Can I take online courses while working?

Student at desk studying on her laptop.

Photo credit: wgreller / Foter / CC BY

Many online students work                        

Yes, you can take online courses while working. In fact, many students do.  According to a study done by the University of London in 2013, – which tracked the statistics of the sign-ups of 4 MOOC’s run by Coursera – it found that 70% of the applicants already had one degree, and that the typical MOOC student was a well-educated man in his 30’s, working full-time in a developed country. These statistics showed a sign-up ratio of 64 men to 36 women. But beyond MOOCs, another survey conducted by the Learning House in 2012, found that the average online student pursuing a degree was a 33 year old white woman with a full-time job.  Despite some variance in these studies, It seems clear that working people are now a large part of the online student body, helping learning to move beyond the classroom to become a regular part of daily lives. And is it possible that the surprising adult popularity of MOOCs may be a sign that society wants to liberate education from being exclusively for the young.

Why would working people study online?

The reasons why working people would choose online studies are many, from fulfilling a lifelong ambition to being goaded by friends on social media websites. But considering how busy these people already are, even before enrolling, a central reason must be the ease of sign-up and the flexibility of scheduling that they offer. For some, online studies are a way of advancing within their work or profession, or just upgrading their knowledge and skills. In many cases, a certificate of course completion is an acceptable end, with no degree required. Often fellow workers, associates & superiors may know who is taking courses & credit them with initiative & discipline. Especially discipline, for taking & completing online courses requires a heavy degree of self-motivation – without which, one can face failure in front of friends & colleagues. So before embarking on online college courses, it might be helpful to sign up privately for related MOOC courses to test study abilities, especially if they have been dormant for years.


Teaching Working Students Online

In a sense the work-a-day world is laying its claim to higher education .  College students are no longer just teenagers with angst & social priorities to work through, but in online courses the majority are often mature people already full of accomplishment.  Just a few years ago college & university used to be where students received a preparation for work. Now it is the workers who are entering college, and with new needs, and pushing the “education for life” button. Perhaps learning as a natural & continuing life skill was always there, but had been smothered by generations of mindless TV programs, dumbing down attitudes, & institutionalized learning focused mainly on the young. And so possibly workers have now become motivated by the easy adjustment to computers & the internet, and accustomed to googling to get answers, have from those successes gotten the encouragement they needed to go further and take online courses.  And their online teachers need to be prepared too, for the big world with all its concerns & demands is now entering the online classes and adult students may demand better & more serious teaching approaches.


Online Courses for 30-something Workers

Workers in business & industry see newly minted graduates being hired with the assumption that they are company-favoured competition on the corporate ladder. While at the same time upper management is complaining in the media that graduates are coming to them without the needed skills, that they can’t think business, and can’t write or spell. So workers see this as an opening for them, now that online courses & degrees are available, everyone can upgrade. And they have been wary as they see corporate changes, downsizing, outsourcing, takeovers, layoffs happening in their industry. Maybe some don’t want to wait to be laid off, maybe by reworking an old resume with new skills found via online courses they can land a better & safer job, perhaps a career where they will be more valued. If a transition is coming, better to plan for it now.  And so they sign up for online courses and find others doing the same thing – adding & upgrading their business & technology skills so they can get more control & feel more useful as a participant in the coming new economy.