The Importance Of Developing “Soft Skills” For Online Students

Say your friend is having a bad day, but you completely ignore those signs and simply keep plowing on about your day without any regard to their emotional needs. Or maybe you’re in an interview for your first job, and you find yourself answering all of the questions with one-word answers. And then there are the awkward social situations like spending hours at your grandparents’ anniversary party wearing uncomfortable clothes, but instead of participating and talking to guests, you choose to sit in a corner scrolling on your phone.

Each of those is an example of a situation when some training in soft skills could have been helpful. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America define soft skills as “universally transferable skills” like “critical thinking, teamwork, effective communication and resilience.” Often creativity is also included in the list of soft skill examples. Soft skills aren’t like the skills you use to write an essay, maintain a bicycle, or build a computer, and that makes them hard for many individuals to learn.  

However, they are the most durable of all skills, and there is a high demand for them. The content of a student’s academic classes can become outdated after a period of time, but soft skills will forever be in fashion; they stand the test of time as important skills for both young people and adults. One group of young people are finding that their soft skills far outshine those of their peers: students enrolled in online academic programs. Let’s take a look at the important soft skills online students develop and some ways that they can develop even more.

The Online Advantage

Although every online student is different, here are just a few of the ways we at Excel High School have seen our online students “excel”:

  • • Effective communication – Online students have the chance to practice effective communication skills since they are expected to reach out to instructors, tutors, and academic coaches for help when they need it. They get to practice asking effective questions, explaining their thinking clearly, and working on effective and clearly written communication through email and chat.

  • • Self-advocacy – Along with effective communication comes self-advocacy. Online students don’t have an instructor looking over their shoulder every minute of their course work. Instead, they have to be able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and be proactive about asking for help. Knowing how to recognize when you need help and knowing how to ask for the help you need is an essential skill in college and the workplace. 

  • • Self-discipline – Since online students don’t have an instructor looking over their shoulder, they also have to be able to tell themselves to “stop” and to “go.” Need to take a break? That’s up to the student. Want to take a short walk? That’s up the student. Have a short video you want to watch? That’s up to the student. But the other side of each of those options is that online students need to know how to tell themselves to get back to their course work as well. Self-discipline is one of the major soft skills that employers report is lacking in the work place today, so giving online students the chance to learn how to manage themselves is truly beneficial.

  • • Time management – Alongside self-discipline, you can find time management. Online students often have flexible schedules, so that can mean a lot of procrastination if students are not careful. Sure, it can seem like a great idea at the time to sit down to play “just one round” of a game, but if you find yourself playing “just one more round” for a day or two, you might start to feel the anxiety that sneaks up and is a good pal to procrastination. This means that online students have to learn how to manage their time. They can set alarms for breaks, they can help themselves focus by working on a couple of classes at a time, or they can work longer for fewer days each week. Learning what kind of time schedule works best and how to adjust your work ethic to match your needs is a great way to get to know yourself better and pursue options in the future that align with who you are.

  • • Time for creativity – This might be the best advantage yet! A lot of times, students in a traditional school setting simply aren’t given the time they need to practice their critical and creative thinking skills, two skills that go hand-in-hand. Because online students have flexible schedules and – more importantly – no “busy work,” no waiting for their teachers to take attendance, and no waiting for their classmates to settle down, they have more time during their day to pursue their own interests. They can practice their art – whether that’s painting, drawing, playing an instrument, producing music, or filming videos. They can plan their own projects that enhance their personal skills and allow them to discover hidden talents and develop talents they already know about. 

Going Further

What about students who struggle with those soft skills? And what can online students do to push themselves further in developing these essential skills? Here are some simple ideas to strengthen any online student’s soft skills.

  • • Mock interviews – This will take some help from another student or an adult, but mock interviews are great ways to practice essential soft skills like answering in complete sentences, what to do when you’re nervous, how to dress appropriately, what an appropriate amount of eye contact looks and feels like, what to do with your hands, and how to avoid rambling or clamming up when asked questions. A little practice will go a long way in many different situations. 

  • • Self-review – Give yourself a chance to review your own work before you submit it. Online students can take a look at the rubrics their instructors use for grading and evaluate their work according to that objective scale. After tests, they can take a good look at their notes to see what they needed to include and adjust that before they make another attempt at the assessment. Being self-aware means being able to evaluate your work honestly and objectively.

  • • Therapy – If you find that an online student is struggling with their soft skills and practicing doesn’t seem to help, finding a therapist they trust can help them work on their self-awareness and reflect on how they perceive others and how others perceive them.

  • • Volunteering – Online students have the time to volunteer during the day when other students are listening to their teachers take attendance. Not much gives a person a more open and enlightened view of the world better than volunteering their time in service to others, be that people, animals, or the environment. Students’ minds can be more aware of how the world works, and working alongside others can help them with those important social skills essential to success in college and the work force.

Since these soft skills are found in career paths and experiences across the board, they’re listed in job posting 4.7 more times than the top 5 hard skills; that’s a pretty significant advantage for online students. If you want your student to have as many positive and well-rounded experiences as they can, then an accredited online diploma track might be the best option you can offer them.

About Excel High School

Excel High School is an accredited online school that offers high school aged students and adults who want to earn their high school diploma a fully online, flexible, and self-paced program that fits around their schedules, with a support team to help them along the way. If you’re not already a student with Excel High School but would like to learn more, feel free to check out our programs on our website. Still have questions? Feel free to reach out to us by text at 952-465-3700 or call us at 800-620-3844. Our staff will be happy to answer any questions you have and guide you to the best program for your individual needs.

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