Why You Should Take, and Even Maybe Teach, an Online Course

The Internet is full of cat videos, bad lip readings, and hilarious memes. All good things, of course. But, believe it or not, there’s actually some useful stuff online, too.

Chalkboard and classroom
Photo Credit: insomniac via Compfight cc

When I set out to start my own online course, I didn’t know much about online education. All I knew was I wanted to deliver a quality learning experience to my readers that went beyond the scope of my blog. And that was about it.

Then in an interview, I heard entrepreneur Ramit Sethi say that before you can charge a certain amount for a information product, you better be willing to pay that much. In this case, he was saying, “Don’t charge $2000 for a course until you spend $2000 and see what a $2000 product looks like.”

So, I started signing up for online courses. And boy, did I learn some things.

The Internet has changed education

This is not like when you were in college and the professor gave you a long, complicated URL to remember to post a weekly assignment. And it’s not like those foreign language correspondence classes you took in high school because no one in your small town taught Latin.

Things have changed. Big time. Now, an online course can be comparable to a real, live educational experience. In fact, sometimes it’s even better.

Let’s say you didn’t go to college. Or maybe like a lot of people you got a degree in one field of study and then figured out what you actually wanted to do. What now?

Well, you used to have two options:

  • Go back to school and get your degree. In other words, return to the system that didn’t work in the first place.
  • Read a lot of books and teach yourself (AKA the Good Will Hunting route).

Number 1 is often expensive and doesn’t guarantee you success in the marketplace (which is usually why people go this route). And Number Two is hard. it doesn’t work for people who need a teacher, someone to walk them through the process (and that’s most of us).

So what’s there left to do? Until a few years ago, nothing.

5 reasons to get serious about online learning

The web is exploding with legitimate, online education opportunities. But, you wonder, how can I trust this whole Internet thing with all its cat videos and memes? Good question.

Here are five reasons why you should get serious about online education:

  1. Online courses are less expensive. For a fraction of the cost, you can now get a University-level learning experience taught by industry experts. That is, if you take the right kind of classes (I’ll talk more about that in a minute).
  2. Online courses are more results-oriented. Since you’re likely giving money to someone you’ve never met, online educators are motivated to help you get the results you want (instead of simply teaching dry theory). Their reputations are on the line, after all.
  3. Technology makes the experience of an online course more exciting. Instead of attending a couple 45-minute lectures per week, you now get worksheets, discussion forums, and interactive presentations.
  4. The classrooms are cooler. You no longer have to grab a sack lunch and spend a half-day at your local community college, sitting in a cold, dimly-lit room. You can go attend class right in your living room — whenever you want.
  5. You get to keep the course. This might be my favorite reason. As opposed to traditional education where you the only keepsakes you get are the overpriced textbook and a three-ring notebook full of illegible scribbles, many online courses let you keep a lot of the course material (including the lessons).

If you haven’t considered taking an online course, I seriously think you should. But, and this is important, don’t just sign up for any class that comes along. There’s a lot of swindlers out there (who probably made the cat videos).

Criteria for a good online course

Here’s what to look for:

  • Credentials. Has the teacher achieved what she claims she has an expertise in? In other words, if you’re taking a course on how to get published, is a published author teaching it? Or at least someone who has had real-life experience in that industry? If other marks of legitimacy (i.e. licenses and such) are needed for what you want to learn, make sure she has those, too.
  • Testimonials. What do other students say about the course? Don’t just read the landing page copy, though; find some people who have gone through the class and will give you their honest opinion.
  • Access to the teacher. This is up to you, but I recommend taking a course that gives you some personal access to the teacher. That may mean live video chats or conference calls with other students. Or it could be personal email access when you get stuck. It really depends on the teacher and the material.
  • Discussion opportunities. One of the best parts of an online course is the opportunity to connect with other students who are going through the same experience as you (this is the best part of any educational experience). Does the course have a forum or Facebook group, a place to ask questions and get help from their peers?
  • Refund policy. Just like with college, there should be an initial period of time in which you have the freedom to drop your class, if it isn’t what you’d hoped. A 30- to 60-day money-back guarantee is pretty standard.

Notice that I didn’t include price in this list of criteria, and there’s a reason for that. There is no set standard for what an online course should cost. Many four-week courses are $200–$500, but then others range for six to 12 months may cost thousands of dollars.

It depends on your field and what kind of value you place on the information. Just know that taking this course online is typically going to be cheaper than paying for it in person.

“I could do better…”

If you’ve ever taken an online course, you may have noticed that there are some skunks out there.

One thing I noticed is these classes weren’t always worth my money or what I was expecting. There was a lot of hype at the front end, but then when it came time to take the class, the quality was sub-par.

This disappointed and frustrated me. It seemed like some people were using their marketing savviness to take advantage of people who really wanted to learn. I kept saying to myself, “I could do better.”

So one day, I did.

If you find yourself saying the same thing, maybe you should, too. Because it’s not enough to simply say things should be better. Sometimes, we have to be the change we want to see in the world (someone wise said that, I think).

Sometimes, our frustration is a sign of what we ought to be doing.

Have you ever taken an online course? What was your experience? Share in the comments.