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Online Learning vs. On the-Job Training: Why Not Both?

With so many different healthcare training options, knowing the best way to improve your skills can seem challenging. From learning your trade on-the-job to logging into an online course or a combination of the two, discover the best way to accelerate your career in healthcare with the training that makes sense for you.


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A group of four diverse healthcare professionals, including two women and two men, are engaged in a discussion around a table with laptops and documents in a bright office setting.

Whether you’re already working in healthcare or you’re just beginning your education, there are several paths to achieving your career goals. Maybe your job as a home health aide has inspired you to continue your patient-facing work in a more advanced position. You’ve got plenty of on-the-job training that puts you ahead of the crowd, but you’re missing some of the requirements to land you the gig. Rather than quitting your day job to pursue a full-time degree program, enrolling in an online course can complement your existing knowledge while giving you the new skills to pursue something different. This is just one of the many scenarios where on-the-job training can be combined with online education programs to reach your healthcare aspirations. To learn how on-the-job training compares to online education, and to decide which route makes sense for you, read on.

Certified Nursing Assistant

CNAs work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities to help patients complete daily basic care routines. They work under the supervision of other nursing professionals to help with hygiene, reposition patients to avoid bedsores, keep track of basic vital signs, and provide support during mealtimes. Requirements for clinical training hours vary by state but you can plan to spend between 1-3 months completing training. CNAs must possess skills in basic hygiene alongside knowledge of medical terminology and the ability to measure vital signs. Both online and on-the-job training go into CNA preparation. Here’s what you can expect to learn on-the-job versus in an online training program.

Transferring to Wheelchair Some patients may not be able to move themselves from their bed to a wheelchair, necessitating the help of a CNA. You can learn this skill once starting your job.
Body Positioning Patients who are unable to roll themselves in bed need help doing so. You can learn the difference between positions such as supine, prone, lateral, and more while on the job.
Measuring Vitals Vital measurements commonly taken by CNAs include body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and urine output. These important skills are generally learned early on once on the job.

Online learning is a smart choice if you have the time available to complete studies that don’t require in-person learning. These classes can help you build some skills before starting a job, giving you less to cover once you get started. Here’s some of what an online CNA program will equip you with.

Medical Terminology Fluency CNAs must be able to discuss basic patient health concerns and treatment plans using appropriate medical terminology to avoid confusion.
Physical Therapy CNAs taking care of patients with a range of motion issues must know how to walk them through required exercises to increase function of shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles.
Basic Hygiene CNAs commonly help patients with bathing and washing, toothbrushing, hand and nail care, and maintaining a hygienic catheter.

An online course or program in CNA would complement your on-the-job training if…

  • You want to get a leg-up on the competition by completing some of the foundational courses before starting the job search.
  • You need the flexibility of online learning in the early stages because you’re currently working at a different job.
  • You can complete the online requirements while still in high school.

Sticking with on-the-job training makes sense for you right now if…

  • You want to start making money as quickly as possible and know that on-the-job training comes with pay.
  • You already work in a healthcare setting and can transition easily to a CNA training position.
  • You aren’t ready to commit to formal CNA training just yet.

From enrolling to graduating and everything in between, learn how you can become a CNA.

Dental Assistant

Training requirements for dental assistants vary based on state requirements. Some states may allow you to enter the profession though on-the-job training while others mandate you complete an accredited program and pass an exam. Students following the latter route typically graduate in a year or less and receive a diploma or certificate. Responsibilities of dental assistants include both clinical and administrative duties, including preparing patients for procedures, maintaining instruments, scheduling appointments, and keeping billing records. They may also teach patients how to perform oral hygiene routines and help them figure out payment plans.

Patient Prep Dental assistants learn how to get patients ready for procedures. Common skills learned include taking dental impressions and/or x-rays, checking blood pressure, and preparing needed tools.
Customer Service In the administrative side of the job, you must be able to communicate and listen effectively to a variety of different types of people.
Applying Solutions As part of clinical responsibilities, dental assistants commonly apply bleaching agents to patients seeking whitening treatments. They may also apply sealants to keep debris out of teeth.

Online dental assistant programs make sense for many different types of students, particularly those who live in states mandating some type of formal education. It can also benefit you if you already have a busy schedule and need more flexibility than campus-based courses provide.

Dental Office Management Dental office management skills students can learn online include using telephone systems, managing appointments and scheduling, taking inventory, and processing receivable and payable accounts.
Professionalism Taking an online professionalism course gives you the skills needed to maintain a polished appearance and demeanor throughout your workdays. The course also takes a look at ethical guidelines.
Dental Terminology This course familiarizes you with the various terms and language used commonly in dentistry. It ensures you can adequately communicate with dentists, hygienists, and other professionals in your future job.

An online course or program in dental assisting would complement your on-the-job training if…

  • You feel more confident learning in an academic environment rather than a fast-paced dental office.
  • You want a comprehensive education focused more on all eventualities rather than simply what comes up on the job.
  • You like the idea of learning about different specialty areas of the field (e.g., endodontics, orthodontics, etc.) rather than general dentistry or what your employer focuses on.

Sticking with on-the-job training makes sense for you right now if…

  • You feel motivated to learn both while at the office and when you’re off the clock.
  • You identify as a hands-on student who learns best by primarily doing rather than studying.
  • You want to start working directly with dental professionals and patients as quickly as possible.

Want to enhance your skillset? Find the top online dental assistant programs in 2020.


Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) must possess CPR training and participate in a non-degree educational program. Most of these take less than one year to complete and include both traditional and on-the-job learning opportunities. EMTs work on the frontlines of medical care and often serve as the first healthcare professional an injured or ill person encounters in emergency situations. Skills required to do the job well include the ability to remain calm and professional under pressure, an understanding of how to move quickly and confidently to help others, and a strong knowledge of basic medical techniques that can help stabilize patients until they reach a hospital.

Service EMTs on the job learn how to always look for ways to be of help and service to those in their care and troubleshoot issues that need attention.
Assessment Once you get on the job, you learn the importance of quickly assessing a patient’s condition. This is done by checking vital signs, identifying injuries, and making decisions about care needed.
Protocols EMTs learn how to follow set protocols when responding to an emergency call. These may include how to move someone to a stretcher, how to secure it in the ambulance, and how to maintain safety en route to a hospital.

Pursuing an online EMT program frees up your time spent traveling to and from a physical campus. Many also allow you to submit projects and watch video lectures according to your schedule. If you learn best by studying rather than doing, online classes can help you gather important knowledge.

Medical Knowledge Online EMT courses emphasize a foundational understanding of the human body, how it functions, and how to care for it. Plan to take an anatomy and physiology course early in your tenure.
Life Support Designed for advanced EMTs, courses in life support build skills in treating trauma-related issues, handling cardiac arrest, and managing patients experiencing shock.
Managing Blood Loss When supporting a patient experiencing dramatic blood loss, EMTs must know how to stop it. Fluids and medications can help, as can tourniquets, at least until the patient gets to a hospital.

An online EMT course or program would complement your on-the-job training if…

  • You have a current job that makes attending in-person classes difficult.
  • A community college near you offers an online program that can be done affordably.
  • You want the academic underpinning of an online program before transitioning to learning on the job.

Sticking with on-the-job training makes sense for you right now if…

  • You already work in a healthcare setting and can transition to an EMT training program at that employer.
  • You learn best by doing rather than studying.
  • You prioritize getting into the field and earning money as soon as possible.

Home Health Aide

Home health aides support patients who need assistance living on their own. Common responsibilities and skills required include helping with daily living tasks such as eating and bathing, keeping their home clean, organizing medical appointments, and arranging transportation. Many community colleges and vocational schools provide short, non-degree programs. Home health aides working privately may not need these credentials, but many home health agencies require employees to go through this process prior to being hired or participating in on-the-job training. Here are some of the important skills you can expect to gain on the job as a home health aide.

Time Management Home health aides must accomplish a variety of tasks each day. Learning how to prioritize your to-do list, keep track of time, and involve your patient in certain tasks all go into effective time management.
Toileting Home health aides learn how to use bedpans, urinals, fracture pans, and other equipment to help patients unable to get out of bed take care of toileting needs.
Eating and Hydration Students build skills properly positioning patients according to identified feeding techniques while also learning about the caloric needs of different types of patients.

Completing an online home health aide program can make a lot of sense if you want to work at a home health agency rather than being self-employed. Some high schools also offer these programs, making it possible to complete requirements alongside other mandatory coursework. Below are some of the skills you’ll walk away from an online home health aide program.

Infection Control In accordance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) protocol, students learn how to handle infections, ensure they do not spread, and keep everything sanitary.
Food Preparation Students learn basic skills around food preparation, including how to make meals that support health and nutrition while catering to any special dietary needs.
Addressing Injuries Common injuries such as falling, choking, getting cuts and bruises, and burning oneself can all happen to patients in your care. The curriculum provides specialized knowledge on how to address each issue.

An online home health aide course or program would complement your on-the-job training if…

  • You feel confident about wanting to work through an agency rather than for yourself.
  • You can complete a program while still in high school.
  • You want to augment on-the-job training with learning from an academic perspective.

Stick with on-the-job training makes sense for you right now if…

  • Hands-on experience best suits your learning style.
  • You have the opportunity to learn under a veteran home health aide.
  • You want to start earning money as soon as possible and find a training program that offers pay.

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants play a vital role in any well-run healthcare facility. With a diverse skillset, medical assistants provide both patient support and take on front- and back-office duties. They are equipped the with people skills, healthcare understanding, and admin know-how to make any health center run smoothy and to keep patients feelings calm. When it comes to education and training, it can be tempting to learn the role on-the-job, but is that really the best route? Here’s what you can expect to learn on-the-job versus in an online medical assisting program.

Communication As a medical assistant, you’ll find yourself working with a variety of different personalities in both professionals and patients. On-the-job training teaches you how to do that well, especially when interviewing patients for medical records.
Office Management Learning on the job ensures you have the skills needed to answer and handle phone calls, keep up with emails and regular mail, manage schedules, and move patients from waiting to exam rooms.
Sanitation Medical assistants are required to clean and sanitize exam rooms between each patient visit. As demonstrated by COVID-19, this skill is vitally important.

Because medical assisting requires professionals to possess both clinical and administrative skills, pursuing an online medical assisting program can help ensure you gain a robust mix of both types of skillsets. They also help ensure you get a holistic education rather than one focused on the needs of a single organization. Here’s what you’ll gain from an online medical assisting program.

Records Management Students learn about the various software and technologies used to keep secure electronic health records. They also learn how to keep them properly organized and managed.
Clinical Procedures Medical assistant students learn how to provide clinical support to their healthcare colleagues in basic skills such as wound dressing and taking vital signs.
Basic Drug Administration Under the supervision of licensed healthcare professionals, medical assistant students learn the importance of ensuring that patients take their medicines as prescribed and administer them at appropriate times.

An online course or program in medical assisting would complement your on-the-job training if…

  • You want to take a specific course to improve your skills and become a better MA.
  • You want to accelerate your career and move into a senior MA position.
  • You want to transition to a different healthcare career that requires more higher education.

Sticking with on-the-job training makes sense for you right now if…

  • You’re just starting out in healthcare.
  • You’re a first-year MA and still getting your feet wet.
  • You see yourself working for the same company long-term and want to learn skills specific to that organization.

Radiology Technician

Also known as radiographers, these professionals take x-rays and other diagnostic images that help doctors get a better understanding of illnesses and injuries. They work in a variety of healthcare settings and spend their days preparing patients for imaging, ensuring they remain protected from unnecessary radiation during the procedure, and getting clear images that can help with diagnoses. Many of these professionals hold associate degrees that include both academic and clinical training. Most states require radiology techs to hold licensure or certification, making formal education a necessary step to working in this field.

Position On-the-job clinical training helps you learn various positioning techniques to ensure they get clear and crisp images needed for diagnosing issues.
Protection You’ll learn how to use protective coverings to ensure both patients and practitioners remain safe from unnecessary radiation while conducting x-rays.
Education You’ll identify how to best educate patients about the need for digital imaging and convey complicated terms and ideas in ways that can be easily understood.

While academic training is required for anyone aspiring to work in the field, an online radiological technologist program can help if you want to maintain flexibility in your studies and potentially graduate more quickly.

Medical Terminology You’ll learn how to use fundamental medical terms and vocabulary so you can communicate effectively with patients, physicians, and others working in radiology.
Digital Imaging You’ll get a full understanding of how to use and maintain various digital imaging equipment, including fluoroscopic imaging, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance.
Sectional Anatomy In addition to teaching how to identify basic anatomy, you’ll also learn how to do cross-sectional imaging when required by physicians.

An online course or program in radiology technology would complement your on-the-job training if…

  • You want the training required to move to a bachelor’s or advanced degree later on.
  • You want to receive certification even if your state doesn’t currently require it.
  • You want a more rounded education that includes general education topics.

Sticking with on-the-job training makes sense for you right now if…

  • You’re new in the field and want to try it out before committing to a degree.
  • You’re a tactile learner who needs to see things being done rather than studying them.
  • You already work in an imaging facility and can learn the ropes while earning an income.


Also known as ultrasound technicians, sonographers work is similar to that of radiology techs but involves a different type of imaging. They spend their days taking diagnostic images that help physicians make informed decisions about how to proceed. They also communicate with patients and healthcare professionals alike and maintain the equipment. It’s common for these professionals to hold an associate or bachelor’s degree, making online learning a great option if you want to earn the qualifications employers look for. We highlight some of the skills gained from each learning option below.

Equipment Management You’ll learn how to manage the upkeep and repair of sonography equipment commonly used, with emphasis on keeping each properly sanitized between patients.
Communication Whether conducting a cardiac or obstetric sonograph, you’ll need to know how to communicate calmly and effectively with patients in your charge. You’ll also need to communicate with your colleagues.
Time Management Managing your appointment schedule, ensuring you don’t run over into the next timeslot, and getting sonographic information to physicians in a timely manner can all be learned on the job.

Sonographers must hold at minimum an associate degree, making higher education a requirement. While some students may decide to enroll in a campus-based program, online degrees can help tremendously if you’re busy and find it difficult to drive to school multiple times per week. Below are some of the important skills you can add to your repertoire through an online sonography program.

Obstetrical Sonography Students learn how to use sonography equipment and techniques related to obstetrical imaging, with emphasis on getting clear images during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy.
Abdominal Sonography You’ll learn how to conduct sonographies on major abdominal organs, including breasts, livers, gallbladders, pancreases, spleens, and thyroids. You’ll also learn approaches for getting clear images of each.
Sonography Instrumentation You’ll learn how to employ the study of physics when using Doppler techniques, especially when it comes to how ultrasonic waves are created and propagated.

An online course or program in sonography would complement your on-the-job training if…

  • You want to learn about specialty areas in the field, including cardiac sonography.
  • You want to continue into advanced education eventually and need to get prerequisites completed.
  • You want to jump ahead of other job candidates and qualify for senior-level roles.

Sticking with on-the-job training makes sense for you right now if…

  • You want to gain practical skills while building academic knowledge.
  • You want to earn money while in school.
  • You feel confident you can balance the requirements of school and on-the-job training simultaneously.

Vet Tech

Veterinary technicians and technologists play important roles alongside licensed veterinarians, ensuring they have the support needed to care for ailing or injured animals. Common required skills include administering anesthesia and monitoring animals during surgery, performing tests and x-rays, collecting medical histories from owners, and ensuring both animals and required instruments/equipment are ready for procedures. You’ll need an associate degree to work as a technician and a bachelor’s to work as a technologist. Both programs include both academic and clinical training and each state sets different requirements around what it takes to work in these roles. Some of the skills you can expect to learn on the job include the following.

Hygiene You’ll learn how to keep animals hygienic by giving them baths, clipping nails and claws, and maintaining their coats through brushing or clipping.
Administration In addition to clinical skills, you’ll learn how to manage the front office by taking phone calls, responding to emails, setting appointments, answering owners’ questions, and collecting case histories.
Restraint You’ll learn the various ways of restraining animals that make it safe for both them and veterinary staff administering treatment, with emphasis on both large and small animals.

Online learning can be a great option whether you’re aspiring to an associate or bachelor’s degree in veterinary tech. Aside from getting your general education courses out of the way, many schools now offer mostly online vet tech programs that support busy professionals. Here are some of the skills you’ll walk away with.

Pharmacology Management You’ll learn how to store, handle, maintain, dispense, and dispose of medications commonly used in treating animals alongside learning about the different classifications of medicine.
Exotic Animal Care A great option if you want to work with animals other than house pets, taking this class gives you the skills needed to work with large and exotic animals in providing treatment and therapies.
Diagnostic Imaging You’ll learn how to conduct radiologic imaging for pets, with emphasis on how to keep both you and the animal safe and how to take images that can help with diagnosis and treatment.

An online course or program in vet tech would complement your on-the-job training if…

  • You know you want to work as a technologist and want to move through training more quickly.
  • You aspire to a leadership position and know that a full degree can help you get there.
  • You live in a state that required vet techs to attend accredited programs.

Sticking with on-the-job training makes sense for you right now if…

  • You already work at a vet clinic and want to expand your skills before deciding if it’s the right path for you.
  • You already completed an associate degree and want to shadow a technologist to decide whether a bachelor’s degree suits your interests.
  • can balance school and work simultaneously.