society in the ways that it needs most.
One such industry is nursing, which is facing both a nursing and a physician shortage. This shortage is only set to expand, as healthcare services grow to encompass not only in-person treatment, but also telehealth.
On top of that growth in healthcare services (in which nurses will be key players) there is also around 1 million nurses retiring by the end of the decade, exacerbating the existing nursing shortage.
Though there is a shortage, this actually offers a unique opportunity for workers looking to retrain. Thanks to the shortage there are ample job roles available with no one to fill them, and greater opportunities to advance your career and even specialize in an area that best suits you and interests you.
The driving tool that will help these workers retrain and prepare themselves for that new role? Online education. Yes, in nursing there will always be in-person education requirements, but by offering the bulk of education online more nurses can be trained where they currently live, not just in hotspots.
When the nursing shortage varies from state to state, and particularly within rural areas, this means that online education can actually make new opportunities within communities that need those nurses the most.
The Ability to Truly Customize Your Skillset
Online degrees aren’t just a great tool for those looking to retrain and start a second career in a completely different field. They are also an excellent way to customize your skillset. Someone who currently works as a web designer, for example, can earn a degree in digital security and then offer their services with fresh light. Instead of just beautiful websites, that professional can now offer some of the world’s most secure websites, as well as additional services that allow that professional to maximize their career and really set themselves apart from the numerous web designers out there.
This even holds true for those in careers like nursing. Gone are the days where your options are to either work generically, or within one specialization. As nurses can work almost anywhere, from clinics and hospitals to politics and research, customizing their careers with post-graduate certificates and doctorates has enabled a new generation of highly trained nurses to enter the field for a variety of different purposes.
Online degrees mean that further education is now possible, not because it is more affordable that attending an in-campus education, but because you have greater options to choose the right degree for you, at the pace you need, all while remaining in your home.
The Danger of Online Degrees: What to Look Out For Before You Enroll
Of course, not every online degree is worth the same. Similarly, you may not actually need a full degree to achieve your goal. Knowing when an online degree is the best step forward for your career or career change makes a massive difference for your return on investment.
To start, know how to spot a quality degree that will actually help you achieve your goals versus one that simply won’t.
Just a few of the characteristics to keep in mind when shopping around for an online degree to help advance or change your career include:
- Accredited by a recognized body
- High ranking and reviewed by reputable organizations
- Highly regarded by alumni
- Has a great faculty
- Has ample support services to make it easier to succeed on your degree, and with finding a job after graduation
- Has advanced online learning tools
These essential characteristics should be considered non-negotiable. If the degree you are looking at doesn’t offer these characteristics, then look elsewhere. Top providers offer these characteristics as standard, and anything less will make it difficult to succeed online.
It is also important to understand what you learn, and also how that will impact your career. With nursing degrees, it is very straightforward; you learn what you need to fulfill the role in question and also what you need to know to pass the exam.
With other types of degrees this isn’t so straightforward, and what you learn in one degree can be vastly different than another degree, even though they have the same title.
Investigating your degree will make all the difference, and if you aren’t sure what information you need to know to do your dream job, get in touch with those who are in the position you want. You can find them online through job sites like LinkedIn, where you can connect and ask for advice. There is no guarantee you will get a response, of course, but many who are genuinely reaching out do tend to get at least a few tips, or least insight into how that person obtained the job you want.
By keeping an open mind, you will be able to retrain or further your specialization in a way that will best impact your career but researching and double-checking is going to be essential. This due diligence will make all the difference, and help you find the right online degree for your goals.