The spread of COVID-19 across the globe sparked worldwide emergency containment measures. No one needs to be reminded that it resulted in unprecedented lockdowns, self-isolation/quarantining requirements, and major disruptions to educational establishments, businesses, and supply chains. Yet it also stimulated impressive technological innovations, as experts in the ‘connected world’ of the internet strove to maintain human contact ‘virtually’ and mitigate the effects of social isolation, interrupted education, and suspended working lives.
While many employees found themselves confined to home in forced idleness, others were able to maintain their working productivity from home thanks to a raft of ingenious remote working tools – so much so that many now believe that at least some degree of remote working has become a fixture rather than a passing phase.
However, another technologically mediated revolution in human endeavor has also been taking place, one that long preceded the global health crisis (but certainly innovated at an accelerated pace during it). We might call it the ‘remote learning revolution’. Of course, as schools and colleges across the world shut their doors for long periods in compliance with pandemic management methods aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, countless numbers of students of all ages were locked out of the classrooms they relied on to advance their education.
Education technology stepped directly into the breach, offering affected students ‘virtual’ classrooms at home via laptops, tablets, and smartphones, along with remote tuition and teaching, plus coursework and homework assignments.
Yet remote learning was a ‘thing’ for many years before the pandemic, and growing numbers of colleges and universities have understood that they can offer premium-quality higher learning to those unable to relinquish their jobs and existing commitments to attend an on-campus degree.
Here’s how digitally mediated, internet-enabled remote learning can reach people with career and family commitments, allowing them to build their learning around existing schedules – and ultimately to switch to a more fulfilling and lucrative career.
A digital solution for overcoming a ‘career rut’
Many people find themselves in a ‘career rut’ that appears to have no ladder to future progress without additional qualifications. Entry-level credentials will, it seems, get people only so far. Yet by the time that many people discover this, they have become parents and taken on financial obligations (such as paying the rent or mortgage, paying school fees for kids, repaying car loans, and so on) that cannot be temporarily suspended in order to pursue the kind of advanced study that would open up new career paths.
Increasingly, however, this is true only if they believe that gaining a higher degree entails full-time, on-campus study at a university – an option that will involve travel as well as tuition costs and ‘giving up the day job’, which most people with these commitments simply cannot countenance. Instead of a ladder to progress, this model of study amounts to an insurmountable brick wall for most working professionals.
However, this is no longer the only option. A growing number of pioneering universities are providing affordable solutions, thanks to advances in digital technology and the proliferation of internet-connected devices. These colleges and universities are harnessing new digital technologies to deliver prestigious and coveted degree courses entirely online, giving busy working people with financial and family commitments access to full academic programs from the convenience of home.
Here’s an example.
An online MBA/MSA dual degree
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) remains perhaps the most widely pursued advanced business degree in the US. Originating in America during the era of industrialization, the degree sought to produce graduates equipped with rigorous scientific approaches to accounting, statistics, finance, business law, marketing, operations, etc., to help steer the efficient management of large enterprises.
Over the last decade or so, however, another related advanced business degree has gained increasing traction, both among employers and candidates seeking the specialized knowledge required for a well-remunerated (and continually advancing) career. This is the Master of Science in Analytics (MSA) degree, which some people suggest is reaching parity with the MBA as a highly desired qualification. US News, for example, reported a 2020 finding from the Graduate Management Admission Council showing that applications for master’s-level ‘competitor’ business degrees to the MBA, such as the MSA, had climbed by 14.3% in a single year, while applications for MBA programs had slipped marginally by 0.2%.
The fact remains, however, that the MBA and the MSA are today the leading and most sought-after higher business degrees – a development that has inspired innovative academic centers to offer students ‘dual’ programs culminating in a joint MBA and MSA degree.
To take one example, Suffolk University’s dual-qualification in these subjects has acquired quite the glittering profile in numerous MSA program rankings (for example, CEO Magazine’s Tier One Global Rankings for 2021, inclusion in the Princeton Review’s Top 50 Online MBA Programs for 2022, and coveted accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) – an honor that goes to just 5% of the top business schools in the world).
What makes it so attractive to a wider pool of candidates than a campus-only degree is that it’s a 100% online program that has been expressly designed for working professionals – the kind of people mentioned earlier who already have demanding working lives, family commitments, and financial obligations. In other words, it has been designed to be customized around the duties and time schedules of working people.
The quality of instruction for this online dual degree is of impeccably high pedigree: online students are taught by the same top-tier professors and mentors who teach full-time students on campus. And these academics include in their ranks many who have hands-on experience working in global enterprises and who continue to consult with and research for the real world of business.
Let’s take a closer look at how online degrees such as this can be built around busy schedules without necessitating cutting down on working hours, or missing out on precious time with growing kids.
Customizable advanced online degrees for busy people: how it works
Opening new pathways to career progression
The dual online degree described above is a particularly attractive option for those with an interest in advancing a professional business managerial career, not least because it allows students to gain a highly valued qualification in significantly less time (and at appreciably lower cost) than if they pursued both subjects consecutively. Graduates qualify with two distinct degrees, granting them a major competitive edge in career progression (or career change).
Gone are the days when you had two (equally unviable) options: stay in a role that you feel is stagnating, or give up work and damage your family finances in pursuit of full-time, on-campus study. It’s not just your finances that get damaged, of course: not attending school sports days or concerts and other key events in your children’s lives means missing out on significant occasions – and the precious memories that remain afterwards in your own and your children’s minds.
Tailoring online learning to existing routines
Instead, online students get to attend classes whenever it fits their schedule, whether that’s early in the morning or late in the evening, or even during work breaks in the office or on-site. Of course, sacrifices do have to be made: sitting in front of the TV on a regular basis typically has to go, or at least it has to be pared back to a minimum. However, it remains possible to maintain your full duties as a working professional while avoiding the gaps in your resume that come with quitting a job to take up a full-time degree. Not only does customizable online study escape the employer disapproval that tends to accompany employment gaps, but it also demonstrates a most valued attribute to progressive hirers: you’re an individual with outstanding time management aptitudes.
No commuting costs
For working professionals, studying from the comfort and familiarity of home brings with it another major advantage: there are no time-consuming, stressful and expensive commuting costs to contend with, as there is no need to travel to and from a campus every day.
Employers respect for online degrees
As for concerns that degrees obtained online are less valued than campus-studied qualifications, there’s actually little evidence to support that. Most employers care about the quality of the university and its business program, not the delivery format of the degree. According to research from the Society of Human Resources Managers, an overwhelming majority of surveyed employers – 92% – consider online degrees from established brick-and-mortar universities of equal value to campus qualifications.
Employers and hiring managers have kept abreast of emerging digital technologies and fully understand that with the technological innovations available now, more candidates than ever before are arriving for interview with high-quality degrees learned online. They’re more inclined to be impressed with the resourcefulness and initiative of candidates who have maintained family lives and held down demanding jobs while studying for an advanced online degree than to look down on them.
The social dimension of online learning
As for fears that there’s something socially ‘sterile’ about online learning compared to campus-based education, once again technology has done much to alleviate this issue. Yes, young students attending campus have abundant opportunities to socialize and have recreational fun with one another, though this tends to be more important for adolescents who are acquiring the emotional and psychological resources for leaving home and building more independent lives for themselves. Working adults with family and professional commitments have already negotiated this crucial developmental phase. However, even so, online learning doesn’t insulate remote students from live contact with other students or faculty.
Video chatting now makes it possible to network face to face, albeit ‘virtually’, with fellow students at the same stage of their online learning, and remote students can do the same with their tutors.
Applying new knowledge ‘live’ in existing work roles
One bonus that accompanies online learning is that it’s often possible to apply newly acquired knowledge immediately – ‘live’ – to your existing job, enhancing your value to your current employer by boosting productivity and performance.
There are even occasions when employers may be prepared to offer tuition assistance to existing employees who are embarking on an online degree. Some companies have the means to encourage this employee professional development in order to retain talent and avoid turnover and recruitment expenses (disaffected and disgruntled employees are more likely to seek pastures new than engaged and loyal employees, after all).
If that’s not available, however, many universities offering online options for their degree programs also provide graduate loan funding and financial guidance for domestically resident students.
In summary, working professionals seeking to climb their way out of a career rut now have the option of studying advanced, business-relevant degrees online, from the comfort and familiarity of their own homes. There is no need to stay in a role that you’ve outgrown, or to make sacrifices such as quitting an existing job or attending a campus far from home, making you a visitor to your own family.
Having the drive and acumen to complete advanced study of this kind is not lost on today’s employers, who fully understand that digital technologies are enabling remote human endeavors in all walks of life, not the least of which are education and professional development.