Distance Learning Programs Offer New Teaching and Job Opportunities

Distance Learning Programs Offer New Teaching and Job Opportunities

While many teachers are seeing the effects of unemployment, some are discovering new opportunities in the online teaching field.

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A recent survey of more than 1,800 Course Hero users revealed that 67.5 percent have or would pay to take an online course.

Let's face it: There's nothing new about distance learning programs. Colleges, universities, business and vocational schools are just a few of the learning institutions that have begun to offer online classes to their students.

In fact, according to a recent Pew Internet report, among the leaders of for-profit colleges and universities, 71 percent report that their institutions offer classes online and more than half (54 percent) say these classes offer the same value as classes taken in person.

But one additional factor that has arisen from the increase of online learning opportunities is new job openings for some professors who are still without work. What's more, teachers who are currently employed are finding new outlets for their skills.

"Distance learning provides a tremendous opportunity for teachers and other professionals to share their content and expertise with a broader audience," said Andrew Grauer, CEO of Course Hero, provider of online education tools. "It’s a tough economic time and people all over the map are looking for ways to supplement their income. In this way, we provide what we hope is a valuable resource for educators. Creating more, accessible content is always a benefit to learners."

Course Hero's newest program is their Course Creation Platform, which allows educators and experts to build and publish courses that can are made available for free or a set price.

Teachers Can Create a Brand

"Creating a strong online presence gives educators an opportunity to enhance their personal brand," Grauer said. "Online courseware sites like Course Hero can help boost an expert’s income in the short term by providing a revenue model and distribution channel for their content."

This ability for qualified experts –– who are not necessarily educators in the traditional sense –– to produce online content, of course, points to another factor in the distance learning trend, said Wayne Smutz, Ph.D., executive director of the Penn State World Campus and associate vice president for Academic Outreach. Smutz said that, while programs like Course Hero offer a different style of learning from qualified experts, the programs and MOOCs within various institutions are often employing existing teachers and professors, meaning unemployed educators are not necessarily seeing more jobs at universities because of distance learning.

"Certainly, there are large numbers of non-tenure line faculty being used in online learning by many institutions," said Smutz, who has been involved with developing Penn State's online campus since before its launch in 1998. "But, there isn’t likely to be a huge influx of new teachers and professors other than normal turnover. If someone develops a business model that can show how MOOCs can be financially successful, this could change."

Qualified Teachers Could Run Their Own MOOCs

While Smutz was not confident about whether or not unemployed teachers and professors would find jobs within higher learning institutions as a result of distance learning, he did point out that online programs might help drive "the acceptance of knowledge and skills regardless of whether they obtained from a 'qualified' source, like a college or university."

"That is, the availability of the technology to make knowledge and skills accessible anytime, anywhere means that it is possible that colleges and universities will not ultimately be the arbiters of 'appropriate' or 'qualified' knowledge and skills," Smutz said. "As long as someone can demonstrate that they know something or can do something to a potential employer, why would they have to have a degree?"

Course Hero is a shining example of how qualified individuals across the board –– not just educators –– might take advantage of distance learning opportunities and earn an income as a result.

A recent survey of more than 1,800 Course Hero users revealed that 67.5 percent have or would pay to take an online course, showing there is a market for quality online courseware. There is also an appetite for hearing from experts outside of academia with 50.6 percent of respondents saying they would be interested in taking a course from an industry leader and 31.5 percent are interested in learning from a successful executive.

Other new and emerging online learning programs include ASSISments, Coursera and iTunes U, an Apple app that, like Course Hero, allows educators and other experts to upload lectures for students. Students can play video or audio lectures and take notes that are synchronized with the lecture. They can also read books and view presentations, and check off assignments as they complete them.

"We believe experts take all forms and that prospective students want to hear from a variety of different voices," Grauer said. "Clearly, users find value from traditional educators and much of the content in our current course catalog includes snippets from lectures from university professors. However, we think it’s important to offer diverse perspectives and invite experts of all types –– whether they’re teachers, students, successful executives or passionate individuals –– to contribute to our learning platform."

Online Learning is Changing Rapidly

These facts, of course, open a whole new door when seeking a modern day definition of online learning and how it will define the role of traditional universities and colleges. And while the manner in which that will affect jobs for educators might not yet be discernible, distance learning experts, like Smutz are confident that the world of online learning –– and the jobs that may come with it –– is here to stay for the long haul.

"The worlds of work and knowledge are constantly changing now," Smutz said. "The benefit of online learning is that it allows individuals to fit learning into their time schedules so they do not have to show up on a campus at a certain time . . . That’s always attractive to new graduates."

Quick Facts:

  • Seventy-one percent of colleges and universities report that their institutions offer classes online.
  • Distance learning provides a tremendous opportunity for teachers and other professionals to share their expertise with a broader audience.
  • One benefit of online learning is that it allows individuals to fit learning into their schedules.

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Associate's Degrees in Education
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Making a Big Career Change: Chemist To Teacher
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