A while back, I posed a question to my LinkedIn friends in which I asked:
Will self-paced continuing education take the place of accredited degree programs? Will the un-quantifiable knowledge gleaned from something like “The Personal MBA” (PMBA) ever measure up to the immeasurable results of formal postgraduate work? What if some study indicated that more information can be gained through self-directed study than through enrollment in graduate school? What do employers value: knowledge and expertise or transcripts and a suffix?
I received a thoughtful response today from Sharon Baldi of Lockheed Martin:
“You raise an interesting question that I’ve often thought about because I’ve taken many courses online and in the classroom and can see the advantages and disadvantages to both. I have to assume that someday all education could or would be done online especially considering video conferencing technology. Most of the meetings I attend these days are video conferences with people from around the world. It’s already the norm. With all the alumni out there however, who want their children to have the same college experience they had, this will probably take a few generations.”
Her response shines light on the true controversy in self-directed education. That is, even if the quality of online learning were superior to traditional programs at brick-and-mortar universities, “graduates” of self-directed programs would have to overcome stereotypes and longstanding snobbery to compete professionally with graduates of traditional programs.
Granted, distance learning has grown up a lot in the past few decades. Some of the most prestigious campuses on the planet now offer some or all of their programs over the internet. Some courses are even available for free — challenging the notion of continuing education as a luxury of the monied.
But students in non-traditional programs should be aware that their self-determination and savvy may not impress the HR directors and hiring managers in many of today’s highest paying corporations. To traditional employees looking to improve their outlook for promotion, I would say caveat emptor regarding self-paced continuing education. In much of the business world today, the only real degree is a traditional degree via traditional means.
To the entrepreneur or the self-motivated knowledge-seeker, however, I say go for it! If education is more to you than a means to an end, then there is no better way to learn for the sake of learning. A self-directed educational program may not impress your boss or your friends, but it can certainly make you smarter and equip you to do your job better.
There are many programs available, and Google will easily point you in the direction of several options right up your alley. If you think you might be interested in beginning your own Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program, I can think of no better place to start than Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA. The PMBA is set up as a recommended reading list* with supplemental materials and a community for discussion. It has also been around for a few years and each new “graduate” adds clout to its reputation.
Congratulations on taking the first steps toward a better educated future!
*The PMBA is a constantly evolving curriculum, and Kaufman often adds new material to the list.