The cost to receive an education seems like it won't stop rising as public and private colleges raise tuition every year. Higher education's increased costs are hurting low-income students by forcing them to take on more student debt or drop out altogether. Those fortunate enough to afford the rising costs are paying off students loans for longer periods. College degrees are a requirement for most well-paying jobs, which makes people feel the need to burden themselves with the expense of earning another degree.
Fortunately, technology is stepping in to offer cost-effective ways of learning new skills. EdTech companies offer subscription services that are significantly cheaper (if not free) than learning the same skills at a local college. Many of these skills are directly transferable to jobs or side-hustles. For as little as $100 a year, you could take any number of online classes that would cost thousands at a traditional school.
Ambitious individuals no longer need to lock themselves in a library to learn as much as possible. Mobile devices, podcasts, and audiobooks make learning possible no matter where you are in the world or what you are doing. The dreaded commute is becoming a learning space for drivers who listen to podcasts and books that push their thinking. Every moment of downtime can be a learning moment with e-books or scholarly articles available on mobile devices.
Podcasts and e-books loaned from the library are free tools that self-starters use to gain knowledge about their current or future careers. These resources, which give people access to experts in fields that would only be accessible via magazines and newspapers, are available for free to the entire public.
There are more formal forms of free education options online, as well. Websites like Coursera and Udemy give learners access to thousands of hours of free educational content. They even offer online certificates or college degrees for computer science skills. You have to pay to earn the certificate, but the learning materials are entirely free. The free resources are excellent tools for figuring out what topics you are interested in before pursuing a specialization for your bachelor's degree.
Until recently, earning a degree entailed attending weekly classes (in-person or online), weekly homework, and a course-encompassing final project. The regimented schedule created conflicts for people who couldn’t take time off work or had other responsibilities during normal business hours. The advent of self-paced courses gives people who have unpredictable schedules the chance to earn higher degrees in the free time they can find.
Self-paced courses often don't require a professor to monitor learning or even deliver lectures since everything is available all at once. A professor might teach the same class for years, with only minor alterations to the content. For this reason, video-based and static courses are feasible and can earn accreditation to count towards associate's degrees.
Self-paced courses are largely available for free through massive open online courses (MOOCs). These free classes are from prestigious universities with names like Harvard, Yale, and MIT. They aren't just entry-level courses either; they cover complex physics theorems and innate architectural eras. Basically, if there is a topic that interests you, you can learn about it in a free online course.
Technology is creating a catch 22 by lowering the time and cost requirements for learning new skills. Technology is changing at a rapid pace, and the only way to keep up is to regularly learn new skills. Upskilling is a constant endeavor to stay on the leading edge of your industry. Because there are fewer barriers to learning new skills, employees have to keep learning new skills to ascend the corporate ladder. Those who don't earn their master's degrees are more likely to be stagnant in their current position.
Luckily, upskilling is just as important to employers as it is to employees. Companies that don't invest in giving their employees new skills will lose out when their competition offers newer, faster, and more comprehensive services. Companies offer significant tuition benefits to help employees develop new skills through college or certification courses; some even cover the entire bill.
Technology is helping to reduce college costs while increasing the need to continually invest in education. Overall, technology is making education more affordable and helping it have a longer-lasting impact.