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We're used to living in a world where having a college or university degree has always been the minimum requirement to be considered for a job. No matter how skilled you are, it's hard to get noticed and have employers value your skills if you lack a degree.
But times are changing. Today, the average high school graduate has the option to look beyond a run-of-the-mill degree. Alternative means of education -like online certification courses- are proving to be as effective in the long run.
What has contributed to this change in perception?
Simply put, online certifications deliver incredible returns for the investment, both in terms of time and resources. While a college or university degree takes three to five years to finish, online certification programs run for no longer than a few weeks or a couple of months, depending on the field of study. Increased employer recognition and the tangible benefits that follow from having a certification to your name have made this a popular choice for professionals around the world.
According to Upwork, 54 million people did freelance work in 2015, with the number as high as 75 million in 2016. That's 24% of the population of the United States! The pull of a freer lifestyle and flexible working hours have been the main reasons an increasing number of professionals are opting for freelance careers.
And freelance professionals are among the biggest customers for online learning service providers.
I'm exploring my professional education options. Which do I choose: university, online certification, or a blend of both?
Attending university while pursuing an online certification course to add industry-relevant skills brings together the best of both worlds, naturally. But let's be honest - none of us have the time nor the inclination to commit to both. If you're passionate about a specific field and want to start working as soon as possible, choosing an online course or certification program is the way to go.
Here are a few reasons I prefer online certification training to university degrees.
Demands less of your valuable time
As I mentioned before, getting an online certification takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. It depends on your chosen field and effort you put in. Also, it allows you to balance work, social life, and your family with professional education. At university, studies will take years to finish and will severely constrain your time.
According to the Top Universities survey, fees for 2014/15 at state colleges were an average of $9,139 for state residents and $22,958 for everyone else. In comparison, with online courses, you can get your professional certificate for less than $1000.
Flexibility - learn anytime, anywhere
One of the biggest benefits of online courses is that you can study from anywhere. Whether you're at home, on the commute, or are on vacation, e-learning affords you the flexibility to learn anywhere, and on any device. You don't have to get up early in the morning, go to class, & study for a university-stipulated period of time daily.
Widely accepted & recognized
Five years ago, few would have attached any credibility to an online certification. Today, online certifications like the PMP, CBAP, Lean Six Sigma, etc, carry more value and credibility than a university degree, even.
One reason for this development is that large MNCs like YouTube & Facebook are entering into agreements with certification providers. Companies are struggling with a skills-gap crisis, with a dearth of suitably skilled professionals who have received industry-oriented training.
Conventional education -university programs, college degrees, vocational training- aren't designed to cope with the changing needs of industry, while online certifications are devised specifically with this end objective in mind.
Last year, LinkedIn bought video site Lynda.com for $1.5-billion, giving further impetus to the theory that tech and education are working together.
Too many certification options to choose from - which do I pick?
Find an industry that is in its growth phase and has potential. A field like digital marketing, quickly becoming the biggest area of spending for companies in every industry, is a great place to start.
According to a recent study on Yahoo Finance, digital marketing is number 6 on the list of top 10 careers for non-degree holders around the world. The study uses "the average salary of the top 8% of earners in each of these fields without an advanced degree" as the criterion for listing.
The salary for skilled, certified digital marketers has no upper bound. While the average begins at $73,000, certified, knowledgeable marketers can expect to earn as much as $210,000. But these are only average figures. The best marketers in the industry can earn much more.
But again, digital marketing is not for everyone. Identify a field of study you are comfortable with and one that best aligns with your long-term goals. Then look for courses and online training programs to get yourself ready for the industry.
Online education - the game changer
The primary criterion for employers is to have a professional on their team. It matters little whether you learned your craft sitting four years in a classroom or spent three months learning with online courses. Industry standards, norms, and best practices are in a constant state of flux. Conventional pedagogy is always playing catch-up.
By contrast, e-learning providers like Treehouse, Simplilearn, Codecademy and others help you improve & learn new skills quickly. In a few weeks, you will be able to get a new certification and launch your dream career.
Online training for enterprises
Online training programs are also proving hugely beneficial for enterprises. The availability of multi-modal delivery options, the elimination of logistical considerations, and ease of access translate to significant savings in employee training & L&D overheads. In addition, with most e-learning providers boasting of diverse catalogs, companies are able to further cut costs by opting for a single training provider for all business functions.
With online certifications promising much better returns & guaranteed jobs, professionals are moving away from conventional university degrees. If it's faster career growth, higher salaries, and significantly better long-term prospects that you're after, online training & professional certifications are your best bet. Why not take the time to explore the web to find something that suits your needs today?