Professional development online: benefits and drawbacks


Every two years, thenumber of transistors on a computer chip doubles. This trend has roughly held true for the past 50 years and is expected to continue for decades. It even has a name in computer science circles: Moore’s Law, coined by the Intel co-founder who predicted this staggering rate of innovation in the size, processing power, and storage capacity of computers.

Humans have to work hard to keep pace.

Professional development programs have always been a way to upgrade your career. Now they’re about upgrading yourself. We don’t just sign-up for workshops, attend conferences, and complete skill certificates to get a promotion. We do so to prepare for our next job, for the job that doesn’t yet exist, or for the job those pesky robots won’t come along and steal.

The speed of technological innovation may be accelerating professional development requirements, but it’s also providing more options for obtaining advanced knowledge. Virtually every type of professional development program is now virtual. There are seminars viewed on the web, conferences hosted in the cloud, and degrees earned from your desktop.

The question now isn’t whether you’ll take a professional development program, but how. Online or face-to-face? To answer that, it’s important to ask some more specific questions on your lifestyle and learning preferences. Be honest with yourself here and you’ll select the right format for your professional development.

Do I need to balance my professional development with a busy work schedule?

Advantage: Online. An online workshop or class offers the most flexibility. The volume of work is the same, but it needn’t take place in long, sit-down sessions. You can sprinkle in lessons throughout the day, or set aside a period late at night after you’ve met your other responsibilities. And all of those hours spent commuting to the classroom? You can use those to study instead.

Am I on a tight budget for completing my professional development?

Advantage: Online. If you register for a conference or sign up for a workshop online, you’ll still pay the same fees as those arriving in-person. But the money saved on airfare and hotel costs is substantial. That means your company can afford higher quality development programs, and you’ll have more choices if you need to pay out of pocket.

Do I need a defined environment to stay focused on my development?

Advantage: Face-to-Face. Technology has made videoconferencing a more seamless and personal experience, but you’re always free to wander. Wherever you take an online professional development program, there will be numerous distractions available. Getting the most out of these programs requires discipline, and sometimes an enclosed physical environment is useful in order to focus.

Is professional networking critical for success in my field?

Advantage: Face-to-Face. A good instructor, trainer or presenter will engage and converse with his students even in an online format. But it’s difficult to interact with other attendees unless they’re sitting across the room. That might be a good thing (one less distraction from the lesson at hand), but if you’re looking to network with professionals who can offer opportunities to put your new knowledge to good use, you might want to fly or drive out to the event in person.

Are the skills I need highly specific?

Advantage: Online. You’ll find professional development opportunities of high (and low) quality no matter where you look. But if the expertise you need only applies to a small network of professionals, there may not be a critical mass of students to offer it where you live. Or there may not be a qualified instructor nearby. In these cases, you’ll have better results online, where you can seek out the specialized lessons and ensure your geography isn’t limiting your learning potential.

Note: this post originally appeared on the blog for UNCG Online