Hospitality Professionals Embrace Online Learning To Grow Careers

Fifteen or twenty years ago, the management track in hospitality often started at the front desk, with employees working for one company over many years to learn and get ahead. Today, advancement in hospitality—and many other careers—is no longer a straight line. In a shifting economy, professionals need lifelong learning opportunities to prepare them for a gainful career trajectory. This need is driving some of the biggest trends in higher education and opening doors for hospitality professionals to learn and quickly redevelop skills to grow their careers.

The rise of the professional certificate
During the recession of 2007-2009, Americans went back to school in large numbers, hoping to gain new skills and increase their odds of finding work. Then, around 2011, labor markets began to recover and traditional college enrollments started to decline, mostly because students aged 24 and older were either graduating or re-entering the workforce. The rise of the professional certificate coincided with these trends—the U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2012, 19.1 million adults held an educational certificate with one-third of those working in managerial, professional, or service occupations.

For entry- and mid-level managers displaced during the recession, certificates offered a flexible, relatively inexpensive way to build new skills quickly so they could seize opportunities across industries and companies. The popularity of professional certificates was mediated by growth in distance learning, especially online. By 2015, the number of higher education students taking at least one distance education course reached 6 million.

Microlearning for career-changers and industry professionals
More professionals are seeking learning options that can be completed in a few months and are directed toward specific skills, such as hospitality management, hotel revenue management, hotel real estate investments, leadership, service excellence, data analytics, and digital marketing for the hospitality industry.


While traditional degree programs provide an unparalleled experience for those who have the flexibility to travel to a campus for a significant period of time, they are no longer the only option for working professionals. Online certificate programs are a valuable credential for people in the hospitality industry who commonly work nights, weekends, or 50-plus hour weeks. For executives, they offer rich microlearning opportunities that don’t require them to press “pause” on their careers to learn targeted skills for professional development. New managers and supervisors looking to advance also benefit from online learning, particularly from programs with an applied focus.

Since online learning can accommodate a range of levels and locations, it’s also a perfect fit for corporate learning and development. Today’s organizations are facing rapid shifts with the introduction of new technologies, and their employees need to redevelop skills at a much faster pace. This is why leading companies like Marriott, Hilton, IHG, Accor, and Caesar’s Entertainment have harnessed online programs to develop internal talent by providing employees high-quality training across a range of competencies.

Peers, perspectives, and lifelong learning
When done right, online certificate programs can provide critical components for career success in hospitality. Courses developed by college faculty that incorporate perspectives from industry experts provide value for students. Interaction through online discussion threads provides the high value of learning from each other through a format that serves working professionals well—it does not require them to be online at a specific time, and allows everyone equal opportunity to contribute. Additionally, students on these platforms broaden their peer and professional networks and gain take-aways that can be used immediately on the job.

Online learning is well-suited to the pace of change in hospitality, and to the adaptability it demands of today’s employees. By providing flexible access to quality learning, online programs fit professionals’ lives and evolving career goals. They also are a win-win for organizations, allowing them to create more value for customers by ensuring employees have access to a world-class hospitality education when and where it’s needed most.


About the Author
Nancy Weislogel is the executive director of Online Learning and Collaborative Programs at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business. 

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