You are excited and determined to progress in your career but not sure where to start. From degrees and certifications to general networking, a variety of avenues promise to equip you with critical skills and professional contacts while giving your resume a much-needed boost.

As you explore your options, consider the value of online professional development courses. Covering a range of subjects, these digital offerings have come a long way. Initially, they looked a lot like the basic correspondence courses that had been available for more than a century but with easier access to digital materials. As technology has advanced, however, they have become more immersive and interactive, offering many of the advantages of their in-person counterparts but with the enhanced accessibility that only modern digital learning platforms can deliver.

Not sure how you want to proceed with professional development? The right online courses could provide a huge professional boost, not to mention personal satisfaction. Below, we've identified the most compelling benefits of completing an online professional development course—plus examples of how you can apply newly gained skills in your career and even your personal life.

Benefit 1: Skill Enhancement

Upskilling is crucial in today's demanding job market. Employers expect current employees and job applicants to possess not only relevant degrees but also a comprehensive array of skills that they can immediately draw upon as they enter the workforce. These include technical capabilities along with skills such as project management, written communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and empathy. The need to develop these skills never ends, so college graduates should not give in to the temptation to rely on their previously earned degrees. This complacency can be damaging in a constantly evolving professional landscape.

This is where the value of an online professional development course is perhaps the most evident. Its main goal (as its name implies) is to build skills required for particular professional pursuits. Students work closely with talented instructors who are highly respected in their various fields and passionate about helping students throughout all stages of their academic and professional journeys. These instructors understand what it takes to succeed in today's most demanding sectors — and they can help all types of students identify and build these essential skills.

Benefit 2: Career Advancement Opportunities

With a stronger skill set comes the ability to advance into exciting new roles that may have otherwise been out of reach. An extra credential on your resume never hurts, but online professional development courses offer so much more.  As you expand your perspective and develop new, in-demand skills, you will be better equipped to handle the unique challenges that accompany higher-level positions. Many courses delve into leadership skills or, at least, core competencies that today's employers highlight as critical for advancement.

Beyond this, your efforts will place you in the mindset of personal and professional advancement. By the time you complete your course or courses, you might feel motivated to continue developing new skills far into the future. This growth mindset is in high demand, and if you can continually demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement, you will no doubt reap the rewards over time.

Benefit 3: Increased Earning Potential

While no degree or credential can 100 percent guarantee an impressive income, higher educational attainment is correlated with higher wages. The biggest gains, of course, come from earning a degree. Research highlighted by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU) indicates that college graduates secure, on average, an additional $1.2 million in lifetime earnings.

Once you've obtained your bachelor’s degree, however, you should continue to elevate your earning power by committing to lifelong learning. According to Fortune, relevant certifications can boost income by anywhere between 5 and 20 percent.

Employers value skill development and appreciate when applicants are invested in enhancing their professional qualities. This is easily demonstrated by completing professional development courses, which can be amazing resume building tools. 

Benefit 4: Networking Opportunities

Online courses encourage you to interact regularly with other professionals who, despite sharing similar ambitions, may come from all walks of life. These fellow students can expose you to a wide range of valuable perspectives you might otherwise never encounter. You may quickly come to look forward to interacting with these intriguing individuals and learning what drives them and what they find fascinating about the course material. This, in turn, may ignite your own passion and make you feel more motivated to develop as a person and a professional.

As you continue to build stronger relationships with online classmates, you may find that these connections transcend the screen and form the basis of a stronger professional network. Other students will be eager to clue you in on emerging job opportunities, connect you with the right people to give your job search a significant leg up, or provide valuable insight to professional challenges you might be facing. With a little nurturing, you could continue to develop these relationships for years to come.

Benefit 5: Promotes Work-Life Balance

You are committed to your professional life, but your personal development deserves consideration as well. Online courses encourage you to address both. As we'll touch on below, these courses are flexible enough to fit into even the busiest work schedules — but they can also be highly satisfying on a personal level. There's nothing quite like the pure joy of learning something new.

Education represents the ultimate investment in yourself, and when you seek instruction online, you'll discover that it need not detract from your other priorities. Commit to courses you find personally compelling, and you may be pleasantly surprised to find they feel like a form of self-care or a means of achieving work-life balance. When you are continually excited to learn something new, development courses don't feel like work; they are downright enjoyable, regardless of their associated career benefits.

Benefit 6: Flexibility and Convenience

As a busy professional, you may find it difficult to dedicate any significant amount of time to skill development. Your full-time work occupies much of your day, and when you're not on the job, family life and other concerns beckon. Add an extra commute to the picture, and you may find it challenging to keep your stress at a manageable level.

This is where studying online comes in. With this approach, you can commit to building professional skills without seriously compromising your schedule or well-being. In some cases, flexible classwork allows you to cover material at your own pace — and online formats help you learn and study whenever and wherever you want. Whether you take one course or several, you can continue to develop your skill set according to your personal timeline. There is never an expiration date for learning, so feel free to continue enrolling in professional development courses throughout your career.

Benefit 7: Cost-Effective Learning

Education is always an investment worth making, but where and how you study can make this investment feel a lot more worthwhile. Online courses bypass much of the overhead associated with brick-and-mortar programs, and those savings are often passed directly to students. Further savings are possible if online courses allow you to avoid long commutes or relocating. Also, if you can demonstrate that your courses will help you develop relevant skills, you may even score employer assistance.

Learn More, Today

The right professional development course could place you on the fast track to career advancement. Don't underestimate the power of upskilling in today's competitive yet opportunity-filled job market. With personalized guidance from an accessible, web-based professional development program, you can prepare to achieve new heights in your career and your personal life.

Would you like to take the next step on an exciting career path? You will find a variety of compelling options available through the University of Minnesota's Online programs. Explore online professional development courses today!