Career Practitioner as Distance Educator: A Personal Perspective

by Sally Gelardin

Museums are including distance education to reach out to those who cannot attend workshops in person. Schools from K-12 on up are employing this teaching modality. Distance courses are available to the public in libraries, video stores, supermarkets, and subways. This article explains, through the author's personal perspective, how career professionals can learn through distant delivery systems, and why they should include distant education in their practice.

I empathize with the struggle that adult students have in commuting to both their work and school, while trying to maintain a reasonably sane personal and family life. In addition, I often receive requests for counseling from clients who do not live within driving distance to my practice. The desire to integrate my passion for counseling and teaching with other personal priorities and to share this delicate balancing act with others, contributed to my decision to create an online, self-paced job search and employability program for both students and clients. I can design online curriculum from anywhere in the world. Students can access the curriculum from their own computer, at their own pace, and in the comfort of their own home or environment of choice. We both have more peace of mind.

I digest the deluge of career information that is available through print and online media and share what I find of value with others in an orderly, sequential way. By receiving the information through an online course, clients gain a sense of accomplishment in mastering a body of knowledge. A 90-page (pdf) practitioner manual that accompanies the e-course helps career practitioners and educators guide their clients and students through the online material in the way that is best for them.

Online material can be available in both a structured format, with questions to reinforce learning, or in an abbreviated reference guide for clients who have immediate need for information. Instructors can assign individual course lessons as homework for job club sessions or choose lessons from the e-course that are most relevant to the client at any given moment; i.e., assign the interview lesson for a job seeker who has a scheduled interview the next week. Career educators can use the online program as a course in itself, as a "course within a course" or as online reference material.

Concerns about Online Learning
Following are concerns that career counselors have expressed about augmenting their practice by offering an online career course to their clients.

  • Online career courses will put me out of business.

If you have not been downsized and are still employed by large institutions, you probably have a humungous caseload. Alternatively, if you are in business for yourself or work for a smaller agency, you probably meet many clients who cannot afford the time or money for more than 3-5 counseling sessions. In both situations, an online course could supplement your services and help prepare your clients be job ready. The Web-based program that I designed covers the basics in job search strategies, thereby freeing up counselor time to help clients concentrate on specific employment barriers. The e-course also includes emerging occupational trends, An advantage of the e-course is that it can be updated easily, thereby continually improving content and providing career practitioners and their clients with the most current career and labor market information.

  • It is too impersonal and does not allow me to interact directly with my clients.

Just as personal relationships can be formed and develop through email correspondence (and in past centuries, letters), so online connections can be made through a distance course. Career professionals can pick up information about a client who is taking the online course by viewing written responses to discussion questions. Clues in responses to discussion questions include repetition of words or phrases, brevity or extensiveness of a response, clarity of content, written reflections, and choice of words. Career practitioners who are not sitting directly across from clients sharpen other senses. Students in the e-course can view each other's discussion question responses, and the instructor can choose to respond to individuals electronically or by phone.

  • The job search and career transition process can be very isolating if one is interacting solely online.

In my job search e- course, learning activities build upon the concept that job hunters find satisfying work more effectively by developing support systems. For example, students can either join or set up a virtual or in-person job club or lifework book club (or TGIF lifework movie club, or career-related listservs), in which they give and receive support from other job hunters, preferably with whom they have something in common.

Emerging Trends in Online Education
Those career professionals who choose to acquire continuing education credits can expect to see more and more online CEU courses in the future. The American Counseling Association is offering online CEU courses and readings, and the NCDA Professional Development Committee is exploring that possibility. "Using technology in career development and job search" was one of the top three activities identified by respondents to the 2004 NCDA Professional Development Survey. In addition, "online courses" were among the top three delivery methods chosen by respondents. Online learning is growing in the field of career development. The growing process is sometimes uncomfortable, but worth exploring.

As we make our way through an uncharted virtual world and uncertain global economy, we have many job search balls to juggle. Online learning can help pave the way in a comprehensive, efficient, and in-depth manner that saves travel cost and time. You are welcome to join me in this delivery system that digests information into useful knowledge and brings both you and your clients peace of mind.

Gelardin, S. The Job Juggler. (2003.) Web-based, self-paced job search and employability program. http://www.jobjuggler.net. 415.305.4645.
Portions of this article have been reprinted from "The Transformation of Work Strategies for a New Economy: Selected Articles from the 2004 International Career Development Conference" (2004). .Walz, G. & Knowdell, R., Editors. Counseling Outfitters. Tucson, AZ.

Sally Gelardin, Ed.D. International and Multicultural Education, is a career educator and counselor. She teaches the CDF curriculum and designed the first online course approved by the Center for Credentialing and Education for CDF CEUs. Contact: 415.312.4294 or email: lifeworks@gelardin.net.