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Online classes give students flexibility

When Karla Bellanger was laid off from a job in 2006, she began looking for ways to enhance her skills and become more competitive in the job market.

Bellanger, of Pine Point, has an associate degree in human services. She's always wanted to work for nonprofit organizations and help strengthen the communities she's a part of.

So in the summer of 2009, she enrolled in "Ed2Go," the Park Rapids Community Education online course program.

Bellanger earned three certificates of completion in becoming a grant writing consultant. A few months later, she landed a job with the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

"It was hard to find a job even though I did have a degree," she said. "I kind of figured, what could I do to create a job for myself if I could not get into the workforce."

As a single mom and grandmother, the 44-year-old said she thought it would be convenient and cost-effective to take skill courses online.

Because she lives in a rural area and with the increasing gas prices, she was able to save on travel money.

With the online skill courses, all assignments are sent to students online. Chat rooms with instructors and fellow students allow for open discussions and question-answer sessions. The students take periodic and final quizzes before they earn certificates.

In the beginning, Bellanger didn't know what to expect. She didn't expect the teachers to be as helpful as they were.

"It's not as difficult as it may seem or scary as it may seem," she said. "It doesn't matter what age you are."

For those who are less independent learners, Bellenager advises them to figure out what their goals are first, then enroll in a class they will enjoy.

Kim Strickland, vocational rehabilitation technician with the Minnesota State Department of Rehabilitation Services, agrees.

People who are trying to get back into the workforce should not only recognize the skills they gained through education or work experience, but also their "soft skills," she said.

Soft skills include flexibility, accountability and willingness to learn.

Strickland said she has seen an increase in clients participating in online skill courses over the past year.

Classes with E2Go vary from veterinary assistance and child care, to keyboarding and grant writing.

Community Education Director Jill Dickinson said since the program started in 2006, it gained more than 30 local students.

The classes begin monthly and most of them last for about 12 weeks.

For more information or to enroll, visit, www.ed2go.