For the purposes of this article, “education” refers to a fully accredited—and fully priced—curriculum available through a traditional university, usually with the goal of obtaining a degree. “Training” involves some form of instruction specific to a task or occupation, sometimes with the goal of licensing or certification.
The college of your choice may have some form of online study, but many professions require hands-on teaching. Do you really want your surgeon to have only had experience with virtual models?
Nevertheless, you may encounter portions of an organized curriculum—from online high school all the way to the PhD level—are now available online.
Beware of colleges that profess to have entire majors online, or to exist solely in the virtual world. Check with U.S. Department of Education to see if the organization offers legitimate, accredited degree programs. However, even the Department of Education admits that their information may not be full, complete, and accurate. Each organization, physical or online, is responsible for proving that what they offer is worthy of a potential employer’s respect.
A good example of a school that has both physical and online degree programs is Full Sail University, which has gone through the time and effort of accreditation. Full Sail University has a full track of courses designed for a professional degree. The only problem is that you have to be committed to Mac systems, because the primary interface for the school is a MacBook Pro (which your tuition pays for).
So, what if you just want to know more stuff about a trade, either as a hobby or a side job, but you do not need a degree? There are numerous sites that offer training; just be careful where you matriculate.
Lynda.com, OCW.MIT.edu (Open CourseWare-Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Coursera.org, and RosettaStone.com each offer classes to laymen, provided you the have the time, the Internet access—and, of course, the money.
Lynda.com has courses on 3D design, business management, CAD drafting, and web development, to name a few. It boasts a wide variety of training concentrations, but there are no real tracks to a specific goal, no brass ring at the end of the run. In the end, you’ve only got an online training certificate that you can post on LinkedIn.com, letting folks know you watched a video on the Internet.
MIT’s Open CourseWare is more or less free, although they have buttons everywhere asking you to donate. They do not offer video lessons or solutions to tests, and whatever course you choose is limited by time, so if a course has not been updated you are getting some very old information.
Coursera.org has a small assortment of select studies from prestigious universities like Yale, University of California-Irvine, and Berkeley College of Music. The initial instruction is free, but in order to earn your verification certificate (no diplomas, sorry!), you have to fork over cash.
RosettaStone.com is an excellent method to learn another language, with varying proficiency levels broken up for the sake of growing comprehension.
With a paid membership to the site, you can make appointments to talk to a native speaker to practice your new language. What you miss out on, though, are the nuts and bolts of the language itself, such as proper syntax, subtle nuances, and all the extras you can’t pick up sitting behind a desk.
Whatever your preferred method of study, expect to have your commitment—and your bank account—tested. Online learning requires focus and dedication, as well as getting away from the screen once in a while so you can come back ready to learn.
Adrian Miller is a Field Service Technician with extensive electro-mechanical training and experience. He is the Zenith’s web and graphic designer.