Thinking of signing up for an online study program? Spend a few moments thinking about what you’d like to get out of it. That will improve your chances of not just signing up, but also of successfully finishing your online course. Online courses come in all shapes and forms. Some courses take from an hour to years to complete, from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), via language studies to full MBA programs. Here are 8 questions to consider, about your goal, time investment, reputation, online or offline studies, the pace, exams, internet and investing in yourself.
- What is my goal?
Well you want to do an online study, that’s a goal right? Strictly speaking, that’s not a goal but an activity or means through which you achieve a goal. Try and tap into your true motivation. It pays to be as specific about your goal as you can, making it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). This will make the why you are doing this more obvious, providing strength in those moments where you just want to give up. See the box below for some ideas.
Also keep in mind that an online degree is not the Holy Grail. A local university, a local language teacher, a course given by a fellow expat crafter, a summer course, a writers’ retreat, a phone conversation with an expert- these could all contribute to achieving to your specific goal. Find the method that fits your learning style and your goal.
- How much time do I want to dedicate?
Spending time studying means not spending that time on something else. While you may be happy to spend less time on Facebook and Instagram, it may also mean less time for socializing or not picking up your kids from school every day.
Take a close, hard look at your schedule and commitment. Will you go for full-time or part time? How many hours a week will you dedicate? Every morning or evening? Some days but not others? Do you want to do a course that will keep you occupied for all of your time abroad, or just for a few months or weeks? Do you want school holidays off? What will you do less of, to make time for studying?
- Does the degree or the reputation of the institution matter to me- or to my potential employer or client?
This depends a lot on your goal (question one)- the right place to study varies from person to person. If something needs to look good on your CV, a certificate from Harvard or Oxford University never goes astray. If you wish to show your language fluency a Diploma like DELE for Spanish or HSK for Chinese is more relevant than mentioning a attending a language class on your CV. If you want to be a graphic designer or a photographer, your portfolio will be more important than the exact course you took- though if it is a highly regarded institution, it may make a potential employer more curious to meet you. So consider what type of institution you look for when selecting a course, not just a course on a specific topic.
- Study online only or do I prefer some interaction?
While Massive Open Online Courses are usually fully online, there are many courses that offer some type of interaction, especially long term programs such as an MBA. Some courses offer a mix of online and offline components (sometimes referred to as “blended learning”). For example, you are expected to be on Campus for the first week of the program, and to join a 10 day study trip in the middle of the program. Or you have weekly or monthly group calls with the professor and your fellow students.
- Self-paced or deadlines?
Some online courses start immediately, others you can only start and finish on a specific day. Some have live classes on fixed days, for others all the content is already online and you can go through the course at your own pace. If you are not sure what fits you, experiment with a free short course.
- Are there and exams and where would I take exams?
Do you want to sit exams and are those the exams online as well? Or do you have to take them at an official exam center? Does the place where you live have these facilities (sometimes an embassy or even a local school will suffice) or do you need to travel to such a location? And can you afford such travel (or maybe you can do them while on holiday)?
- Is my internet good enough?
Online courses usually offer online lectures, requiring good internet streaming. Some expats do not have the luxury of (reasonably) fast, reliable internet, or foreign websites may be blocked. Should you find yourself in a place like that, you may be better off signing up for a more traditional long distance study, where you receive all materials by snail mail or as a printable file on a cd/dvd.
- How much am I willing to invest in myself?
Perhaps the hardest question of all. Some companies offer reimbursement in whole or in part of studies taken while abroad – sometimes also for the non-employed spouse. But what if your company does not give financial compensation? Should you resign yourself to take free courses only? I encourage you to see developing yourself through studies as a worthwhile investment. If you can afford the money or are willing to take out a loan to be able to do a particular study, by all means do so. These days, the key word in HR is employability- and demonstrating a keen interest in developing yourself definitely enhances your employability and your chances of working in a field you love.
I hope your answers to these questions will give you guidance when you set out to explore the jungle of online studies. If you are not yet sure whether an online study is something for you, I encourage you to start a short and free Massive Open Online Course about a subject that really interests you. In In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about the Advantages of Studying Online. In the third part of this series, I will give you a list of the best online study platforms.
[box] Sample Goals
Note: For the sake of this article, I’m using Online Studies as examples, but see question 1- all roads (may) lead to Rome
- I want to earn my own money and be hired by a potential employer (or company X,Y,Z, or an international school) in the Education industry when I repatriate in 2018. I will do so by keeping my knowledge and skills as a teacher up to date and improving my knowledge about Early Childhood Education via a 2 year part time online study program.
- I want to challenge my mind intellectually while I do not have a work permit in this country by learning about a subject that I’m curious about. Therefore I will take a free online course on EdX/Coursera about the history of this region (or intercultural communication, or IT skills, or Neuroscience) in the coming 3 months.
- I want to enhance my job prospects in my current/ next location by improving my knowledge and skills about doing business/ management. Therefore I will sign up for a 1 year MBA program with a highly regarded institution.
- I want to be globally mobile when traveling with my family but still have my own income and occupation everywhere I move. Therefore I will set up my own portable business baking fabulous cakes and cookies. I will be baking two cakes a week using instruction videos on Youtube and Pinterest and I will take an online course in Digital Marketing to improve my marketing skills in order to sell more cakes.
- I enjoy writing and want to use my time abroad to enhance my writing skills. I will do this by taking an online studies this autumn in Fiction Writing and starting my own blog (you could also attend a writing retreat or a weekly writing course in your city if you also have as a goal to meet more people or are more engaged when you have real life interaction with a teacher) . [/box]