The New Face of Online Students Who takes online courses? It could be cash-strapped high school grads or stay-at-home moms who are looking to further their degree. It could also be workers trying to fit classes in their time-starved schedules in hopes of qualifying for a promotion. Although all of these types of people attend online courses, there are a growing number of high-powered CEOs, executives, politicians, and celebrities flocking to their computer screens to learn new skills and expand their horizons The surge in online enrollments among jet setters can be credited in part to a new study that found online education in many cases is superior to traditional classroom programs. A study conducted by SRI International found that students who took all or part of a course online performed nine percentage points better, on average, than students who took the same course in a traditional classroom setting. Smart, savvy business people and celebrities want the best of the best, so it’s only natural that they would gravitate toward educational programs that have proven effective. Here are just a few famous and successful people who have taken online courses or received their degrees through distance learning and online programs. Bill Gates The former CEO and current chairman of Microsoft is an avid viewer of lectures from MIT and other universities. He says what he values most about online learning is the level of personalization it can offer to students. In an interview with CNET’s Ina Fried, Gates said “Online learning is pretty special for two reasons. One is you can get the very best lecture in the world, wherever you are, whenever you want…The other is this interactivity where if you know a topic, you can kind of skip over it; or, if you’re confused about it, where you’re confused can be analyzed by software.” What are some of the billionaire’s favorite learning sites, other than MIT? In a January, 2010, post on his Gatesnotes.com website, Gates gave a shout out to The Teaching Company. He’s also a huge fan of Khan Academy, although I suspect he would be a strong advocate for any quality online program. Mary Peters This former Secretary of Transportation earned a bachelor’s degree in management online from an accredited online university. She served in Washington as the 15th U.S. Secretary of Transportation from 2006 to 2009 under President George W. Bush. Today, Peters is a consultant and board member to HDR, Inc., an engineering and consulting firm. John Rex As CFO of Microsoft’s North America division, John Rex is responsible for making sure the finance organization aligns with the company’s sales, marketing, and service objectives. Rex is an alumni of Thunderbird School of Global Management. Thunderbird is a 46-year-old private university that offers an online version of its world-renowned Global Management MBA. James Franco Actor, director, producer, documentary filmmaker, author, painter, performance artist and poet are just a few of the titles Franco claims. And he’s accepted a position as professor at New York University’s Tish School of the Arts. He has a BA, an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in Writing, and will get a PhD in 2012. He’s attended Columbia, NYU, Brooklyn College, and the University of Houston. Oh yeah: He’s appeared in 32 movies and short films, had a regular role on General Hospital (and will be returning to the show next year), writes books, and has hosted the Oscars. What’s his secret to maintaining a busy career while racking up the advanced degrees? Two words: Online learning. He completed his BA at UCLA with online classes, and his Masters at Columbia in 2010 via their Distance Learning Program. Arnold Schwarzenegger Before presiding over the world’s sixth largest economy and starring in multi-million-dollar blockbusters, “The Terminator” completed a degree in International Fitness Marketing through a distance learning program from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. But decades later Schwarzenegger would advocate for another form of electronic learning. In 2009, he proposed the State of California eliminate what he called “outdated” textbooks in favor of e-books. Boyd Karren As CEO of SearchMarketMe, Boyd Karren is front and center in the worldwide shift to online marketing. His organization provides training and support to entrepreneurs in launching and operating independently-branded online marketing agencies. Karren is perfectly suited for a career in the rapidly-expanding world of online business; he has online degrees from Thunderbird and Indiana University’s KelleyDirect—the school’s online arm. Boyd isn’t alone in getting a degree from Kelley Direct, according to an article in Business Pundit. Famous alumni include the CEOs of Nestle, Whirlpool, FedEx, and Cisco Systems. So if you’re a business professional who is looking to expand your knowledge with a few online courses – or even a full online degree—you’ll be in good company with other successful executives who have taken the same route.