In the old days, you’d often have to travel and serve as someone’s apprentice if you wanted to change careers.
Now, e-learning makes getting educated about something new a lot faster and simpler.
In order to sharpen his skills for his new career as the founder of holosfitness.com, a social-networking site for fitness buffs, 31-year-old Greg Stallkamp enrolled in Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. But his M.B.A. curriculum focuses on learning about traditional management issues in the traditional way. So to get a leg up in the fast-paced world of online business, Mr. Stallkamp turned to the Internet as well.
"I constantly attend Webinars run by news outlets and government organizations about entrepreneurship, small businesses, public relations, and social networking, and most of the time they are much more valuable than a three-hour class at Kellogg," he says. And while his classwork teaches conceptual frameworks that can be used in the long term, Mr. Stallkamp says, he always "comes away from a Webinar with information that I can put to immediate use."
The main advantage of e-learning is that you can do it on your own time. Advanced learners can whiz past topics they already know, while novices can progress through new content at their own pace.
Lower cost is a benefit too. Even comprehensive e-learning programs, such as those offered by the University of Phoenix, typically cost less than traditional degree programs.
A 10-credit certificate program in health-care informatics, a new field combining health care and technology, runs just over $6,000, for example.
"E-learning creates an atmosphere that is a perfect complement to your current job, as opposed to traditional learning methods that require full-time attention," says Paul Pignataro, founder and chief executive of the Analyst Exchange, a New York firm that provides Web-based financial training.
Easily Digested Information
E-learning comes in all shapes and sizes, but Mr. Pignataro says some methods are more effective. "Learning is maximized when digested in 45-minute sessions as opposed to eight- to 10-hour blocks," he says. "Shorter sessions give people the ability to process the information at hand and apply it to their everyday jobs as they are learning it."
Online learning isn’t for everyone, however. Distance coursework relies on online multimedia tools to simulate in-person lectures and tests, so you have to be self-motivated to make it work.
Some people are more naturally spurred to action by being physically surrounded by fellow students.
To find e-learning options, tap professional associations in your target industry, media outlets that cover your area and government entities that support people in your line of work. If you seek a degree program, do an online search — just make sure your target institutions are accredited.
If you’ve never tried e-learning before, consider an audition. If career reinvention is on your agenda, you can check out my Webinar.