By Christopher Walsh, reporter
As an employee facing a new labour market after the last recession, Mohammad Kabir knew he had to upgrade his education to become a more attractive candidate to employers. But taking a loan and spending a year or more back in school every day would have been impossible.
He needed to work to survive and didn’t have the time to devote to traditional classroom learning. That’s when he made the decision to take online courses with DeVry Institute of Technology.
“I had to make money to pay the bills,” he says. “That’s why I picked online. I didn’t want to quit my job and go back to school, that’s really expensive.”
According to a new survey by Leger marketing, online education is quickly gaining credibility in the eyes of students and employers who recognize an online education is equivalent to traditional learning.
“Our online population is growing significantly faster than our campus enrolment,” says DeVry president Ranil Herath. “You can study online, hold down a full-time job and accomplish that while having a reasonably good quality of life as a student as well.”
The survey suggests seven in ten Calgarians believe employers value online education. As online programs have gained popularity over the last five years, the survey reported that 76 per cent of Calgarians say online education is either moderately or highly credible today.
Herath says it will never replace a real bricks and mortar type of higher learning institution, but online education is here to stay.
“I don’t expect online education will ever replace the traditional school system, but it will be an integral part of a quality, effective and flexible education system,” he says.
Sid Mark, president of Calgary staffing and recruitment company, Friday Professional Group, says employers’ attitudes are changing when it comes to recognizing online education as a legitimate form of professional upgrading. Since the economic downturn a few years ago, employers are looking for candidates that demonstrate an initiative to further education online, he adds.
“They see value in that,” he says. “Employers and clients and much more open to people using online [courses], because of the convenience, the flexibility and the work-life balance.”
Mark says a lot of the candidates that seek part-time employment through his company have improved their computer skills online, where it can be done around their schedules.
“We have the clients and the candidates and we’re seeing a trend towards that and acceptance of that in the marketplace,” he says.
And a lot of the skills learned online are valuable for the changing face of business these days, Herath adds.
“Today’s workplace is spread out, it’s virtual at times,” he says. “Webinars, conference calls and emails are essential. The online forum forces you to collaborate and have those group meetings and presentations. All of it without meeting in person. It prepares the student for what a typical work day looks like.”
Kabir agrees. He says going back and taking online courses has prepared him well for his work in information technology. The same programs he learned online are used in his current occupation.
“I learned the technology at the same time,” he says.
Kabir, who is 30, says online courses are very popular with his generation and younger people. He says the flexibility offered in online courses is a big factor.
“We do everything [online] anyway,” he says. “We have this whole generation of people my age and younger [who this appeals to]. I’m a tech guy, if it was in a book I may not read it because it’s not online. That’s the technology.”
The online survey by Leger Marketing included 504 Calgarians age 18 years and over and was conducted in early summer. Nearly one quarter of respondents say they took online courses. That percentage is expected to grow in the coming years, according to DeVry.
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