Ongoing education is a reality for most professionals. The training requirements are usually set by employers or professional associations with the goal of keeping employees and members up to date with the latest technologies, theories, and/or tools available in the industry. Numerous disciplines require Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to maintain certifications, including engineers, educators, nurses, and many others. Increasingly, employers are specifying a professional development goal as part of their employee’s yearly review. Those reviews impact your continued employment, your salary and your career path.
So, if you need training to get a raise, keep your certifications or just keep your job, what are your choices? There are a lot of them! In fact, there are so many that I am just going to focus on one of the first choices you will have to make about your professional development courses; take them online or in person. As you might imagine, there are pros and cons for both approaches.
First, let’s look at online training. The most basic type of online training is self-paced and has no interaction with other people. Standard materials are usually in the form of videos
or articles that you watch and/or read, and then you take a test to prove your proficiency. The pros for this type of training is cost and convenience. You can take it when and where you want, and they usually don’t cost a lot. In fact, some are even free. This type of training works great for basic knowledge transfer on topics that are well-defined. The cons are the “when and where” can end up being on the employee’s personal time, such as lunch, nights, and weekends. Busy professionals often find it hard to dedicate time to taking these courses while doing their “day jobs”. Frequently, they are pushed off for higher priority tasks and only as the deadline approaches. Finally, this static format does not allow for questions or clarification, which can be a problem if you need to understand how the knowledge gained is applicable to your unique situation.
The second type of online training adds in personalization through some form of community such as online forums where students can communicate with each other and the instructor. Some training offers a shared learning experience in a virtual classroom. The classroom can be as simple as having a webinar, or as sophisticated as students logging into machines, in front of an instructor who can see what each student is doing on-screen. The pros for this type of training are that it is conducive to more sophisticated materials because students can ask questions and get personalized feedback. Also, you don’t have to travel; you can still be at the office, which, ironically, is also a con. Being in the office means you might be tempted to try to multitask and answer emails, etc., during class time. It is also more expensive than the first type because the instructor is teaching in real-time.
The alternative to online training is attending a class in person. Course materials are usually provided in printed or electronic format for students to follow along while the instructor(s) lectures. This type of training is best suited for sophisticated topics. There is the ability to ask questions and get one-on-one attention and truly focus on the topic at hand. It is also an opportunity to build your professional network and meet people from other companies and countries. Cons are focused around cost and time out of the office. In person training almost always requires you to travel, either locally or even internationally. Costs are higher because of the logistical needs of the class: a room, computers, software, instructor(s) time, food and coffee; lots of coffee!
So, which format is the best? Each has their place. You need to decide if the pros outweigh the cons. Just remember, the standard definition of one CEU is ten hours of participation in an educational program. As an example, say your profession requires you to take 4 CEUs per year to maintain a certification. If you take one week-long in person class, you have satisfied that requirement. If you try to do it online, you will have to carve out 40 hours of your time while you are in the office. Having done this, I highly recommend blocking off time on your calendar to ensure it gets done. Nobody wants to watch 40 hours of video in 2 days unless you are binging on your favorite NETFLIX show. I am guessing that the course material might not be as entertaining.
The most important thing is to remember to give yourself the time to learn. Having the videos running in the background and just taking the test, does not ensure you have absorbed all the information. Continuing education can have a huge impact on your career; give it the attention it deserves.