With content readily available all over the internet, you might be wondering which is better between choosing a free course and leveraging a paid course.
In this information age, learning a new skill at the comfort of your home has become the new normal.
Whether you aim to enhance your career or just to gain some practical knowledge to be used in some activities or aspects of your life, online courses are readily available to help you get the job done.
MOOCs have become the go-to place for learners looking to learn a skill or gain insight into a particular topic or area of learning.
With online platforms like Udemy populated with courses on almost every topic you can think of, it is necessary to ensure that you select the right course that meets your needs, whether free or paid.
You don’t always need to choose a paid course simply because of the impression most people have that paid courses are best.
In some cases, a good free course may be the best option for your specific need.
This article aims to shed some light on the differences between paid and free courses, the similarities, and how to choose the best route.
Similarities Between Free Courses And Paid Courses
Although there’re are similarities between paid and free courses, some of these similarities also serve as the difference between them.
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Let’s look at the similarities below:
1. Instructor Know-how
An online course is just as good as the know-how or the expertise of the instructor or the instructional designer.
Whether free or paid, a good instructor can provide learners with everything they need to achieve their aims or goals for enrolling in the course.
That said, Identifying a good instructor especially when it’s a paid course can be quite challenging.
This is very true when the course has no reviews or viewers but learners can do some research about the instructor to ascertain their level of expertise on the topic.
Additionally, most courses will provide a preview or introduction of the course and its contents.
This enables potential students to spend some minutes ascertaining the general quality of the course content.
The course and individual lesson descriptions also enable learners to make an initial conclusion on the quality of lessons.
So both free and paid courses are similar in that they both depend on the expertise of the instructor.
Some online courses provide certain forms of certification upon completion of a course. In most cases, these certificates aren’t affiliated with any form of academic institution.
This is true for some paid courses as well as free courses. That said, some affiliated courses can also be either free or paid.
In such cases, getting access to the free courses can be challenging as this leads to a multitude of learners vying for limited enrollment numbers.
Certificates are essential in some industries while other industries including software development may emphasize the ability to code and previous projects embarked on.
Therefore, if a certificate is a requirement in your field, it may be essential to identify which courses whether paid or free, provide learners with accredited certificates on completion.
That said, you’re more likely to find a paid course that provides some form of accredited certification as opposed to a free one.
Some online courses are also provided free to learners without certificates which are only available when a learner chooses to pay.
3. Resource Files
Access to resource files is very necessary for practical online courses. As a result some free online courses only make their resource files available to learners who opt to become paying learners.
That said, some free online courses provide resource files necessary to facilitate smooth lessons and student follow-along.
Most paid courses on the other hand provide these resource files to their learners at no extra cost.
It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that these files are available when choosing a free or a paid course.
Differences Between Free Courses And Paid Courses
|Differences||Free Courses||Paid Courses|
|Instructor-Learner Interactivity||None to little instructor support with issues||Strong instructor support with issues|
|Community||Little to no community support||Strong community support|
|Certificate||None or paid on course completion||Available|
|Quizzes||Features not available in most free platforms like YouTube||Features available in LMSs and marketplace platforms|
|Resource Files||Not available for most courses||Available|
1. Instructor-Learner Interactivity
It’s no secret that money can be a huge motivation. Creating an online course can be resource-intensive in many ways.
From deciding on the best niche for your online course to creating the content, instructors can spend weeks and in some cases months on creating a single online course.
Not counting the professional equipment necessary to deliver the necessary audio and video quality fit for modern learners.
Imagine going through all that and simply making the course available for free. You make nothing out of the course and you have no organization supporting you.
Donations may be your go-to in this situation but that only depends on how much your learners are willing to show their appreciation financially.
Well, usually a simple thank you is all you get and some possible recommendations to other potential learners.
This makes it difficult for the instructor to be available to answer any questions the learners may be having.
But in the case of a paid course, the instructor is incentivized to answer any queries learners may have at any area of the course.
Some instructors keep their courses well updated to make sure learners get the best and newest updates in the industry.
This dedication is only possible when the instructor receives some level of financial support, or more appropriately, compensation for the tremendous job done.
Learners who don’t understand something in the course can simply send direct messages to the instructor and get their queries answered.
Getting responses to queries on a free course can be challenging as instructors may not have the same level of incentive.
Another difference between free and paid courses is the community support. Paid courses give you some sense of belonging and most get you involved in some form of a forum where learners can discuss issues and seek support from other learners.
Most free courses on the other hand do not provide this option and learners are left to seek support from platforms like StackOverflow.
According to Schunk’s literature, community and other environmental factors play a huge role in social learning.
This means learners can pick information better with the help of a community and even more so when the community is dedicated to accomplishing the same tasks.
3. Job Opportunities
Some paid courses from recognized institutions usually have some form of partnership with specific organizations to recruit their high-performing learners.
That said, this option is usually provided to learners enrolled in some accredited and recognized training programs.
MOOCs available on platforms like Udemy do not have this option for their learners but certificates acquired on completion of some of these courses can be uploaded on your professional profile.
4. Advanced Lessons
Free courses are great options when looking to gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of a subject or topic, but may sometimes not be the best when it comes to advanced concepts.
Courses on platforms like YouTube are free, which means instructors need to rely on advertisements to make some revenue from these courses.
Unfortunately, some learners give up quickly when the course or concepts in the course start to get harder to understand.
Simply take a look at any YouTube course and you’ll notice a reduction in the number of viewers the harder the concepts get as opposed to the total number of viewers at the introductory phase of the course.
This is the reality for instructors on such platforms who have adopted a simple strategy to ensure that they provide courses at the basic level and hardly provide lessons on more advanced concepts.
Although this may not be the best for the viewer who wants to learn more advanced concepts, this model works well for the instructor as they get more people sticking with the course as opposed to losing viewers.
This leaves very little room for quality courses on more advanced concepts. Paid courses on the other hand may either be dedicated to the basics, medium, advanced concepts or in some cases covering every aspect of a subject or a course.
This means that learners who enroll in such paid courses are sure of receiving their desired type of course.
5. Dropout Rate
Although online courses have higher dropout rates compared to in-person courses, the dropout rates are even higher with free online courses.
Because free courses come at no cost to the learner, it’s easier for them to drop out and move on to the next thing.
However, dropout rates for paid courses are less than free courses as paid courses require some level of investment which incentivizes learners to continue and complete the course.
This doesn’t mean that there are no dropouts in paid courses, but it simply means that dropout rates in paid courses are lesser than in free courses.
It’s easy to say that paying for a course shows how serious you are about a course but that isn’t the case as you can still get the same result from a good free course with strong self-discipline.
Although some industries may not place much emphasis on an academic qualification but instead on practical skills, some organizations and industries still do in our modern era.
In the case where a certificate may be relevant in your professional advancements and employability, ensuring that whichever course you enroll in provides a certificate is a necessity.
That said, not all certificates are accredited therefore making them irrelevant in some situations.
Most free courses for instance do not provide a certificate on completion. This means learners can acquire the skills and training but do not get a certificate to present to employers.
Learners in free courses in some cases can pay to acquire the certificate on completion of the course.
However, paid courses on the other hand may come with some form of a certificate. Some may be accredited and others simply provide a certificate that can be made available on your LinkedIn profile or saved and printed.
7. Quizzes & Assignments
Paid courses can be hosted in a variety of ways including marketplace platforms like Udemy and hosted on the instructor’s own learning management system (LMS).
Testing is a part of learning and such platforms provide features that can be leveraged to help learners gain a better understanding of a topic before moving on to much more detailed and higher-level ones.
Unfortunately, most free courses on platforms like YouTube do not have these functionalities making it difficult to help learners test their levels of understanding of concepts learned before proceeding to even harder or more advanced concepts.
8. Resource Files
Most paid courses are hosted on a marketplace platform or on a customized learning management system (LMS) making it easy to include any necessary resource files in the lessons.
Although free courses can also be hosted on similar platforms, most do not make resource files accessible to learners.
In some cases, learners who enroll in the free course can only have access to these files once they become paying customers. Lessons on platforms like YouTube on the other hand do not usually include resource files or in some cases, these files can be hosted on separate platforms for learners to access.
The Bottom Line
Paid courses have their advantages and so do free courses. You can learn the same skills available in a paid course from a free course.
Simply weigh your options and leverage the best available option to get you the insight you need. If you’re primarily interested in the certificate, a paid course may be the best option especially when a free option with the certificate isn’t available.
Online courses are meant to make access to content easier and both paid and free courses work together to get the job done.