September 2011

Steve Sleeper

Beauty Insider| by Steve Sleeper


Online Education Trends: Catering to Today's Student

By Kelley McCarthy, PBA Education and Training Manager

Traditional education has taken a very non-traditional turn in recent years. It is no longer just for the young high school graduate.

Institutions and associations across the country are offering more and more educational opportunities to groups of all ages seeking the skills and certificates needed to start a new career, or to move up in an existing one. This includes beauty professionals.

According to several recent studies, today's students are far from traditional; they don't fit the typical age and race demographic, they are less likely to be seeking a four-year degree and they are less interested in a typical classroom setting.

Students are increasingly seeking courses that can easily translate into careers. As the economy continues to struggle, professionals already launched in their careers are looking to build their knowledge and keep ahead of industry trends.

As student demographics change, so too must the delivery of information. Today's students are accustomed to using technology in their daily lives and expect their course work to incorporate technological advances.

One of the suggested by-products of modern technology is a dependence on visual stimulation and constant engagement. Traditional classroom settings involving a white-board and lecture are less acceptable to today's students who want to learn at their own pace.

A recent PBA survey asked beauty professionals about their educational preferences. Of the survey participants, 58 percent reported having already participated in some form of web-based education, citing the ability to work at their own pace as a major advantage to online learning. When asked what factors affected their decision to seek online education, participants overwhelmingly listed cost, time away from work, and convenience as the critical factors.

Education, like all segments of the market, must adapt to meet the changing needs and demands of its consumers. Online education, also known as distance learning, is a natural response to these changing needs. Students report an appreciation for the on-demand element of distance learning; access to their course work from any location at any hour of the day. Additionally, and key to its success is the fact that Web-based education is often a fraction of the cost when compared to classroom-based educational institutions.

The most interesting factor yet is that online education may be more effective than traditional learning. According to a recent study conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, "On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction." This study-amassed information spanning 12 years and 99 individual studies to conclude that online learning has some advantages that translate into better comprehension for students. One of the strengths may lie in the ability of online educators to tailor course content to their student's needs.

So how does this all relate to educational trends in the beauty industry? The beauty industry embraces, if not leads, change. Similar to professionals in other industries, beauty professionals are seeking to expand their education and refine their skills to keep up with client demand and stay on the cutting edge. According to the PBA survey, 73 percent of survey participants would be likely to access "on-demand, online content," and 65.5 percent expressed a likelihood to access "live webinars."

Survey responses mirrored national trends in that they reflect an interest in a variety of sources for continuing education with an emphasis on convenience and cost saving. When asked to identify specific topics of interest outside of technical education, Business Marketing/Branding, Guest Experience and Customer Service, and Managing Profit and Loss ranked top on the list of interests. These topics can easily translate into an online forum.

Live webinars have increased in popularity with companies like and PBA's own BeautyU program in partnership with Milady, providing a variety of webinars from technical education to live-stream video. Webinars are a natural extension of online education and a trend that will only get more popular. Webinars are relatively easy to produce, allow for audience interaction through polling and "chats," and can reach a large audience. Because of the ease of development, webinars are a great medium for providing current and relevant information at low cost to the students.

The beauty industry remains exciting because of its constant evolution. Striving to remain current and informed, beauty industry professionals demand their education reflect the same values. As we look to the future of education, we will see more offerings provided in ways that are more creative and allowing for better access to all.

Steve Sleeper is the Executive Director of the Professional Beauty Association | National Cosmetology Association (PBA | NCA), a non-profit membership organization made up of beauty professionals, salons and spas, distributors, and manufacturers dedicated to improving their careers, individual businesses and the industry as a whole. For information, visit or call 1-800-468-2274.