How to Choose Online Courses

Chances are you’ve already taken an online course. They’re easy to find and many are easy to afford. You know what’s not easy? Having to choose online courses to take.

I call this digital overwhelm.

There are the marketplaces (like Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, and Lynda), MOOCs offered by universities, and online courses created and sold by individual organizations or subject matter experts.

It can be hard to wade through all those options.

And here’s a fact that makes it even harder to choose: in many cases, it doesn’t matter one bit what course you actually choose.

The truth is that your success in an online course has much more to do with you than the actual course itself.

Now, as someone who works in the education industry, I can also tell you that a course’s design is also incredibly important. There are indeed some great examples of elearning best practices, and there are also some awful examples. But in many cases, you can learn something even from a truly awfully designed course, and you could possibly learn absolutely nothing in a course designed by experts using all the latest in elearning technologies.

There are two factors to your success in an online course:

  1. Choosing the right course for you; and
  2. Knowing and applying learning principles to be a successful online student

In this post I’ll cover how to choose the right course for you; I’ll cover how to be a successful online student in my next post.

How to Choose Online Courses

  1. Make sure the topic is one that you are actually interested in, not one that you think you should know about. You’re investing time and maybe money in this course — don’t commit to something you’re not that into. You should also make sure that you’ll be able to apply what you learn in the course as soon as possible — taking a course this year with plans to apply that knowledge in the following year won’t be nearly as effective as waiting to take that course when you actually need the information.
  2. Decide what return on investment (ROI) you want. Think about how much value the course will bring you; sometimes this is as easy as ascribing a number, like potential revenue earnings or hours saved, but sometimes the value of a course can be hard to define. Even though it may not be a concrete number that you can measure, spend time thinking about what value you expect to receive from learning about the topic.
  3. Check if the course objectives align with the value you expect to receive from the course. A course’s objectives or goals should be measurable and attainable in the amount of time allotted for the course. In other words, a course that claims that you’ll be an expert in a given subject after only 4 content hours is just not realistic.
  4. Determine how much time you actually have to invest in the course. If you realistically can only manage half an hour a day for two weeks, then don’t choose a course that requires 2-hour live sessions every week. Courses should include these details in the descriptions; if they don’t, reach out to the instructor or organizer for more information.

Additionally, you can check reviews and testimonials, or see what free previews might be available for the course. These actions are not as important as the four listed above, however, because you should always consider that your situation is going to be unique — your interests, desired ROI, time availability, budget, and how soon you’ll be able to apply what you learn. Choose online courses that are applicable to you — after all, you’re going to be the one taking them.

Stay tuned until next time, when I share my tips for how to be a successful online learner.