While this will change how current students learn and interact with each other, the growth of online learning has much broader potential. Accessible and affordable education means more people than ever can enroll in classes and programs, whatever their situation. Online education can help single parents become working professionals. It can give late bloomers a second chance at the job they've always dreamed of. And it can help those stuck in unrewarding careers make a positive change. In short, online education is removing the barriers that prevent people from becoming the best versions of themselves.

So here's a look at the rise of online education and one university that has fully embraced this more open and democractic form of education.

Skills, not qualifications

Having a degree is never going to harm your job prospects or career opportunities. In fact, a recent study found university graduates earn around 20% more over their working life than those without a degree. But now that more people than ever have a degree, it's important to find an extra edge to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

That's where online learning can help. Although many online learning programs provide a broad overview of a particular subject, others take a more skills-focused approach. In other words, they are tailor-made to equip you with the specific skills employers are looking for. And shorter online learning programs mean you can pick up a new skill in months rather than years. Also, the online format means it is possible for many to complete these programs without taking a career break.

Online education is going mainstream

A recent study found almost half of all employers see an online qualification as a big bonus during the job application process. And 58% of those surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed with the idea that people with online qualifications have a greater earning potential. Having the right technical skills is only part of the reason. Employers see an online qualification as a sign of independence, initiative, and personal responsibility.  It proves you can take control of your future, manage your time effectively, and see a task through to the end under minimal supervision. Every good company wants employees like that.

Online learning creates more opportunities

Online learning is the next big leap forward in the democratization of higher learning. In theory, it means that anyone with a laptop and a WiFi connection now has access to education and training that could change their lives for the better. What's more, education doesn't have to end when you leave college. Instead, it can be an ongoing process where you're continually developing, gaining new skills, and taking on fresh personal and career challenges. As such, we're no longer pigeonholed into one job or profession. And a previous college degree or qualification doesn't have to define your future career options anymore.

The flexibility of online learning has other benefits, too. We've come a long way in our understanding of how different people learn. However, there is still a tendency toward a one-size-fits-all approach to university curricula and teaching styles. Online education provides genuine alternatives. Message chat boards give shy or reticent students a chance to participate in 'classroom' discussions. At the same time, video conferencing apps provide the same opportunity for those who are more gregarious.  Students can rewatch pre-recorded lectures, allowing them to process information at their own pace. Or they can watch these lectures at a time when their brain works best, which is great news for the night owls who are forced to struggle through those 9am Monday morning lectures.

This flexible approach to learning is an excellent opportunity for professionals looking to continue their education while working. In fact, online and part-time remote courses are an increasingly popular option for professionals looking for a career change, a step up the corporate ladder, or a lateral shift to another area within their current industry.

The University of California, Irvine Division of Continuing Education

The University of California, Irvine Division of Continuing Education (UCI DCE) is the ideal place to kickstart the next part of your professional journey, wherever you want to go. As the continuing education arm of the University of California, Irvine, which ranks among the top ten public schools in the US, UCI DCE provides a wide range of 100% online certificate programs that will teach you new skills and boost your career opportunities.

UCI DCE’s certificate programs, specialized studies, and short courses can help you land a job in today's most exciting and well-paying industries, including law, business, finance, engineering, and healthcare.

Or maybe you're more interested in positioning yourself to achieve big things in emerging industries like data analytics and machine learning? If so, then the Tech Programs are the right option for you. The Machine and Deep Learning program asks the big questions about the future of artificial intelligence while also showing students how to develop self-improving systems that will increase a business or organization's ability to compete in the global, digital marketplace. Other high-tech programs include predictive analytics, cybersecurity, Python programming, and the 21st century's sexiest industry: data science.

"I went into the course without advanced knowledge of IT," says one recent graduate of the Full Stack Web Development certificate. "The pace of the course was fast, but that actually helped me. I was pushed to focus and learn the knowledge I was lacking. I learned so much new stuff relating to IT. And the culture at UCI was very welcoming."

Meanwhile, Ryan Armstrong, of the Orange County Transportation Authority, praises the mentorship and education he benefited from in the UCI Digital Marketing certificate program. He explains, "A co-worker introduced me to the program, said some really great things about it, and piqued my curiosity. I went online and discovered that the program had a really high caliber of instructors an incredible breadth of coursework."

"I was incredibly inspired by what my instructors are doing with their digital marketing strategies and some of the really innovative tactics that they were willing to share with their students. UCI's instructors, and this is what sets the program apart for me, made themselves incredibly available to students."

"I spent an hour on the phone with a chief marketing officer at a major company who made himself available as a mentor and a guide. He wanted to understand what my career goals were and ambitions, and genuinely helped me to me to succeed. I'm just sort of speaking for my heart right now but I think that all of our programs at the Orange County Transportation Authority benefited from the insights that I gained from the Digital Marketing certificate program."

Enrolling at UCI DCE is quick and easy and no application is required. Just browse the list of courses, find one that matches what you're looking for, then hit apply. You can enroll online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The University of California, Irvine Division of Continuing Education understands that the future of education is flexible, remote, and accessible. But, more importantly, it knows what you need to learn specialized skills and advance your career in a way that suits you.

Article written in association with the University of California, Irvine Division of Continuing Education.