Each week we meet via Twitter for #IOLchat to discuss current issues related to online learning. Participants include students, instructors, eLearning companies, schools, publishers, and instructional designers.
Whether it's required as part of a formal degree program or recommended for entry into a particular field, students across academic disciplines are looking for practical experience. These opportunities may take on various forms, such as internships, clinical or practicum hours, volunteer service, and other relevant positions. This week participants shared advice for students interested in getting practical experience in their field of study before graduating and moving into the job market. Here's a summary of the discussion:
How can online students get relevant practical experience while they are studying?
- Many online learners are non-traditional students who are employed while taking courses. New projects, in class and at work, are a great way to gain new experiences.
- Internships are a possibility – may be required, but if not, students can also seek out opportunities on their own.
- Professional associations, in your career field and through groups like Toastmasters, can help you gain experience and learn to communicate effectively.
- Online communities and activities through platforms like LinkedIn can be useful as sources of group discussions, webinars, workshops, etc.
- Online collaboration activities can give students opportunities for practical experience, depending on their career field of interest, as well as new knowledge and skill-building venues.
- It doesn't have to be a formal position – short-term and/or informal avenues could also lead to practical experience.
What should students look for when pursuing internship and other practical experience opportunities?
- First identify your goals. Then consider the value of an opportunity: what will be gained in terms of experience, contacts, skills, etc.?
- Look for online learning communities that may be associated with networks, employers, schools, and training providers.
- Look for opportunities that will provide the best real-life experience of practicing the job you are interested in pursuing.
- Don't pick your opportunity based solely on financial return. The big picture is more important. Look at future potential: career information, skills gained.
- Look for ways in which your education and coursework are applied in the workplace, and how you can make the transition from school to the workforce.
What are the pros and cons of unpaid positions?
- Pros: Learning about a job or career. Working with the tools in a workplace setting. Professional networking opportunities.
- Cons: The student's financial responsibilities may mean that unpaid options are not really options. In some cases you can work long hours and at undesirable tasks with little personal gain – although there is a call to stop this kind of practice.
What advice do you have for students getting ready for summer positions?
- Don't sell yourself cheap. If you are doing work that will benefit your employer you should receive compensation.
- Online learners may have an advantage in that they are able to schedule coursework around internships and jobs.
- Be willing to learn and work. When given a task (no matter how small) do it as if the company's success is dependent on your work. Make a lasting, positive impression so employers think about you for future openings.
What about students who haven't yet found or been placed in summer positions? Is it too late?
- Search everywhere. Use resources from your online learning community as well as from outside your school (LinkedIN, Monster, etc.).
- Don't wait to start looking: start now. Know what skills you have to offer and what skills you want to develop.
- If you don't know many people in your field, seek them out through online communities.
- Understand that it could take many hours, and rejections, to find the perfect fit.
- Networking, networking, networking – seek out online opportunities, university and career fairs, professional organizations.
- Make direct contact with companies – email or call to ask about positions as soon as possible. Ask for advice, they might have friends in other companies.
- Don't just contact hiring managers, also consider employees that could refer you and provide advice.
- Consider adopting a mindset that you are your own company – you are the marketing department, so sell yourself.
- Think outside the box. Practical experience opportunities may also be found through contract offices and employment/recruiting firms.
- Know your field and be involved in relevant communities and community activities, build your contact list, and make sure your online profiles (i.e., LinkedIn) are updated.
- Get out there both online and in person. Make it an ongoing effort to build and sustain your professional network.
- Always ask others what they do. You never know, it may be something in your field.
- Even if you don't get a "summer break" in your program, this advice applies throughout the year.
Thanks to @ODU_DL, @eSKYsolutions, @DrBruceJ, and @The_Raheel for participating in the live event, and to @NoodleEducation for the mentions and RTs! Help us to continue the discussion by adding your thoughts via the comments area on this page.
For more from the most recent live session, take a look at this week's chat feed below. Our past chats can be found on the archives page.
This week's read-aheads:
Practice, Practice, Practice: Internships and Applied Experience from Inside Online Learning
Questions to Ask of Internship Employers from Boston College
This week's chat feed:
Image credit: blumpy, Flickr, CC-BY