March 14th, 2019 E-Learning

With so many online courses available on nearly every topic, how do you decide which one is the best for you?

Let’s say you want to learn a business skill like online marketing. What is the first thing you would do?

Most people they would go to Google and search for an online marketing course. This would return thousands of results. Even if you were able to narrow this list down to 10 courses, how do you decide which online course is best?

You are bound to face a similar dilemma when searching for any online course, no matter the subject. I will share with you five tips you can use to determine if the course you are looking at is worth the hype or if it’s just marketing fluff.

1. Is it an accredited course?

This isn’t going to be applicable to most courses but for select industries it is very important. If you are looking for a course that is for a particular profession (healthcare, accounting, instructional design, etc.) then there is likely a board that grants accreditation for courses that meet a specific criteria.

Getting accreditation for an online course is not easy. The review process is often rigorous and expensive. If one of the courses you are looking at taking is accredited then you know that the content is deemed high-quality by the industry. The downside is that accredited courses often cost more.

2. What is the completion rate?

One of unfortunate truths about online courses is that completion rates are terribly low when compared to traditional classroom learning. While there are a variety of reasons why someone may not finish a course, an online course with a very low completion rate is an indication that something is wrong with the content.

Most course providers will not readily publish their completion statistics because quite frankly they won’t look all that impressive (the industry average is well below 50%). Still, this is data that any course provider will have on hand and should be able to provide. Contact them and ask for this percentage, then compare it to all of the another options to get a sense of which course is providing the most value to students.

3. How many students have taken the course?

Course providers often will publish how many students they have taught if the number is high enough. In many ways it is a vanity metric. But, this coupled with knowing the completion rate can help you determine which courses are having the biggest impact.

This metric becomes more relevant when you consider how many years the course provider has been in business. If they have had 5,000 students and have been in business for two years then that is pretty impressive! However, if they have been in business for six years then that figure is less impressive and may raise additional questions.

I am not saying that a course having less students is a direct indication that the content is worse than another course. It may offer you some clues but you need a bit more context before you can come to that conclusion. For example, if the online course offers a blended learning experience then having a more manageable enrollment is actually a benefit.

You shouldn’t think of this metric as the ultimate deciding factor. Some new courses may have less students but more relevant information. Blended learning courses will naturally have less students. Instead, think of this as one metric that helps you put the course offerings into the right context.

4. Is there a related course community?

Five years ago this wasn’t as big of a deal as it is today. Online courses that have an accompanying community provide more value than those that do not. Having the ability to interact with others to discuss the teachings is beneficial to fully understanding (and applying) the content.

The community is also metric of social proof. If the course community is “dead” with only a post every now and again then that should be considered a red flag. You want to find communities that are bustling with activity. Look for people discussing the various topics and helping one another out. Check to see if the admins are involved with guiding discussion. This gives you a clear indication that the content is relevant, people are engaged, and (most importantly) the teachings in the course are actually being used.

5. How often is the course content updated?

Similar to the completion rate this metric will be difficult to obtain. You will need to contact the course provider to get more information on this but it is arguably one of the most important metrics when assessing an online course.

I can tell you that online courses are not a “one and done” endeavor. Depending on the topic the content of the course may require updating quite often. This is often the case for courses that teach software.

A course that isn’t regularly updated is indicative of a few things:

  • The creators are lazy and think that their information is timeless (it’s not)
  • The visuals of the course will be dated, making for an lack-luster experience
  • The creators aren’t listening to feedback from learners to update content accordingly

If you find a course that says all the right things in the marketing material but it looks like it is from 2010, run away! Marketing material is much easier to update than course content. Hold course creators accountable for what they are teaching. The passionate ones will be easily recognizable as they will have no problem telling you that their content is constantly being modified based on new findings and learner feedback.

In the end, avoid the hype and look at the results.

As you assess which course is best for you the important thing to remember is that you cut through the marketing and sales pitches. The purpose of an online course is to teach you something that will provide some sort of benefit. We live in a results-oriented world. Your time is valuable so if you are going to spend it taking an online course then make sure you are able to verify that the content does produce the results you are looking to achieve.

Justin Ferriman photo

About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter

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