The inspiration came to me strangely enough from celebrity Sharon Cuneta, who then just recently passed the entrance exams for UP Open University (UPOU) and announced her plans to enroll and eventually earn an Associate in Arts degree.
One master’s degree later, I found myself retired from corporate life and homeschooling one of my daughters. With time on my hands, I discovered we could study alongside each other from the comfort of our home.
Real-life advice before taking an online course
Online learning has exploded in the last decade, and prestigious colleges around the world are setting up their own open universities or offering online courses. Before you get lost in the vast space that is known as the Internet, however, here are some hard-learned lessons from my online education experience that may help make the road ahead more manageable for you.
1. Don’t go overboard with the number of subjects.
On my first semester with UPOU, I was surprised to see only two subjects or six units in my enrollment slip. I told the registrar I want to add one or two more subjects, and she shot me down. Her advice was to finish the semester, and then we can talk.
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When the second semester rolled around, I wanted to hug her the minute I saw her. The first semester was hard — so hard — I almost quit. I forgot that it had been 15 years since I had readings and homework and exams. Plus I was no longer a full-time student but a full-time adult with many demands on my time.
The registrar said that many students do not return after the first semester, so she was glad to see me back, and that I listened to her advice. For the second semester, I was haggling with her to let me enroll for just one subject!
You’re not the only one going back to school. In a way, your entire family will be along for the ride. They have to respect your “study” time and support you in big and small ways to reach the finish line.
My husband and I got into arguments when he saw I was burning the candle on both ends for my graduate studies. I could only log on for schoolwork after the girls were asleep, and I would take two to three hours. And in another three hours, I have to get up and start a new day of chores, work, and more studying.
I had to explain to my husband and to my kids why it was vital for me to go back to school, and over time, we established a schedule that gave me more sleeping hours. Three years later, we all trooped to UP, and it really felt like we all graduated together!
If you are working, get the support of your boss as well. She or he has to understand why you will not be available to work on weekends and will have to take a day or half a day off sometimes.
An employer who wants to have you on their team for the long-term can only welcome the news that you want to develop new skills and add academic credentials. If he or she gives you a hard time, dig deeper into your boss’s thinking, or you could start looking for a transfer or a new job.
4. Pick your poison, er, passion, well.
The beautiful thing about graduate or further studies is they do not have the same pressures as earning an undergraduate degree. In my case, I already had a job that paid enough to cover our needs and some wants. Maybe the same is right for you so best to choose a subject that you are really passionate about and will be committed to seeing to the end.
It will not be an easy road, and there are many hurdles. Maybe you don’t like professors or classmates. Yes, you only meet them online, but that does not make them any easier to bear. Or you are suddenly given a new assignment at work that will take up more of your time. Only a course that you feel strongly about will make you stay the course (sorry for the pun), and make sure you get your money’s worth.
5. Check for scholarships because every bit helps.
UPOU tuition is minimal, but add the books, my need for a personal laptop and WiFi connection, and these all add up. So I looked around for help and found it in my employer of all places. It turns out they have a policy of refunding tuition costs depending on the grades you receive. As long as you can prove that your graduate studies will benefit the company or your current work, they will sign off. Maybe you will be as fortunate.
After I left corporate life, I decided to enroll for certificate courses online. In the early days, some of the courses were free as they were trying to build a strong base of students (plus testing the system bugs on us). Now it seems everything has a price tag, but if you are diligent enough, you can come across vouchers and free courses still.
Some sites also offer financial aid, and I found one at Coursera.org. Be truthful and ask only for the help you need because others also deserve assistance, and there should be enough to go around.
There are many options for online courses out there such as Coursera.org, and Iversity.org. You also have Lynda.com with its vast video tutorial library that’s like Netflix for education; Udemy.com with over 30,000 courses, some of which were designed by users themselves; Udacity.com which is the choice of tech-oriented students; or even Masterclass.com where celebrity and industry professionals teach classes on skills you want to learn such as Gordon Ramsay for cooking and Martin Scorsese for filmmaking.
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Before you set off on your academic journey, here are some information on the online learning institutions I have used and loved. I would recommend starting with these.
University of the Philippines – Open University
Widely known as UPOU, they are the pioneers in online teaching and learning in the Philippines. UPOU offers courses to working students who want to get a college, masteral, or doctoral degree but do not have the time to go to the campus personally. They can study on a long-distance basis at their own time, place and pace, through the Internet or once-a-month consultations with their advisers.
It’s always been my dream to study abroad, so I fell in love with Coursera on the first click. The platform provides access to top universities and organizations across the world by offering their courses online. With Coursera, you can choose to enroll in one course, which can be free or cost as much as US$99.
Harvard Manage Mentor at hbr.org
When I was working full-time, I would clock in 12 to 16 hours a day, leaving little time for training. But because personal development was a key result area, my employer offered us access to Harvard Manage Mentor.
There’s some cache to being able to say I took Harvard courses, so I made time for this and did not regret it. They offer a wide range of courses that address critical management skills. If your employer does not provide this, you could choose to invest in yourself and pick a topic (about US$49.95 a year), or curated course collection (US$125 a year), or comprehensive collection which means access to all courses (at US$575 every year).