Dec 3, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

While the desire to learn more about a certain field or subject may drive you to study online, there are many other things you will learn along the way. Read on for a roundup of five skills you’ll develop as an online student -- and why they matter so much. 

1. Accountability

Many people mistakenly think online programs are easier than their 'bricks and mortar' counterparts. While there are certainly upsides to online learning -- with flexibility topping the list for many students -- there are also some heightened challenges. A big one is that online classes lack the direct supervision found in a classroom.

While there can be a learning curve associated with transitioning to less oversight, it ultimately leads to the cultivation of responsibility and accountability -- soft skills that will continue to benefit you throughout your academic, personal, and professional life. Just how important is accountability? “If you hire for one skill and one skill alone, please let it be this: personal accountability,” one organizational chairman tells hiring agents.

2. Adaptability

One of the main reasons students seek out online coursework is because it’s more accommodating of their schedules. Many online students have other commitments, including everything from work to parenthood. Juggling all of these commitments requires a willingness to explore new ways of doing things.

This is a very good thing for prospective employees and potential employers alike -- especially given that adaptability has been hailed as “key for tomorrow’s workforce”.  

Recruitment company Robert Half says, “There are very few successful people or organizations who got to where they are by simply doing the same thing. In fact, great leaders seek out change and pursue it feverishly, understanding that to be truly innovative and ahead of trends, you must embrace change.” When you enroll in an online class, you’re doing exactly that.

3. Time management

In addition to promoting adaptability, the balancing act involved with online studies also supports the development of another invaluable soft skill: time management, which is linked with many other positive attributes, including better decision-making, organization, the ability to work under pressure, and punctuality.

Activia Training argues, “These days, it's no longer about how many degrees or certifications a prospective hire has. Having multiple degrees doesn't matter if they can't work well in a team or constantly need to be monitored to get any work done. Employers want to hire workers who can prioritize and manage their workload, and deliver the desired results. [...] Effective time management will allow individuals to accomplish more in less time, give them more free time, lower their stress levels and boost their career prospects.”

4. Communication

Just because face-to-face communications aren’t front and center in online learning doesn’t mean communication doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite, in fact. With fewer opportunities to interact with teachers and classmates in person, students must explore other ways to be successful communicators, including asking for help when they need it, as well as taking advantage of the many resources and tools available to them, such as chat room office hours, email, social media and forums.

The Global Digital Citizen Foundation suggests, “Communication is a broad term that incorporates multi-faceted levels of interaction and sharing information...Students must be able to communicate not just with text or speech, but in multiple multimedia formats. They must be able to communicate visually through video and imagery as effectively as they do with text and speech.”

There’s no better way to learn and practice these skills than online studies. Plus, as digital communications are increasingly prevalent in the workforce, the ability to utilize a variety of channels to communicate will continue to come in handy throughout your career.

5. Digital fluency

This one may sound like a no-brainer. After all, one of the major prerequisites of being an online student is being able to use a computer. And while computer skills are hardly the exclusive domain of online learning, online students are uniquely positioned to gain unparalleled knowledge, productivity and comfort working with the primary mode of communication for the times we live in.

So whatever reason initially drew you to consider online studies, there are a breadth and depth of other good reasons to consider this increasingly popular learning platform. Are you an online student with exciting new skills to show for it? If so, please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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