What makes up a great online course?
There are so many online courses available today covering almost every niche you can imagine. A simple search on any e-learning platform results in dozens, if not hundreds, of options for the same course topic.
For example, if you were to look up the best cyber security courses on Udemy, you’d literally be faced with an endless list of over 10,000 results. Compound this by the number of e-learning platforms available, and it can get overwhelming to make a decision.
It is for this reason that it might be helpful to identify important features of an excellent online course.
I’ve taken quite a number of online courses myself across various e-learning platforms to pick up new skills. In my experience, I’ve come to figure out important factors that I’d like to share with you.
In this article, I’ll be taking you through important things to consider when choosing an online course so you can choose those that perfectly fit your needs.
Let’s get started.
1. Learning Goals
Why do you want to take an online course?
Without defining your goals, it’ll be hard to find the right learning resources to help you achieve your exact objectives.
For instance, if you’re a working professional who’d like to keep your license up to date, you may want a course that offers Continuing Education Units (CEUs).
It could be that, to keep your license, you need to periodically attain a certain CEU threshold.
On the other hand, if you’d just like to shore up complementary knowledge areas to add weight to your degree, then CEUs may not be a big deal.
Accreditation may also be important if there’s a professional body qualification in the industry you aim to work in. Otherwise, the lack of accreditation shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
2. Instructor Qualifications
Do qualified professionals teach the course?
According to a Udemy report, 80% of Americans confess to the existence of a skills gap.
This refers to the difference between knowledge and skills actually required for a job and those taught to learners. Therefore, faculty qualifications are a big deal when learning how to choose an online course provider.
The ideal tutor should have passed relevant credentialing exams in their field of expertise and should have the relevant papers to prove it.
For example, when you’re choosing an AWS course, you’d want an instructor who is a Certified Solutions Architect Associate.
That said, certification isn’t all that matters for an online course.
Work experience is also crucial. Professionals with industry experience are desirable because they are best placed to infuse both classroom and real-world knowledge.
3. Student Support
Concerns may arise during your training program.
If you can’t have your questions answered in time, then you’ll forge on in the dark and the course will not have been of great value to you.
Therefore, you need to verify if the course receives timely student support.
One way to do this on Udemy, for example, is through a quick overview of the Q&A sessions. Alternatively, you could send your instructor a direct message and gauge the response time to get a feel of the support.
Other reliable options to get support clarity are via course reviews and by taking note of the last time the course was updated.
Recently updated courses can be a good measure of your instructor’s availability and how to choose the best online courses in general.
4. Course Duration
If you sign up for an online course and it ends up taking a lot longer than expected, chances are high that you won’t complete it.
According to research from Cambridge University, 93% of students who sign up for online courses do not see them through completion.
Time constraints have been narrowed down as one of the most important factors behind these alarming dropout rates.
So before you commit to any online class, you’ll need to determine how much time you have on your hands.
If you’re working to gain skills for an upcoming job interview, you’ll be better off considering a comprehensive full-time program.
On the flip side, if your day job is stuffing your schedule, you’ll need to figure out if you have enough after-hours for a crash course.
5. Teaching Style
Are you comfortable with the instructor’s speech?
In many cases, students drop a class halfway in because of language barriers, which is a big issue in remote learning, as proven by a University of Maryland whitepaper.
That’s where the course previews.
Most online courses have a preview video with the instructor taking you through the course content information and other expectations for the class.
This preview is excellent for determining if you’ll be comfortable with the tutor’s pace of speech and accent, among other communication factors that you may be keen on.
What’s more, the video introduction is a great place to determine if there’s a personality match if that’s a big issue for you as well when learning how to choose online classes.
6. Entry Requirements
Are there prerequisite courses you should take?
Entry requirements are among the most important things to consider when choosing an online course.
By disregarding this, you’ll find that the class builds on foundational knowledge that you don’t have. It will in turn be hard to keep up and you may end up abandoning the course altogether.
So before enrolling, determine what skill level the class is tailored for and what information it builds upon.
For example, some artificial Intelligence courses need you to have some understanding of Python to get started. In this case, underlying programming knowledge is paramount.
Most of the time, you can find this out from the course outline. If not, you can reach out to the instructor directly.
You can also reverse engineer this process by first crafting a list of appropriate classes based on your academic history.
7. Course Employability
Unemployment statistics are only one aspect to consider.
Choosing a course for an industry in recession, where the demand for workers is lower than the supply, might result in you being underemployed.
Underemployment means working a lower skillset or pay bracket than what you’re qualified for. The rate of underemployment in the US is 22.8%, which makes marketability an important factor to have in mind before you hit that sign-up button.
While you may take a course just for the fun of new knowledge in a foreign field, it’s to know how to choose the best online classes in terms of career opportunities.
A great way to gauge the employability of your niche is via employability statistics and career placement rates.
8. Costs & Discounts
Discounts are significant for knowing how to choose an online course.
There’s nothing more disappointing than signing up for an online course, only for you to see the price take a nosedive with a 90% discount the very next day.
While course discounts shouldn’t be overly important when weighed against educational quality, you could wait for a discount event, if it’s around the corner.
On most e-learning platforms like Udemy, these discount events correspond to major events across the year, including holiday seasons.
Moreover, is the course worth the financial investment?
In this case, you’ll want to compare the course resources covered, before settling on an option. For example, will you be using some data science tools that you’ll need to pay for, if you are taking a data science course for example?
If so, you might be better served by alternatives where the purchase price is inclusive of all these support resources.
9. Student Testimonials
Would you like honest feedback about a prospective class?
No one’s better placed to offer insightful feedback about an online course than someone who’s actually gone through it.
Without student reviews to guide you, you’ll have to rely on the instructor’s promises, which sometimes don’t live up to expectations. Some courses today don’t walk the talk.
Therefore, sample all-around student reviews, which are usually available below the course description on most e-learning platforms.
Here, you’ll be focusing on both the good and bad about the course. You want to sample a good number to get the full picture of the general consensus.
It’s also worth noting that ratings are essential features of a good online course and speak volumes about its quality.
10. Assessment Methods
Assessment is an excellent yardstick for tracking progress.
Without the proper evaluation of important milestones, learning wouldn’t be very effective. That aside, while some online courses fully deliver the content online, you may be required in person for your examination.
All these reasons contribute to the need to determine assessment requirements beforehand.
First, you’ll need to identify whether you’re more comfortable with project-based assessment tasks or traditional theoretical examinations.
For example, when choosing SQL courses, you may want a course with project-based assessments that shows you how to create a sample database from the ground up.
Assessment methodologies are typically highlighted in the course outline.
Are you ready to start your online course today?
According to our earlier Higher Ed survey, only 7% of online students see through an online course. This is largely due to poor decision-making in the first place and not knowing how to choose the right online classes.
That’s why you need to keep in mind the most important things to consider when choosing an online course. Namely, you may want to consider learning goals, course employability, and student reviews among others.
If you’re an aspiring data scientist, click on these 15 data science courses on Udemy to get you started.
These and other courses herein have been put together after a careful evaluation of all the factors we’ve discussed today and many more.
Lerma is our expert in online education with over a decade of experience. Specializing in e-learning and e-courses. She has reviewed several online training courses and enjoys reviewing e-learning platforms for individuals and organizations.