Online education opens unprecedented opportunities for learning, bridging the gap between high quality credentials from top universities and those who want to learn, but have limited access because of schedules, funds, or geography.
Today’s possibilities are vast, but the online learning landscape is still relatively new. Approaching a more intensive program like a master’s degree can feel intimidating, especially if you’ve never encountered a massive open online course (MOOC) or participated in online learning before.
To help you get started in thinking through if an online program is right for you, we’ve collected advice, reviews, and words of encouragement from some of our 21 million+ online learners who have successfully completed programs and advanced skills in disciplines from data science to marketing.
“I looked for courses at institutions near me but couldn’t find what I needed. Online learning brought resources from around the world to my door, and I was able to find the course I was looking for,” said Ruchi Garg, a data analyst at IBM subsidiary The Weather Company. “Without online learning, I’m not sure how I would have closed the gap in my knowledge base.”
Looking to close your own skills gaps or change careers? Learn more about top-ranked online master’s degree programs at edX in electrical and computer engineering, marketing, IT management, supply chain management, accounting, computer science, data science, business administration, cybersecurity, and more.
Find Your Work-Life-Learn Balance
One of the biggest benefits of online courses is flexibility. Learners have the freedom to work full-time jobs, spend time with their families, and optimize their course time for when and where they learn best.
“[The] courses are efficient, effective, and incredibly flexible. I can set up my personal schedule and pick and choose when to listen to the lectures. I don’t have to sit in a classroom, push off my own career, and add stress to my life. Without a program like [this], supply chain managers can struggle with having to self-teach and bring themselves up to speed on their own. The course teams and course content make this process easy, said Danaka, a supply chain consultant in Canada.
Here are a few tips from edX learners for balancing learning with life:
Maximize Your Free Moments
Find pockets of down time like commuting or working out, or take advantage of free time right after work or lounging at home.
Andrew, a project manager at United Airlines in Denver: “The flexibility of the program was key to why I was able to complete it. My life was hectic – my son was two months old, my wife and I were relocating to Denver from Chicago, and I was moving into a new role. Just finishing the program while keeping all of the proverbial balls in the air was an accomplishment in and of itself! It helped that I could complete my coursework when I found time to do it, whether it was while waiting in line at the DMV for a license or after a long day of work while lounging on the couch.”
Mike, a change management consultant in the U.K.: “For me, studying online was the only way to achieve my education goals. Migrating to another country is challenging and I was having to juggle two part-time jobs, language lessons, and be a full-time dad and husband. Studying online allowed me to maximize my ‘dead time’ moments. Listening to the lectures on my commutes or while I was training at the gym allowed me to consume the content in a way that suited my learning style and busy schedule.”
Andreas, an adjunct professor in Germany: “The freedom to decide what and when to study was liberating. Regular trainings in my professional life require me to travel and stay in a hotel. With edX, I can learn Saturday and Sunday mornings directly from home!”
Bertram, a solar photovoltaic (PV) design engineer and instructor at Solar Energy International in the Netherlands: “I absolutely loved the flexibility and accessibility. When I was doing the MicroMasters® program, I was working at a solar energy company, so I usually logged in to the courses straight after work. Having that flexibility is key to provide education for people that don’t have enough time to enroll in a full-time program.”
Learn When and How You Learn Best
Flexibility also comes in learning through video content. Absorb and learn the information in the way that works best for you, whether it’s watching at a faster or slower speed or rewatching sections several times. In addition to maximizing free time, learners also find it helpful to balance the pace of coursework with the pace of their work life.
Venkat, a supply chain consultant in California: “The flexibility of edX allowed me to pace my learning to suit my lifestyle and abilities. Sometimes I play videos in a loop until I understand the concept or just to enjoy the witty humor of the teacher. I realized [my prior challenges] were not about my lack of aptitude to learn; I just needed a different approach. I liked the gentle use of technology and format of the courses especially those 5-10 minute video snippets. Not only has edX removed all barriers, but also removed all distractions, a remarkable feat in itself.”
Venkat completed the MicroMasters® program in Supply Chain Management offered by MITx — a program that can be a pathway to the top 3-ranked full master’s degree in Supply Chain Management from Arizona State University.
Jessica, a middle school teacher: “I was able to be successful in these classes due to the self-paced nature of the courses. As a teacher, we have weeks that are wildly busy with projects, grading, grades closing, and more. I was able to power through coursework on my light weeks and snow days, and put it off when I needed to. I felt like was able to do coursework when I was rested and ready to learn – something that is not true of traditional courses.”
Schedule Your Time Effectively
Especially when you’re new to online learning, it can help to be diligent from the start. Make your learning time a structured routine.
Tadro, a science performance analyst in Australia: “My advice would be to schedule your time effectively. Becoming a self-directed learner is vital to success. I would advise that you build regular time buffers into your schedule so that you can accommodate life’s surprises.”
Venkat, a supply chain consultant in California: “The flexibility of edX allowed me to pace my learning to suit my lifestyle and abilities. I was very skeptical about my success but committed to spending at least an hour every day working on the courses. For the first few days, it was challenging to sit through, but by the end of the third week, not only I was enjoying the course work, I was logging 3-4 hours easily.”
Learn and Connect With a Top-Notch Global Community
Access to top-ranked programs comes with connections to both world-class professors and a global community of passionate classmates. Hear how edX learners enjoyed connecting with their communities, from participating in the forums to networking with fellow professionals:
Mia, a supply chain project manager in the U.S.: “Even though I wasn’t on campus taking classes, I was still getting an amazing education which paid off almost immediately. I was privileged to be a part of a great community of learners who cared deeply about the coursework and I made many professional connections.”
Danaka, a supply chain consultant in Canada: “Despite my industry experience, I was nervous when I logged into my first course. I had never taken an online course before as I had only studied on campus. I was concerned that I would lose the sense of camaraderie that comes in a physical classroom environment. After the first week or so, I realized there was no need to be nervous. The learners in the course became a community. It’s fantastic – I didn’t feel alone going through the process. The community also helps with networking – we share job opportunities and ask questions about our work.”
Anderson, a cloud solutions architect in Maryland: “What I liked the most was the convenience of taking the class online. I also liked the interaction with cloud computing faculty at UMUC and how quick they were able to respond to students’ questions.”
Youssef, a student in Belgium: “It may sound silly, but even with two-minute videos, I would stop the video and try to redo the related exercises. If I still had a question, I could ask it on the discussion forum. There is a community there, with people from different nationalities, ages, and points of view.”
Bertram, a PV design engineer and instructor at Solar Energy International in the Netherlands: “The fact that you’re able to learn from anywhere in the world is an incredible benefit. I had classmates from Yemen who were there to learn how to do a PV installation for their community that hasn’t had reliable electricity in years, and another one in Brazil who was developing solar modules to install on boats sailing through the Amazon. The multicultural aspect to it was just priceless.”
Venkat, a supply chain consultant in California: “The genuine interest of teachers in teaching and imparting knowledge to students is quite evident, and it’s impressive.”
Presentation is Everything: Look for Online-First Programs
edX online courses are designed for online learning, where presentation is key. Recordings of on-campus classes don’t always cut it — be on the lookout for programs that demonstrate an understanding of online learning as a unique environment with its own strengths and opportunities for engagement.
Harleen, a data security specialist and consultant at Microsoft: “While completing the courses, I was most impressed by the way that the material was presented. It was exciting! Also, the mixture of quizzes and short videos helped me to remain engaged.”
Tobias, an investment manager for renewable energy projects: “The structure of our tasks and group work framed by the theory in nice videos and written form was a real catalyst for better understanding.”
Efi, a supply chain professional in Greece: “It was so well structured and the professors gave us great guidelines and accurate answers and examples to our questions.”
Anthony, an aspiring programmer: “‘Community’ is always an important context, but in this case I especially liked where problem sets were made ‘real’ and interactive. The experience provides you with real, involved practice. The interactive integrated development environment (IDE) and online interactive compiler developed for the course were especially helpful in that regard.”
Leverage Your Learning to Get That Promotion or Change Careers
As the pace of technology hastens, skills gaps widen. Companies are increasingly looking for employees with a versatile mix of human skills, business enabler skills, and digital building blocks skills that often aren’t transferable from degrees working professionals may have received years ago. Online courses provide the opportunity to gain skills in these areas and set yourself apart, in your current company or future endeavors.
Mike, a change management consultant in the U.K.: “The culture of completing your education directly after school and then not stepping into a classroom again for the remainder of your career is fast becoming obsolete. Technology and society is changing at such a rapid pace, that you have to actively keep yourself ahead of the curve! edX is the perfect place to do this. For those of you that are actively looking for a new job or a career change, this has to be your most powerful weapon! [Even] if you have completed a couple of modules and committed to completing the course, add it to your CV and state the predicted completion date. None of my interviewers were concerned that I was still a few months away from completion, they were much more interested in learning about the content of the course and how I felt I could apply that knowledge.”
Mandela, a nurse-turned-project officer in Ghana: “While taking the program I was working as a nurse, where I come into contact with a lot of politicians and organizational leaders. When they heard me talk about what I learned from the MicroMasters® program, they were impressed. One professor I met during my job was so impressed that he put me into contact with someone at an NGO. There, I interviewed and got a job as a project officer on a USAID/ADVANCE funded project in agro chemical container disposal advocacy in Ghana. I actually was just offered a new job with a Canadian NGO, Basecamp Ghana, as a national programs coordinator. I owe my recent success to my MicroMasters® program, as it was the first step towards my dream career. And I even have the opportunity to have it count towards college credit if I choose to pursue the full Master of Leadership in Global Development degree at the University of Queensland. I was fortunate enough to win the University of Queensland Scholarship, which I will apply towards full Master Leadership in Global Development program.”
Nilaish, a researcher in the academic sector: “I gained a variety of skill sets including R-programming, Python, Azure ML, predictive analytics, applied mathematics, and algorithm writing. I had no previous technical background (Commerce graduate, MBA, and Ph.D. candidate in supply chain management), but these courses provided the practical platform to learn these sought-after techniques by employers in the current market.”
Harleen, a data security specialist and consultant at Microsoft: “Based on my experience, I have already recommended the program to my colleagues and friends looking to break into the world of data science! As I begin to explore and grow in my new role in the data security field, I work with many data scientists and the program has truly prepared me to work together with them as a team, since I am able to speak to them in their own language. The knowledge that I gained has both empowered me to make an exciting career change and also energized me to continue to learn more and more about data science.”
Just Get Started! Three Next Steps and Final Words of Encouragement
Not sure you’re ready to apply to a full online master’s program? Here are three steps you can take towards exploring your options.
- Try before you buy: edX courses are designed to be stackable, with the option of stacking courses into certificates or degrees. For example, some learners will try a course to test the waters, go on to complete a series of graduate-level courses that stack into a MicroMasters® program, and then apply to the university offering credit for the program and pursue an accelerated master’s degree.
- Check with your employer: Does your company offer tuition or digital learning reimbursements? If no or you’re not sure, suggest edX For Business to your manager.
- Get inspired: Read these final words of encouragement from our learners to motivate yourself to get started:
Larisa, a senior web developer in Texas: “A new educational endeavor can seem intimidating at first, but a quick visit to the course forums reveals that there are others in your situation who are looking forward to the challenge. You have nothing to lose, so try something new and expand your horizons.”
Andrew, a project manager at United Airlines in Denver: “I had a million and one reasons to not take the MicroMasters® program and push it off until later. My advice for edX learners is that if it crosses your mind that taking an offering or program is worth doing, chances are it is. Don’t let your hesitations get in the way of bettering yourself.”
Mikella, a student in St. Lucia: “I would tell new edX students to simply have fun. edX is such an amazing online learning platform. Some courses may be challenging, but have fun, try the exams and assignments to the best of your ability, and simply enjoy the class because edX courses are really enjoyable.”