How em­ploy­ers view an on­line ed­u­ca­tion

The Globe and Mail (Atlantic Edition) - - OPINION - DAINA LAWRENCE

Opin­ions have changed about dig­i­tal learn­ing, but stu­dents need to re­search where they get their in­struc­tion

Ten years ago, Lisa Lalonde, now a pro­fes­sor in the fac­ulty of early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion at Al­go­nquin Col­lege in Ot­tawa, was cau­tioned by a friend about her choice to pur­sue an ed­u­ca­tion al­most ex­clu­sively on­line.

“When I first started this jour­ney, some­one asked me about what my ca­reer ob­jec­tives were in the longterm … and they warned me that some of the up­per crust of academia don’t look highly upon this [on­line ed­u­ca­tion],” she re­calls. “Whereas, I’m find­ing that is def­i­nitely not the case any more.”

Prof. Lalonde com­pleted her mas­ter of arts in ed­u­ca­tional lead­er­ship and man­age­ment from Royal Roads Univer­sity in Victoria in 2014 and is pur­su­ing her PhD on­line in ap­plied psy­chol­ogy and hu­man de­vel­op­ment at the Univer­sity of Toronto’s On­tario In­sti­tute of Stud­ies in Ed­u­ca­tion.

“I have never been faced with, in any of my job prospects, hav­ing some­one say [dis­mis­sively], ‘Oh you did on­line learn­ing.’ That’s never hap­pened once,” says Prof. Lalonde.

Ac­cord­ing to stu­dents who stud­ied on­line and em­ploy­ment re­cruiters alike, Canada’s em­ploy­ers do not see a dig­i­tal ed­u­ca­tion as in­fe­rior to its on-cam­pus coun­ter­part – as long as the cour­ses are through a rep­utable univer­sity.

On­line post­sec­ondary learn­ing is a grow­ing global phe­nom­e­non and shows no signs of slow­ing. But there are still cau­tion­ary tales. The Univer­sity of Phoenix – a for-profit in­sti­tu­tion that of­fers on­line ed­u­ca­tion – has a his­tory of be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for over­stat­ing re­sults and other is­sues, along with other pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions.

It’s clear that cau­tion needs to be taken when pur­su­ing on­line stud­ies, but en­sur­ing cour­ses are from a pub­lic, Cana­dian post­sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tion is a good place to start,

Mary Bar­roll Pres­i­dent, Ta­len­tEgg

says Prof. Lalonde.

“I did my re­search,” she ex­plains, “and I was con­fi­dent with my choice of school be­cause I had done my due dili­gence and I would tell oth­ers to do the same.”

Canada’s post­sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions are ex­pected to con­tinue to in­crease their on­line of­fer­ings to keep up with de­mand from stu­dents who like the con­ve­nience and af­ford­abil­ity of on­line learn­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 study, On­line and Dis­tance Ca­pac­ity of Cana­dian Uni­ver­si­ties, com­mis­sioned by Global Af­fairs Canada, 361,000 mem­bers (nearly 30 per cent) of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion in Canada took on­line cour­ses in 2015.

And it is this grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity that is help­ing to garner ap­proval of on­line stud­ies by Cana­dian em­ploy­ers, ex­plains Mary Bar­roll, pres­i­dent of Ta­len­tEgg, a stu­dent and re­cent-grad­u­ate ca­reer re­source com­pany.

“I think there is a grow­ing ac­cep­tance of on­line learn­ing, but it fun­da­men­tally comes down to the reputation of the pro­gram, the in­sti­tu­tion of­fer­ing it and the ac­cred­i­ta­tion at­tached to it,” says Ms. Bar­roll. “It doesn’t have the same stigma at­tached to it as it did 10, 15 years ago.”

While em­ploy­ers are not balk­ing at a can­di­date’s on­line ed­u­ca­tion if it is from a rec­og­niz­able source, they may ques­tion if the per­son has the in­ter­per­sonal skills that many jobs re­quire.

“Em­ploy­ers tell me fre­quently that they are look­ing for lead­ers and be­cause of the na­ture of on­line learn­ing, you have a harder job to prove that you have those soft skills that em­ploy­ers are look­ing for,” ex­plains Ms. Bar­roll. “So it’s cru­cial that peo­ple have other ex­pe­ri­ence – in the com­mu­nity or the work­place – that can demon­strate that sort of ca­pac­ity to lead, col­lab­o­rate and work in a team.”

How­ever, e-learn­ing of­ten re­quires self-dis­ci­pline, drive and other skills that are at­trac­tive to em­ploy­ers, so on­line stu­dents should not be afraid to play up those on an ap­pli­ca­tion, says Ms. Bar­roll.

On­line stud­ies “are a re­ally good way to show you’ve got time man­age­ment skills, the ded­i­ca­tion, the dis­ci­pline and ini­tia­tive that it takes to be in­volved in an on­line learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” she adds.

Kelly Edmonds, an e-learn­ing spe­cial­ist, echoes the call for cau­tion when it comes to on­line cour­ses.

“There are all sorts of cour­ses – non-credit, recre­ational – out there now and the qual­ity is all over the place,” says Dr. Edmonds, who re­ceived the ma­jor­ity of her train­ing on­line and says there was a neg­a­tive per­cep­tion of on­line stud­ies in pre­vi­ous years.

“I think we’ve worked so hard in the e-learn­ing field to con­trib­ute re­search, pa­pers and ar­ti­cles, and have stud­ied how stu­dents can learn bet­ter on­line that the e-learn­ing field is very much be­hind this con­cept of ‘how can we do this bet­ter?’”

The avail­abil­ity and va­ri­ety of on­line cour­ses makes them ac­ces­si­ble, but it does mean the onus is on the stu­dent to re­search the course to en­sure it is go­ing to be pos­i­tively viewed by em­ploy­ers.

“It makes sense that em­ploy­ers would ques­tion where a pro­gram is from and place a value based on that as­sess­ment,” she ex­plains.

“I think em­ploy­ers would be skep­ti­cal if they saw an on­line de­gree from ABC Univer­sity,” says Dr. Edmonds. “But when they know the univer­sity, they can de­ter­mine the cal­i­bre of the pro­gram and the rigour of the con­tent.”

I think there is a grow­ing ac­cep­tance of on­line learn­ing, but it fun­da­men­tally comes down to the reputation of the pro­gram, the in­sti­tu­tion of­fer­ing it and the ac­cred­i­ta­tion at­tached to it.

BLAIR GABLE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Lisa Lalonde, a pro­fes­sor at Al­go­nquin Col­lege in Ot­tawa, pur­sued her stud­ies on­line.

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