I have been fortunate to work in student affairs for the past several years. It has been a fun and transformative experience for me. But lately, I’ve been starting to feel as though I’m in a rut. I’m ready for a change, perhaps into a new career field. I’m interested in getting into marketing, but I don’t feel like I have all the necessary skills and experiences yet to be a competitive candidate.
Wanting a more formal basis for this career shift, and not having the time to return to life as a full-time student, I began to look into different online learning platforms. Here’s what I discovered:
Online Learning Platforms – edX, Coursera, and Udacity
The promise of sites like edX, Coursera, and Udacity is that you can partake in, (often free), courses on all sorts of topics, (usually), on your own schedule. Think of these tools as webinars, but better in pretty much every way—and about stuff that you’re actually interested in. There are presentations, videos, and resources around specific learning outcomes and topics. The instruction is a bit longer than your typical webinar, but the end result is a wonderful handcrafted course that teaches you about a practical skill you can use.
The Sky’s the Limit
The breadth of content on these platforms is impressive. A simple search reveals courses on everything from game design to fantasy literature, superhero culture to programming.While some of these offerings can be fulfilling on a personal level, there are also many options to further yourself professionally. For example, I enjoyed taking some courses from the "Career Success" specialization offered by the University of California at Irvine. There are even connections to universities for many of the courses. This means they may also give you credit towards a degree.
All these online learning platforms offer a simple and accessible way to learn whatever you want on your time at whatever pace, (and cost), you wish. You don’t have feel anxious about investing in courses, fees, or books that might not pay off.
The lack of huge investment in these platforms is an incredible disruption to the education paradigm. It benefits any of us working towards work that fulfills us.
The Alternative Education Experience
As someone who works at an institution of higher learning, I am, perhaps counter-intuitively, supportive of these platforms. They help bring learning to more people in the world, which is what I hope to help foster in my own way. It’s why I got into education in the first place. These services embody the values I wish more higher education institutions would work towards. They limit financial risk, focus on the content, and create courses on what users want. A typical course takes only several hours to complete, so you could be on your way to a certificate or college credit within a month’s time.
While the experience of going to a college campus is uniquely beneficial, not everyone can invest in that experience. Also, the need for specific college degrees as credentials for entering a particular field is diminishing. In some fields, job seekers now just need to be able to prove they can do the work. Sitting in a classroom, learning about how to do these things, isn’t necessarily preferred. Online learning platforms can get you engaged in the topics you want to learn about, and won’t waste your time with anything else.
Low-Risk and Available Anytime
What my exploration of these platforms has encouraged is that it’s never too late to start working toward a career you love. While these online learning platforms will not be the end of that journey of growth and change, they can be a strong start. The best part is that you have nothing to lose by checking these sites out and diving into a course. They’re low-risk and are available anytime you are ready to engage.
I look forward to getting involved with some of these platforms myself. I hope the experience is positive for those who choose to get involved as well.