Distance learning has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the 1990s. Technology and online education methodology have evolved since then, and online learning has grown to become a common alternative, or even addition, to traditional classrooms.

Despite the great advancements in distance education, and it being embraced from academic institutions of all varieties, a stigma has lingered around the topic for years. Negative perceptions exist, suggesting that online degrees are “less credible” than degrees earned in person.

But do these stigmas still exist today?

There are definitely differences when it comes to comparing the quality of one distance education program to another. But these differences stem from factors such as the curriculum, the technology, the accreditation or the institution itself – not from the modality in general.

We spoke with some business leaders with hiring experience to find out whether they view online degrees differently when evaluating job candidates. Their insights may be surprising.

Misconceptions of earning a degree online

“There is certainly some stigma around online education,” says Megan Marrs, a small business founder who has conducted her share of hiring for her own company. She explains that many people have a misconception that online degrees are easier to acquire or that they are “fake.”

“Of course, we know now that this is often not the case,” she explains. “There are tons of fantastic online education programs out there, making valuable knowledge accessible even to those who can’t accommodate traditional schooling.”

Distance learning has evolved significantly over the past few decades, thanks to technological advancements, evolving pedagogical strategies and the widespread increase in digital literacy. In fact, the lines are blurring between residential learning and distance learning, with hybrid programs becoming more and more common.

Still, the question remains: Do employers weigh online degrees differently when evaluating candidates?

Employer thoughts on online degrees

Does the modality through which a degree was earned matter to hiring managers? Does it detract from a candidate’s credibility — or could it actually work in their favor? The expert insight we gathered seems to suggest the latter.

“The modality of a degree is not important when I am hiring individuals,” says Theresa Miulli, CEO of The Intentional Classroom. “I am always looking for passion, commitment to their own learning, and the ability to grow.”

While the modality may be less significant, there are plenty of skills and experiences involved with distance learning that many employers rank highly. Let’s look at some of the advantages they tend to see in online degree graduates.

It signifies strong time management skills

To some, an online education can be especially impressive if it was earned in tandem with raising a family, working full time or both. It shows the candidate’s ability to set their own schedule, manage their time and balance priorities

“It makes absolutely no difference to me whether a degree comes from online or on campus,” says Laura Fuentes, Operator of Infinity Dish. She goes on to say she’s often more impressed by candidates who have earned their degree online while juggling multiple other priorities.

“The ability to manage your time well enough to complete your education on top of your typical work week is a valuable trait for most roles,” she adds.

It helps prepare graduates for remote work scenarios

In today’s world, remote work is more common than ever. One recent analysis from FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics reported a 44 percent increase in remote work in the past five years. And this is not accounting for the surge of companies requiring employees to telecommute as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When an employer encounters a candidate with an online degree, it’s a good sign they are capable of working in a remote environment. They have proven their ability to stay on task and diligently work through deadlines with little oversight – two very desirable qualities for any employee, especially those with remote positions.

“I actually like to see online degrees or digital education certificates when looking for applicants,” Marrs says. “My entire team is remote, and a lot of our onboarding consists of using documents and videos our team has created to take new hires through the processes they’ll be running, which is very reminiscent of distance education.”

It demonstrates digital literacy

There’s something to be said for someone who can navigate their entire educational career online. A digital savant is an attractive hire for virtually any employer these days.

“Hiring an online learner means I am hiring somebody who is proficient in digital communication and collaboration,” Miulli explains, adding that this can be a difficult trait to identify during the hiring process. “With this in mind, I am likely to give stronger consideration to somebody who has completed some type of hybrid or online program, as it shows commitment, ability and drive.”

Marrs agrees that the digital literacy skills exercised by online students are extremely valuable in the workplace. “An online degree shows a general competency for digital tools and dashboards and shows that the individual is accustomed to self-managed online learning,” she says. Her company, like many others, relies on employees to leverage digital resources and utilize virtual communication methods that distance learners are already familiar with.

Embracing online education

As you can see from these professional business perspectives, distance education is evolving and so are the perceptions that come along with it. As these modalities become more common, employers are starting to see the benefits online learners can bring to the workplace.

But not all online programs are created equal. As a higher education institution, it’s important to invest in the technology and immersive learning platforms that ensure distance learners are getting the most out of their education.

Learn more about all of the factors that go into creating a top-notch student experience in our infographic “Rethinking the Student Experience.”

Take your courses online with a healthy partnership.

Author: Kristina Ericksen

Kristina Ericksen is a content writer with four years of experience writing for higher education. She holds an English degree from Gustavus Adolphus College.