I recently attended an impromptu reunion between my husband and his very best friends from college. As I watched them reminisce over their college years, which took place at one of the most expensive universities in the country, I couldn't help but think about the fact that my husband, one of the most notable marketers around, never took a marketing class while in school. And although I was a very focused marketing and advertising communications student at Emerson College, most of my friends ended up working in vastly different industries than what they had prepped for during school, too.
As my own daughters grow up, I frequently think about the value of the conventional college experience. My 10 year-old spends more time on Code Academy than she does with her nose in a textbook, and when my six year-old wants to know something that I don't know, she simply asks, "Google it, Mommy." The Internet has undoubtedly changed the way you learn.
Below are just some of the ways that the Internet has made it easier to receive an education:
A massive open online course (MOOC) is a class with unrestricted enrollment that takes place on the web. MOOCs are generally free and taught by university professors--often big-name academics that are incredibly appealing. MOOCs vary in terms of quality, and MoocAdvisor.com launched recently to enable users to review MOOCs.
Boot camps and certifications:
I attended a women in leadership conference once in which a speaker said that when she felt that she wasn't confident around legal issues surrounding her business, she went to law school, and immediately felt more confident. That resonated with me, especially as I am someone who became a CEO but never got an MBA--and learned the ins and outs of running a business through the school of experience. I've been considering going back to school for a while now, but in the interim decided that I just needed to learn about organizing my profit-and-loss statement to make it simpler and easier to analyze. After some initial Googling, I found an online course that offered a certificate around basic finance for business owners. It was $149. It taught me exactly what I needed to know, and I was thrilled to take the course lessons and incorporate them into my business. There are a multitude of online boot camps and certifications, and though there is usually a fee associated, it's typically nominal.
What if you wanted to go to an accredited university, but life got in the way? Colleges and universities that recognize this challenge have started to make it easier too. Associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees are all available online, allowing you to go to an accredited university that maintains the standards of a more traditional education, but do it remotely. In the fall, I will be teaching a master's course in interactive media at Quinnipiac University Online, which will give students a full academic experience, but at the convenience that today's busy society desperately craves. If I ever were to go back to school to get my MBA, the only possible way that I could manage it would be to take the courses online.
Of course, when I sat at my husband's college reunion, I thought about some of the things I loved most about school, like when I met friends I'd have for life. The question, of course, is whether or not that experience is worth it: If you could get the same learning and training on your own schedule at your own pace, would you? Colleges and universities need to face this reality, and they need to be prepared for how students respond.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.