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Receiving your online certification through distance learning is rapidly becoming a popular, alternative education choice for those ready to pursue their careers dreams, those wishing to advance their present skills and even those considering a total career change. Since those first efforts at using the computer to create a virtual learning environment in the early 1960s, technological advancements and the expansion of Internet capabilities have made it possible to achieve educational goals, in many cases, without ever attending a traditional educational facility.

Why Choose Online Learning for Certification?

Living in an age where technological advances are almost daily occurrences means that employees in a broad spectrum of industries will need to continually upgrade their own learning curve to stay relevant in their position. The most popular Internet courses today are offered in education, business, IT and healthcare. In each of these career paths, advancement and job security rely on being the most knowledgeable, up-to-date employee possible. Increasing you skill set makes you more valuable to your company and more prepared to handle the responsibilities that would accompany a promotion. Successfully taking online certification courses also demonstrates you commitment to your career and your willingness to accept better opportunities for advancement as they arise. In short, being better educated in your field makes you more of an asset to your company and may secure your job against competition.

In career tracks such as education and healthcare, professionals are required to earn continuing education units to maintain their license and credentials. Online certification courses are a convenient way to meet these expectations without traveling and disrupting your work schedule. They also allow the opportunity for teachers and healthcare workers to brush up on their skills or to gain specialization within their field. For Scott Zmija, a former undergraduate with a BED from Wayne State University, going back to earn his MED from his former alma mater just made good sense. Because he was already employed as a teacher at Warren Consolidated Schools in Michigan, choosing to study online allowed him to work and study at the same time. As a result, he was able to expand his Technical Drawing Classes and improve the Trade and Industry Cooperative Educational program within his school district as well as solidifying his position at Warren.

For many other online students, the available certification courses allow them to pursue a totally new career without leaving their present job. Because the classes are offered online, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, they can be fitted into an already busy work schedule. Time and money is not lost traveling back and forth to a campus several miles away. Introductory courses allow you to pursue a new interest without making a huge financial commitment until you are really sure of your decision. Because the online courses tend to be shorter and more specific, they can also be more affordable. Many schools offer payment plans and you only pay for each class as you take it. For those who wish, several courses can be taken at the same time, unlike choices available in a traditional campus setting. If you are attending a college with limited options, supplementing with accredited online courses can broaden and enrich your entire learning experience.

For those who struggled through their high school years in the typical classroom setting, studying online can be a completely new and refreshing opportunity. While discipline and attention to deadlines will still be important, Internet classes eliminate noisy classroom distractions. They also offer complete notes for those who struggle with note-taking and can be replayed as often as necessary to understand difficult sections or for review. Most professors and instructors are well-qualified professionals who have adapted their teaching style for the distance learning format and are available for questions and requests for assistance. Interaction with fellow students is also available through chat rooms and discussion boards. Oh yes, and there is no dress code.

Online Education Versus Traditional Classroom Teaching

While online certification and continuing education programs have been traditionally viewed with some suspicion as being inferior representations of real learning experiences, attitudes are changing. According to US News and World Report (, 87% more HR professionals now view online credentials and degrees more favorably than they did as little as five years ago. In fact, now that even Ivy League schools such as Dartmouth College are adding online programs to their curriculum, the trend towards acceptance seems to be increasing. Of course, choosing an online school that is fully accredited is important for either certification or earned credits transfer.

The Department of Education’s September 2010 report, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies looked at 1000 different studies of online education courses since 1996. It concluded that online classes not only were not inferior, but were actually marginally superior to traditionally taught courses and that combining classroom and online teaching had even better results. This new “hybrid course” model has been welcomed by institutions such as the University of Houston where students can blend their studies, by incorporating both methods. The University of Phoenix and DeVry University also offer hybrid options for those who live near their campuses.

Most Popular Online Certification Programs and Schools

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 21, 2011 more than 4.6 million online students (2008) were taking at least one course in programs leading to degrees or certifications. This was a 17% increase from the 3.9 million in 2008. The most popular courses led to an Associate’s degree in education. Today more than 60% of traditional campuses are also offering online options for their students. Next to education, other popular certification programs attract those who wish to be employed as physical therapy aides, paralegals, medical office assistants and veterinary assistants.

Technology certification including Microsoft and Cisco are also valuable career fields available through Internet classes. For many students, acquiring a trade or career certification will mean a significant difference in the ability to find a job and make enough income to support themselves and their families.

According to US News and World Report, the three largest accredited online schools today are:

  • University of Phoenix (1976), enrollment 380,232—offers Associate’s to post Master’s as well as remedial reading, writing and math for those who need extra help getting started.
  • Kaplan University (1937), online enrollment 70,011—offers Associate’s to Master’s level and professional certifications.
  • Strayer University (1982), online enrollment 54,325—offers a variety of formats including hybrid programs through 85 campuses in 20 states.

Important Considerations

  • Check out any online school for its accreditation. Not all schools offer recognized quality courses and transferable credits, which could waste your time, money and effort.
  • Know you own learning style. Do you have the self discipline and motivation to handle the lack of direct face-to-face interaction?
  • Plan enough time for your classes. Assume you will need to invest a minimum of ten hours a week per course.
  • Check out the professor or instructor. How long has he/she been teaching online? What are his/her credentials?
  • Start out slowly. Don’t overwhelm yourself with more classes than you can handle, especially when you are just getting started.

Full List of Online Certification Subjects