I had a friend the other day come to me and ask me about what I thought about courses with respect to online college X. College X was a reasonably traditional online college, with degree and certificate programs, etc. I talked to her about the institution for awhile, and then I finally asked the question “what is it you’re looking to achieve?” I realized that we attend post secondary education for a variety of different reasons:
- Certification/Accreditation for work related items – This is particularly important in technical fields, but also in government. Government agencies at all levels are increasing their requirements that you have specific certifications in order to perform certain jobs.
- Collecting “initials” – I have a friend that accuses me of this. Completion of certificate programs or degrees allows us to pad our resume, and put a various set of initials after our name (I’ve got so many that I no longer reference them all).
- Specific work related knowledge – Absent work requiring us to have specific certifications, we may feel that our skill set is insufficient with respect to a given work requirement. We may take courses to improve our knowledge of a given subject area.
- Mind candy – This is one we don’t think of very often. Studies have shown that effective intellectual stimulation not only improves our critical thinking skills, but also “fends off” mentally debilitating conditions and may increase longevity. In addition, it allows us to feel like we’re keeping our intellectual skills “sharp.”
So why take the time to break out these categories? Because certain objectives lend themselves to different types of institutions and approaches to learning.
Take for example a relative, who decided they wanted to take a series of courses at a local community college in order to provide intellectual stimulation (i.e. Mind Candy). I realized that rather than pay the local college for the course, alternatively they could have gone to udemy and taken almost any course they wanted, for free.
I had another friend who wasn’t looking for a degree, but was looking to enhance their reputation within a given community. For them, udemy wasn’t the right approach, but a certificate program at Cherry Hill Seminary would fill their needs.
Another friend said “I’m working for the government and regulation X requires that I be certified in Y” For them. they weren’t particularly interested in acquiring knowledge (they felt they had enough about Y), but they needed a certification. For them, I pointed them to resources that would allow them to effectively pass the certification exam for Y.
Another person said “I want to enter into profession Z.” They had started with one institution, and discovered that this institution really had no “path” that would give them the necessary skills and certifications to enter that profession. So, they changed institutions to one that would.
So as we think about proceeding down a path of learning, we need to not just think about the subject, but also what are our motivations. By examining both we can determine what approach, and what institution best suits our needs.