Does Your Online Learning Institution Make the Grade?

The best online educators meet these challenges head-on

Image: File Dr. Steve Perry

This post was written by Dr. Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. For more about the author, read his bio at the end of this post.

 The adoption of new technologies has increased the educational options available to continuing education students. One tech- driver has ushered in an entirely new era: that of online degree programs. While learning outside of a physical classroom setting was rare just a decade ago, in 2013 nearly half (45%) of the 21 million students in the U.S. took at least one online course.

[Related: Dr. Steve Perry Talks Leadership, Education, and Our Children]

A 2013 study conducted by Columbia University confirms that, along with a well-planned curriculum, factors such as clearly communicated goals and learning objectives, the successful use of technology, and an opportunity for personal interaction with instructors and other students are the main distinguishing factors in predicting the success of online students.

Despite the numerous advantages of learning online, such as flexibility, low cost, and access to a industry-leading curriculum, the industry is not without its challenges. Online educators face three key challenges in their journey toward mainstream industry and marketplace acceptance.

Challenge 1: Establishing a Relevant Curriculum

In the past, some institutions rushed to develop distance-learning education programs, resulting in substandard programs that failed to keep up with current business trends. Many times, academics who created these courses had not worked in the industry for years and were not up to date with marketplace demands.


Online curriculums should be constantly updated to reflect current trends, and they should be designed around people who have succeeded in the business world. A primary example is The Daymond John Certificate of Entrepreneurship, aimed at aspiring entrepreneurs, junior and mid-level managers, and is designed for real-world application. The program was created by the FUBU Founder and ‘Shark’ on ABC-TV’s Shark Tank, Daymond Johnand is ideal for students seeking practical business skills such as identifying market trends, bringing a new product or service to market, and learning strategies to start and grow a business.

Challenge 2: Ensuring That Students Develop Crucial Skills

Whatever a student’s area of study, there are certain skills that every employer prioritizes. According to a survey conducted by NACE, an association of professional engineers from around the world, the top three skills most desired by employers are the ability to make decisions and solve problems, strong verbal communication skills inside and outside the organization, and the ability to obtain and process relevant information.


One of the best ways to advance in your career and boost your salary is to learn more about your target industry. One way to do this is through certificate programs, which are shorter and more targeted than full degree programs. People who have earned professional certificates earn 34% to 39% more than those who have not, depending on their sex.

Institutions like the T.D. Jakes School of Leadership (full disclosure: the author has developed curriculum for the school with Daymond John) provide a range of both degrees and professional certificates in a variety of disciplines. Its Women’s Leadership Institute, for example, is a transformational, intensive leadership program that helps women refine leadership behaviors and competencies that will help them excel in the workplace

Challenge 3: Keeping Students Motivated

Finding the motivation to stay dedicated to academic pursuits can be tough because of the many distractions and commitments vying for an adult student’s time. The relaxed schedule and informal online learning environment can make such distractions even more difficult.


Online course syllabuses that outline the class schedule allow students to plan in advance for upcoming lectures, assignments and tests. By setting up a structured environment with clear deadlines and milestones, online schools can drastically reduce a student’s tendency to procrastinate and increase their ability to work and learn efficiently.

Today, 75% of small to mid-size businesses embrace online credentials. For people seeking to move up in their career, earning a certificate or degree from an online university can be an efficient, cost-effective, highly valued way to acquire a competitive edge in the marketplace, advance in their careers, and better ensure entrepreneurial success. Online learning is the future of education. As the adage goes, ‘the more you know, the more you grow.’

‘America’s Most Trusted Educator’ Dr. Steve Perry, MSW is a revered education expert and best-selling author of Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve – Even If It Means Picking a Fight among other titles. Dr. Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, is also the host of Save My Son, TVONE’s No. 1 docudrama. He may be reached online at