Online Education…Is That Any Good?

Online Education...Is That Any Good?

A while back, I gave a brief plug for Indiana University (IU)’s online certificate in business analytics, a program I recently completed.

I’ve received several follow-up questions on this program and about online learning, in general. Here are my remarks.

I believe this and other programs are key to the future of education. The program shows what universities have to offer to stay competitive. 

Why online? How does that work? 

I was very skeptical of online education. But the program made me see how online learning has its place.

The most common objection to online education is that it’s difficult to replicate the collegiality of an online class.

This may be true, but is that disadvantage so great that online learning has no merit?

Most people will be lucky to maintain regular contact with two or three of their college classmates, whether their program is online or on site.

Sure, a large part of the best business education is the relationships formed through an alumni community. But how many of your closest business relationships are largely conducted online? Many of the best teams I’ve worked with live across the country or even globe from one another. If it works for business, then maybe there’s a chance it can work for school, too.

As for the delivery of the material, online learning does have some advantages. If you’re taking a class heavy on programming or math, it’s critical to follow every step of a lesson. By recording right onto a computer, it’s easy to pause and replay lectures as often as possible. (I think this is why many of the most popular MOOCs have been in the sciences — this discipline just works so well online.)

Why certificate? Why not a master’s?

Long-term, The way people pursue higher education is changing. Credentials are moving away from the idea of a terminal degree toward a lifelong series of certificates, MOOCs, etc.

MBA enrollment in many places (for example, Canada) is declining, and in that degree’s wake, schools are offering more targeted master’s and certificate degrees.

My background is a good example. I took a year-long Master’s in Finance, a more targeted graduate degree than an MBA. After a couple of years in the workforce, I added to this with a certificate in analytics. I plan to continue supplementing this education with further executive education classes, MOOCs, etc. In a knowledge economy, continuous training is essential.

Why in business analytics? Why not computer science, finance, etc.? 

Technology has transformed business, but end-users are struggling to keep up. Data is piling high, and a lot can come from it, but the majority of analysts’ time today is spent just cleaning the data.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but with a little more training and education, I’ve been able to spend less time “wrangling” data and more time analyzing it. The certificate program in analytics was a big step here.

With a bachelor’s in economics and a master’s in finance, I had no background in things like data warehousing or visualization. But these have been staples of my work.

Conversely, an information systems major might never learn about simulation or optimization models, yet end up in a role supporting this kind of analysis.

The bottom line? Business problems are IT problems. Analysts need to draw from at least three disciplines to succeed today. An analytics certificate like this one allows the analyst to sit on that much more a level stool.

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Thoughts on online learning, data analytics, and the future of higher education? Please share in the comments!

 Photo courtesy user Negativespace on Pixabay.

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