There’s a significant benefit to pursuing your college degree online that may surprise you.
Sure, you probably chose an online degree program for its flexibility and convenience – so that you could continue to work, attend your children’s school plays and soccer games, and have time for family members when they need you.
What you probably did not realize when you enrolled, however, is that an online degree program helps you strengthen fundamental job skills that employers, regardless of industry, seek in today’s job applicants. These are essential skills such as communication, teamwork and time management that hiring organizations are having a hard time finding even in otherwise qualified candidates.
Data supports demand for soft skills
Burning Glass Technologies, a leader in job market analytics, recently analyzed millions of job postings across the United States and identified 28 foundational, non-specialized skills that are requested by employers across industries. In addition to listing the skills, the report includes data about how difficult these skills are to find in the job market. “Employers appear to face real skill gaps in finding the baseline skills they need,” it states.
Saint Leo University Career Services Advisor Nancy Cheek explains that soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and time management are fundamentals needed in any industry, at any given time in history, “in order to allow the technology of the time to be utilized to its fullest.”
And online students, she says, have an advantage when it comes to developing these skills.
“Online education puts the ownership of education into the hands of the student much more than a traditional classroom. Students must become self-starters in soft skill areas in order to succeed.”
“Since there is no more predictability in business – or employment, for that matter,” Nancy says, she believes that adaptability is the most important soft skill the contemporary workplace demands.
And who understands adaptability – and the need to shift gears as circumstances change unpredictably – better than a busy working adult enrolled in an online degree program?
Adaptability means changing old behaviors and embracing new ideas and ways of doing things. It means learning new digital tools for conducting online research or collaborating with other students.
That’s just for starters. Here are 10 additional skills that are in short supply in today’s labor market that you develop as an online student.
1. Communication skills
Without the face-to-face time with other students and professors that naturally occurs in on-ground classes, online students work hard to effectively communicate digitally, share information in nontraditional ways, listen and read carefully, and respond specifically and succinctly.
2. Organizational skills
For online students, organization is a way of life imperative to managing multiple assignments, courses and deadlines, in addition to work and family responsibilities. These students realize that organization is a mindset and a habit that enables them to focus on short-term goals.
3. Writing skills
Online courses are writing intensive, giving students the opportunity to strengthen critical writing skills every academic term. Since online students communicate extensively via email and online discussion boards, they gain an understanding of the nuances of digital communication, a critical asset in a today’s workplace.
4. Ability to meet deadlines
Online degree programs are not self-paced: courses include assignments with weekly deadlines. Similar to traditional semesters, online academic terms are not open ended; they have start dates, end dates and final exams. Successful online students must know how to meet deadlines.
5. Computer skills
Basic technical literacy is essential for just about any position in any industry. Clearly, since online students can navigate the online environment, they have foundational computer skills necessary for the job market. Working with other students and professors via videoconferencing, webinars, online discussion boards and other online communication and collaboration tools prepares online students for today’s technology-driven work environment.
One of the misconceptions about online learning is that students are isolated. Group projects are often part of the curriculum requiring students to leverage each other's strengths as well as compromise and adapt to accommodate each other’s schedules and priorities.
7. Time management
There’s an old saying that if you want something done to ask a busy person. People with a lot on their plates know they must manage their time. Online students know how to make effective use of short blocks of time (like waiting in the car to pick up your child from school) to accomplish small tasks and how to save long blocks of time for more complex tasks.
8. Self Starter
Online education puts more responsibility on the student. Online students must take charge of their own learning, staying on top of assignments without the structure of a traditional classroom to guide them. Self-motivation is the hallmark of successful online students.
9. Research skills
By learning about traditional and non-traditional resources, how to identify and state a problem clearly and concisely, and how to go beyond simple Google searches and use advanced featuers when digging for information, online students develop strong research skills that prepare them for the workforce.
10. Problem-solving skills
The responsibilities associated with the multiple hats every online student wears – student, parent, employer, spouse, son or daughter – create challenges both large and small with daily opportunity to apply problem-solving skills. Two of those skills, in particular, resiliency and perseverance, define adult online students.
Demonstrating soft skills
From writing to research, teamwork to organizational skills, with each academic term you complete, you strengthen skills that are in demand across every occupation. The key is to be able to demonstrate these skills on your resume, in a cover letter or in a job interview.
For example, asked to describe your ability to meet deadlines under pressure?
Explain how you completed a research paper while studying for final exams and tending to an ill parent or child.
Need to give an example of teamwork?
Describe how you learned to collaborate with other online students across time zones and work schedules on group projects.
“I think soft skills are so hard to find because the last 20-30 years of socialization and communication have changed more quickly and more dramatically than any other time in history,” says Nancy. “And now we are experiencing the biggest divide ever in the workplace.”
But it’s a divide that you, as a graduate of an online degree program, will be able to bridge.
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