How Taking An Online Course Can Kickstart Your Career: Two Student Success Stories

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Last April, Jeff Manabat, one-quarter of the San Francisco dragapella act The Kinsey Sicks, had a dilemma: how to redesign the quartet’s aging website, while balancing touring obligations?

“I do a lot of traveling, we’re on the road a lot,” Manabat said, “I can’t dedicate the time to taking a multi-week classroom course. So taking it online was the obvious choice. I needed the flexibility to learn online. And complete the course material without being in a classroom.”

Why Does Online Learning Make Sense?

Manabat’s need is one that online and distance education has sought to fill for years. From classroom lessons delivered via radio in the Australian bush to the emergence of on-demand learning, education has long sought ways to teach those who can’t be present in a single, physical location.

Manabat’s need is one that online and distance education has sought to fill for years. From classroom lessons delivered via radio in the Australian bush to the emergence of on-demand learning, education has long sought ways to teach those who can’t be present in a single, physical location.

In recent years, both educators and institutions have rushed to embrace online learning. It’s cheaper than building a bricks-and-mortar classroom. With the opportunity to reach a wider global market. What’s not to love? Well, for a start, the volume of material online can be overwhelming for potential students. And the quality can often leave a lot to be desired.

“GA was my first attempt learning online seriously,” said Manabat. “I had browsed some free tutorials. But they didn’t inspire me. I am used to working with a teacher and one who responds.”

“You can take a free course that’s just a video or online content. And that works for some people. But I need someone to talk to and ask questions of.”

Manabat, a professional musical theatre performer, recalled how he had first approached a developer to take on the project. But after scoping out the project, he decided to take on the responsibility himself.

“I went to a web designer we worked with for advice about updating the site,” he said. “They recommended Circuits as a helpful resource for new designers. I jumped at the chance to take it. Having an internal person make the site means we have someone who can make updates on the go.”

“Because of Circuits I had the knowledge to make the adjustments and really adapt the website to achieve what we wanted,” he added.

How Legitimate is Online Education?

Alex Modie came into web design through a side door. “I’m a print designer by trade,” said Modie, who runs the Chicago-based studio Docens Design. “But I also recognized it was important to design for the web, too. I knew I could increase my service offering if I could design across both print and web.”

Constraints are fundamental to good design. Rules can indeed control the fun. But for Modie, the lack of a “gold standard” for learning online was a stumbling block as she researched courses. She was rubbing up against a widespread problem. The Internet is full of learning materials, and it’s hard to make sense of them.

“Generally, I’m wary of online companies,” said Modie, “Because there are so many offerings these days. You don’t know what’s legitimate or not, so it requires a lot of investigation on your part.”

“I didn’t want to go back to university, or anything that meant taking on more financial commitment,” she said. “The time length and price really made a difference.”

“I’d seen photos on Facebook when Obama came to the General Assembly campus in DC. I thought if Obama visited, it must be legitimate.”

Earlier this year, Modie enrolled in GA’s Online Web Design Course Circuits to expand her skillset as a print designer and take on more web-based projects. The course increased her confidence with basic tools like Mailchimp and Typeform. It also meant taking on larger projects from existing clients.

“Because I’m a designer / consultant being able to apply that to the implementation is incredibly helpful. I can assist clients from inception to implementation,” she said. “That’s expanded my practice tenfold.”

A Human Approach to Online Learning

But it was the human side of an online learning experience that ensured Modie got value from the course.

“What really quelled my fears was the human contact,” she added. “It was that initial human contact and ability to answer my questions without selling me on anything really sealed it for me.”

“That human contact continued throughout the course. Immediately on enrolling there was a message from my Course Producer, Cassandra Gallagher. And my mentor, Sarah Hallacher, really guided me through the course. That human contact was so important.”

Achieving Outcomes through Online Learning

The way we learn is changing. But the qualities we seek in a good educator remain the same. Personalized, warm, and invested in our success. Online education doesn’t have to be a heartless transaction.

Traditional education has many benefits, but it is not designed for the flexibility of individual career aspirations. Or the volatile moods of the job market. There’s a clear need for education that is delivered “just-in-time.” To serve an immediate need, as Jeff and Alex’s experience demonstrates.

This traditional model is also out of kilter with our new approach to careers. For 25-34-year-olds, the average employee tenure is 3 years in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. The current generation of highly mobile workers change jobs with a far higher frequency than their forbears.

For Jeff and Alex and countless others, the strong foundations of traditional education will not be enough to sustain their value in the job market forever. For many, it is also not realistic to go back to school full-time.

It is in these scenarios that online education is most powerful: as a vehicle for individuals to learn the skills they need when they need them, and to accelerate their careers, build digital literacy, and open more exciting job opportunities.

Explore online learning opportunities at General Assembly.

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