Thursday, October 30, 2014

Distance Learning: A Mental Checklist

Learning is a lifelong journey, and even if you've already completed your schooling, you may seek to continue your education. Maybe you need a refresher, or an upgrade, or maybe you just want to get a hobby. But it's a busy world, and the older you get, the less time you have to sit in a classroom. A course in distance learning can be a wonderful way to enhance and complete your post-secondary education, while still leaving time to give the rest of your life the attention it deserves.

The experience isn't compromised, though. You still get to participate in a program led by an instructor with industry-relevant experience, with the goal of teaching you useful life skills. You simply don't have to devote the time to enter a classroom. But going along with this, you still have to make sure you're prepared to go back to school, even if you don't literally have to go back to a school. If you've decided you want to give it a whirl, here's five things to keep in mind before beginning your foray into distance learning.

1) Know what you want to get out of it
Firstly, it's important to examine your motivation for continuing your education. Do you need to upgrade your existing career, or get a new one entirely? Are you doing this for business or pleasure?

Any approach is fine. One of the benefits of continuing education is that it can fulfill so many different purposes, as a career enhancement, a life-changer, or simply entertainment on the side. But what you want out of it will affect your approach. If you're participating for pleasure, or to pick up a hobby, don't stress and treat it like a do-or-die scenario. On the flip side, if your career is banking on this education, give the course the respect, attention and priority it deserves.

2) Choose your subject
Now that you know why, focus on the what. Centennial College possesses a broad variety of continuing education courses, many of which have distance learning options. Knowing why you're taking a course goes along way towards narrowing down that list. Choose what you need for your career, and pick something that's the right mix of relevant and engaging. Simply emphasize the engagement angle if it's for fun.

3) Do you want to learn online or via correspondence?
There's more than one way to learn from a distance, with different elements to each method. Firstly, you have the option of doing your classes entirely online, receiving notes and assignments through a 24-hour virtual classroom and submitting assignments through email.

An advantage to this approach is that it's paperless and confined to a single workspace in the form of your computer.

But perhaps you don't have access to a computer regularly, or maybe the internet is too distracting to work next to. Or maybe you feel you learn better when you read and write with physical materials. In that case, you can do print-based or correspondence courses, where your materials are mailed to you. Assignments can be dropped off at the college, or mailed in. Either way, you can communicate with your instructor via email or on the phone, so that aspect's identical.

4) Know your workspace
Regardless of you preference for digital or physical work, you'll need a good, reliable place to do it in. Ask yourself where you'll be doing this work.Your home may be the obvious answer, but think on it in a bit more detail. You need to ensure you pick a space where you can focus and do your work in peace, be it a desk in your room, or a couch in a living room. But you may also have to accept that your home isn't always an ideal space. It could be distracting, or messy, or full of family and friends, or a television or other entertainment that calls to you. Consider leaving that space if necessary. Libraries are excellent places to do work. So are community centres, or even the coffee shop down the road.

There's plenty of options. Don't leave it up to chance. Know where you're working before you even begin.

5) Keep a regular schedule
One of the advantages of distance education is its flexibility. You can fit it around other, more immediately pressing responsibilities, like family or work. However, it's still school, and you still need to pass. Discipline is required, and that includes scheduling. If you're serious about your schooling, make one and stick to it. Know what time you have to block off, and make sure that when that time comes around, you're in your workspace, with your papers or your computer, ready to hit the books. Granted, that time can be whenever you want it to be, but it should still be stuck to. Find a place and a time to learn and do assignments, and do whatever you can to make sure that's when you work.

Distance learning can be educational and convenient, allowing you to advance your career and life when you have the time, in a place you're comfortable with. Approaching it with the right attitude will allow you to make the most of it, and engage in a truly enriching life experience.

Monday, October 27, 2014

On Broadening Your Studies in College: A Personal Tale

So, you're leaving high school behind for college, and have sat down to begin choosing your college courses. You know what you want to go to school for, you've picked your area of study, and you've registered. Now that you're picking those courses, you may find yourself staring at a page of mandatory electives, or areas of study your program covers that you're not interested in. If you're fortunate enough to enter college knowing what you want to do in life, you may ask yourself why you should care about these extra courses. After all, in high school, we all had at least one subject we didn't like. Whether it was math, or french, or geography, there was at least one class that we were glad to leave behind when we arrived at college.But don't write electives off, and don't be afraid to take classes that seem to have little to do with your chosen profession. It isn't the same in college, with its emphasis on giving students valuable, useful life skills that open a path to employment. Take, for example, the case of Anthony Geremia, a student who benefitted hugely from an area of study he didn't originally think he needed.

Anthony entered Centennial College as part of its joint program with the University of Toronto, studying Journalism. He knew what he wanted to do, and that was write stories. English and essays were his strong suit, and he was going to parlay that into a career creating copy for newspapers, magazines, websites, and radio. But, as part of the course load, he was required to study digital photography, and even needed to purchase his own digital SLR camera to do so. Anthony balked at this. He wasn't into photography, and didn't intend to pursue a career in it. As far as he was concerned, he was a writer, not a visual artist. But he needed to for the program, and so he did. Over the course of two semesters, he grudgingly learned all about the camera, photo composition, and Photoshop. Little did he know that he would soon be grateful he had.

When school ended and Anthony searched for part time work, it turned out that his photography skill made him extremely appealing to employers. Freelance photography opened doors to easy money and part-time work, and an entirely different, fun career path. He wound up working for a newspaper as a photographer, a school photo company taking class pictures, and a school board doing photography and making media for their summer camp programs. It was that last one that inspired him to change tracks in life. He'd enjoyed doing media work so much that he eventually returned to Centennial for a grad certificate in Corporate Communications and Public Relations. And he'd earned enough money from his work that a post-grad was within the realm of financial possibility. Indeed, most of the money he made was thanks to photography, and the opportunities for employment it gave him.

And to think, all of these opportunities came from a subject he hadn't even wanted to take. So, don't write electives off. When picking your courses, dabble. Choose unusual, strange things you have no experience in, and expand your skill set. You never know what you'll turn out to be good at, and what will give you a job, money, and a career. College is about picking up useful life skills, so there's never really a wrong class to take. You may just discover a new path in life, and be happier for it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

5 Reasons Why College is The Right Choice

If you're coming out of high school, it's hard to avoid a certain bias against community college. University is seen as having prestige, while college is for those that couldn't make it there. The truth is, when you look at the world we live in, college is one of your best choices for getting your career going. Colleges are about putting down the textbook, getting your hands dirty, and learning life skills, for gainful employment. Here are five reasons why college may be right for you:

1) You need a job when it's all over.
According to StatsCan, the gap between adult and youth employment rates is high throughout Ontario, with Toronto's youth employment rate sitting at 43.5%. It's hard finding work right now, because everyone's looking. If you want to stand out, you'll need something to separate yourself from the scores of young people with bachelor's degrees. You need a shortcut, a way in, and that way is through the college system. That's because…

2) Colleges give you skills you'll actually use
That's how you distinguish yourself from the crowd: Anyone can be a learner, but you make yourself into someone who can actually use the things they've learned.

A pair of examples from Centennial College: If you wanted to go into media, you could go to a university to learn writing, theory, and best practices. However, if you attended the college's programs, you'd go to the Story Arts Centre, and have access to a working television studio, video, audio and post production facilities, and digital imaging labs with the latest software. More importantly, you'd learn how to use them, and produce content to put in your portfolio.

Another example: Say you want to be a nurse. You can study medical sciences at a university, or you can gain practical, on-the-ground experience at the Nursing Lab at Morningside Campus, designed to replicate a real hospital floor as accurately as possible, ensuring that you know exactly what you'll be doing when you graduate.

But not everyone has the foresight coming out of high school to pick that path. Fortunately, if that's the case, you haven't been locked out of the experience. That brings us to another advantage…

3) Colleges are perfect if you need an upgrade
If you've already gone down one post-secondary path, and have decided you need to pursue an alternative, colleges have you covered with a broad variety of graduate certificate programs. Short and affordable, they're designed for people that have already completed post-secondary education, and are looking to acquire a new set of practical skills, to make themselves employable. And speaking of employability…

4) Colleges can clear the path to employment for you. Take a moment and ask yourself: What does life after school look like to you? Job applications? Interviews? There's a way to cut to the front of the line.

Centennial College lets you cut the search out, with many of its programs geared towards getting students involved with employers before even entering the job market. Firstly, of course, there's the broad selection of co-op programs. On top of that, many of their programs have field placements built into them, letting you enter the workforce and develop a network before you even graduate. The school's Applied Research and Innovation Centre is also dedicated to getting students involved in research and development projects with outside companies.

That's the secret to employability: Networking. Getting an in with a company. If you're lucky, they'll hire you out of the program. And even if they don't, you have contacts, and a network to use. You've beat the rush. If this hasn't convinced you, there's one more factor…

5) You don't have to give that university education up. Believe it or not, you can have it both ways, thanks to their joint programs. You'll go to a University to learn the theoretical aspects, head to college to learn the practical side, and at the end of it all walk away with both a degree and a diploma. Currently, Centennial is partnered with the University of Toronto and Ryerson University for different programs. Get the university experience, get the college skills, and get employed today.

It's a tough job market out there, with the work only going to those who stand out. Colleges can make you leap out of the crowd, by giving you useable, practical skills, programs that fit your needs and a way to get directly involved in the job market you want to be in. If you're ready to work, they're ready to see you put to work. Have a look at what the college has to offer and get your career moving.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

College Students: It's not Just about Grades

Making the transition from high school to college can seem intimidating. Colleges in Toronto can be similar to high school in some ways, but very different in other, more important ways. Perhaps the largest immediate change a college student will face is the fact that your instructors don't monitor you anymore, no longer taking attendance or measuring tardiness. You have more independence, and more options for where and how you get your work done, because you're now expected to monitor your own life. But there's one more shift in behaviour you need to keep in mind, and that's the fact that your education is no longer solely about grades.

Make no mistake, grades are important, and you still need to make them to pass your courses, and get your credits and diploma. But don't get hung up on them, or on the difference between a 79 and an 80. Instead, focus on the learning experience itself, and what you can get out of it.

Think about it for a moment. Why do you go to college? The idea behind college is to make its students employable, to help them launch their careers by providing them with useful, practical, industry-relevant job skills. Getting a solid GPA isn't a guarantee of a career, and an employer will never ask you during a job interview what your final grades in school were. It's less about what you know, and more about what you know how to do. Your skills are what will get you the job and launch your career.

Centennial College understands that it's no longer about memorizing the multiplication tables, or analyzing Mark Twain. It's about showing you how to do things and giving you job skills. When you're done your education, you'll be entering the working world, starting a career, earning money and becoming an independent human being. College is about preparing you for that, making sure you have those job skills.

So when you study, don't simply do it to pass the test, to generate the correct answer on command, to earn the A+. Instead of focusing on passing the test, focus on learning. What are you getting out of this course? What will you need to know when you enter the working world? Pick up the skills first, and pass the test second, and understand that the school is there to provide you with a service, and not the other way around. You're not there to make a professor happy, or to serve the school. Rather, the school is there there to provide you with something valuable, and that's job and life skills.

Don't be afraid to venture outside the classroom, too. You're in your program because you're passionate about something, meaning you're surrounded by others who are also passionate. If you have an interest, there's a club or organization on campus for you. And while you're doing that, get to know your instructors. In college, they'll be industry professionals with real-life experience, and more importantly, connections. You can network with them, and get a leg up in your chosen industry. Similarly, get to know your classmates. They're looking to become the next generation of industry professionals, after all, and can form the foundation of your own professional network of contacts.

College doesn't have to be intimidating. You're on your own, with unprecedented independence, and the freedom to learn at your own place. The structure of high school is gone, and with it, the need to focus solely on grades. Think differently about how and why you're learning, and you'll leave college with the tools and experience you need to enter the next chapter of your life.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Education for the Student on the Go

Everyone has a right to education. It's one of our most basic needs. Even if you've already been through the post-secondary experience, there's plenty of reasons to continue that education. Maybe you're looking to upgrade your career, or get into a new field, or ensure your skills are current and relevant. Or maybe it's not about your job at all, and you simply want the personal satisfaction of picking up a new skill or hobby.

However, a good school recognizes that there may be simple, practical, but very much present barriers to getting that education. For one reason or another, some people aren't able to haul themselves to a classroom. That's why distance learning exists. You can get educated, and you can live your life enlightened. More importantly, you can do it at your own pace, and fit it around the rest of your life instead of the other way around.

Maybe your 9-5 is occupied with work that you don't want to give up, or even can't. Everyone's life is different, and maybe you've got too many commitments in yours. You have a career, you have a family that needs attending to, your health is an issue, or transportation is an problem. Or maybe your life got busy, and you feel like you need to put your education on hold. Either way, you're in a place where you'd like to be at school, but it just doesn't feel realistic given your circumstances. At Centennial College, we want you to receive the education you're entitled to, no matter your situation.

The program comes in two flavours. The first is online, where materials are made available and submitted through the internet, and you're connected to a 24-hour digital classroom. Or, if the virtual space isn't practical for you, and want to physically handle assignments, there's a correspondence, or print-based option, where course materials are sent to your address. A facilitator, or tutor, assists you with assignments, which can be mailed in or physically brought to the school.

Make no mistake, your still getting the full college education experience. This kind of education will still provide you with the benefits of a physical classroom, including being led by an instructor who comes with relevant industry experience, a hallmark of Centennial College. In fact, you can talk to them any time, by phone or by email, and you have 24-hour access to the online classroom while still being in the comfort of your own home, so you may, in fact, have an advantage. In addition, the difficulty of these classes has not been scaled down. While you can work from the comfort of your own home, you need to be focused, self-motivated and self-disciplined, able to work independently. The real advantage lies in your new ability to pace yourself. If you feel ahead of the game, speed it up. If it's difficult, slow it down.

So, if you're ready to keep learning, and want to take things at a pace more suited to your busy life, have a look at what the college has to offer, and get educated on your terms.