Online courses run the show at the educational market today. It’s easy to find several with almost any topic, and students face tough choices, like in supermarkets. With the only difference:
When buying yogurt, for example, you know from its collar what’s there inside. When choosing online courses, you doubt: with such a wide choice of training programs available, most are looking and being promoted the same way.
More than that, the term “online course” itself doesn’t have any specific definition. In the case of yogurt, you have a clear understanding that it’s a fermented semisolid food made of milk; you know its approximate taste; and, as a rule, your expectations meet the reality when you buy it.
In the case of online courses, you may get either a great, interactive project with high-quality videos, creative tasks, and a tutor who’ll work with you and answer any questions or just a set of videos made by a webcam.
So how to pick the wheat from the chaff and get a max benefit from online education?
These five criteria will help you to make the right choice.
Most online courses are of two formats: timed (synchronous) and self-timed (asynchronous).
- Synchronous ones, such as webinars, for example, take place in real-time.
This format is for you if you expect a personal contribution of the speaker and a competitive spirit from the course. Here you’ll need to be present on time and meet deadlines; otherwise, you risk missing something.
Also worth noting is that timed online courses are more expensive: besides technical support specialists, here’s a teacher working in real-time and getting paid hourly.
- Asynchronous online courses are a bit different.
Here you buy access to educational materials and study when it’s more comfortable for you: in the mornings, evenings, or in a month or even a year.
This format is for you if you are motivated and self-disciplined enough, and your time management skills are neat.
But regardless of the format, you should be able to access educational materials even after graduation.
So if you read a course description and see something like “the content will disappear in two weeks after the training ends,” think twice before spending time and money on it.
Another detail to consider:
- If you are a student looking for online courses from your college, check if they come from syndicators.
A syndicator is an organization that offers the same online courses to many local schools and colleges. There’s nothing awful here, but make sure your chosen course is of high quality.
Syndicators create many courses, market them through many institutions, and use the revenue sharing model: it means your college, your instructor, a course developer, and a syndicator itself each get a cut when you buy it. Willing to earn more, they may create dozens of courses, sacrificing the quality.
Some of their courses are great, no doubts here. Just check everything carefully before paying for them.
Before choosing a course, define the area you need to gain knowledge, as well as the depth of study material.
Is it for beginners, middle-specialists, or experts in the niche? Also, pay attention to this course hours: if, for example, you want to master a new skill from scratch,—let’s say it’s a web design or accounting—then 2 or 3 months won’t be enough.
Go through the course program to understand the thesis statement and issues it will cover. The program should be clear, logical, and comprehensive.
Also, consider the balance of theoretical and practical lessons at your chosen online course. Both are significant, but the practice is more preferable to have while learning.
When choosing a course, consider what other students think of it. The most useful feedback is that of friends and peers: they are people from the same cultural field, creative mood, and educational background with you, so strong chances are that you’ll like what they liked. With no suitable recommendations among your surroundings, search for reviews online.
But don’t rely on them much.
Online courses can bring not only knowledge but motivation and inspiration as well. And if a person writes a positive review on how feel-good the course was, it doesn’t mean he gained any useful skills there.
A primary example is Tony Robbins who tells copybook maxims to the audience but has millions of admirers anyway. So, ignore the emotional color of a review but pay attention to constructive feedback.
The demand for online courses and training swells more than ever today. So, as they say, where there’s demand, there’s supply.
On the education market, many “coaches” promise to educate you for a new profession in short order. The problem is, they don’t have any license or certificates for such practices in the education field. So, do your best to find the information about an author of that course and a school providing education services.
- How long have they been teaching? The longer they are on the market, the more reasons to trust them.
- Ask for the license confirming the compliance of their training program with the required educational standards.
- Find out what documents you’ll get after finishing their online course.
- Check how often they run a course and how many students they have. It will help to understand their relevance and demand among the audience.
A speaker who’ll be conducting the course should be an expert in his field. What are his achievements in the niche? How many successful projects has he implemented?
Give preference to online courses led by practitioners rather than theorists.
To make the right choice, chat with a speaker directly, or visit some webinars with his participation. Most authors offer free manuals, such as books, short video courses, or ultimate guides on freelancing, etc., which can help you better understand their topic and methods they use to present it.
Read their blogs, view presentations, and listen to their podcasts. It will help you get the idea of their knowledge, skills, and — what’s important — teaching style. Do they sound interesting to you? Is their teaching style engaging? Does the quality of content they share meet your expectations?
5. Your Motivation
Answer the question, “Why do I want to take this course?” Motivation matters, and it will allow you to understand if this or that course meets your needs.
- Do you want to improve your professional skills or get new ones that would help your career grow? If so, have you identified your missing skills? Which one do you need to acquire or develop?
- Do you take this course because your college or business company asks? In other words, are online courses a part of your corporate training?
- Do you just want to learn anything new for fun, not a career? If so, do you know what topics interest you most?
Depending on your answer, you’ll identify areas to learn and look for courses of different criteria.
Knowing your motivation for choosing a particular course, you’ll understand what strategies to use for staying motivated until the end and finish it!
Visualize the result: what will you have after finishing the course? A new job? A bigger paycheck for your services? Extra knowledge for higher grades at college? Next time when you feel ready to give up a course, visualize a positive result — and you’ll succeed.
And Last but Not Least:
Never judge a course by price. Expensive doesn’t equal proficiency.
Some authors may simply overprice their courses to increase their income, while many useful, educational materials are available for reasonable costs or even for free.
It doesn’t mean you should always choose the cheapest option. Professional educators share the knowledge they had been gaining for years, so it stands to reason that their skills are worth something.