The Value Of Online Education

The current labour market requires a university qualification in order to obtain employment. That’s pretty much a general rule. If you disagree, try obtaining well paid employment without either a university qualification or a trade certification. You will be an outlier if you are successful.

The value of online education, in my opinion, is that it enables self-starters to obtain the sort of education that a university qualification should be giving them but doesn’t. For reasons I haven’t yet wrapped my head around, my learning at university has been less than my learning online.

There is a major problem with learning online though – it’s only possible to realise the value of what you’ve taught yourself once you are employed and utilising those skills. There is a chicken and egg problem here – a lot of young people will not be given the chances they need to figure out where their comparative advantage lies in the labour market.

This increases the likelihood of sub-optimal investment in the university qualification itself. What degree you take matters, but what you major in matters even more. The Ministry of Education recently released a study showing that some majors clearly have an earnings premium over other majors.

In that sense, if you feel like you’re not learning anything valuable at university, online education is the recovery tool. Without forking out $800 a paper to simply jump through the hoops, you can exchange your time in exchange for far more interesting course content and skills.

This links into what Tyler Cowen was talking about in Average Is Over with respect to conscientiousness. If you can work through a textbook outside of class, do the problems and build a solid understanding of how that area you’re interested in works, you can do it for other fields as well. There’s a cumulative effect to applying yourself to online education – you build experience using the tools, you build experience sticking to a schedule and you gain more knowledge with which to identify other knowledge gaps to be closed.

I like learning new things and developing new skills – particularly IT related ones – but if it wasn’t for online education and the enormous amount of free resources available on the internet, my love of learning would have been destroyed by university. That’s something I’ve discussed at length with other people who have similar interests – rigid orthodoxy at university might signal reliability to future employers but it drums out any creative spark necessary for competitiveness in the skills market.