With advancements in technology, it is now easier than ever to achieve an online education. Furthermore, after the pandemic more and more people are adjusting to working and learning from home. 96% of households in the UK have internet access, meaning there is a staggering number of potential online students.
Many people, students and academics alike, are waking up to the benefits of online learning. Online learning is often more practical than traditional learning from conventional institutions. Students can easily access online courses from all over the world. This is without having to travel to a university campus, or any daily commute to a classroom.
A quick Google search shows just how many online courses there are, and how many online course providers there are. But are all providers and online courses created equal? How can you know if a course is worth the cost?
Well, there are a number of things you should consider when trying to choose the right online course. This article will explore these considerations, allowing you to decide which is the right online course for you.
What are the top things to consider when choosing an online course?
With so many options available, choosing a course can be mind-boggling. So, to help you find the best course for you, here’s a list of the top things you should be looking out for.
How much is the online course?
The first consideration is how much money you will have to pay, and whether you can afford it or not. Courses can vary greatly in price, as can quality. It is, therefore, a wise decision to evaluate the value for money an online course provides. For example, you should assess to what extent your investment will be recuperated, and how it will help your future career progression.
Unlike traditional university courses, most online providers do not offer scholarships. However, some forward-thinking establishments now offer a number of scholarship options. For instance, they may offer scholarships for public sector workers or those who have achieved first-class honours.
Another factor to consider when choosing an online course are the payment options. Some courses offer payment plans and installment options. Other institutions expect to be paid upfront. Some online education providers also offer discounts, such as Alumni discounts.
How flexible is the online course?
Most traditional university courses offer little flexibility, as lectures often have to be taught at a set place and time. This is where online courses can have the edge over their competition. The right online course platform will offer a great deal of flexibility.
Flexibility means someone can balance a job, their family life and learning with greater ease. Self-paced learning is often more flexible than instructor lead courses, meaning you can work to your own schedule. Some providers use the best online course software to provide unlimited access to learning. On the other hand, self-paced online courses can require more self-discipline, as it is easier to skip a day.
Other people prefer the rigid set schedule of live lessons. Students learning this way may have better peer interaction, as questions can be asked there and then. However, some online providers of non-live courses do offer personal mentors to contact for feedback and help when needed.
So, you should weigh up whether you prefer to access online material in your own time or to show up to scheduled live classes.
How long is the course?
A similar consideration is how long the course will take in total to complete. A student will need to decide how many hours they can commit to each week, and how many months, or years, they want to continue to study. For example, a part-time course will have fewer study hours each week, but the course will be longer. This is in comparison to a full-time course that will have more study hours, but less total time to complete.
Make sure you check a course provider’s website, to find out just how much time you will need to commit to their course. After all, course length can range from days to years, and choosing to study for years is a tremendous commitment to make!
Remember though that online flexibility will mean you may have more freedom to make a long-term commitment: if you move to a different city, or even a different country, you can still continue your studies online.
How reputable is the online course platform?
It is essential to research the reputation of your course provider, especially when making a substantial investment in a course. You should find out if their qualifications are recognised in your relevant job market.
Ideally, you should pick the course and provider most likely to help you in your professional development. You should also look at how experienced and effective a university or online platform is. For example, if the platform has a long history of teaching with successful outcomes, it may be prudent to choose this over newer platforms.
Online reviews also exhibit the quality of a course. Former students can help give an insight into how effectively a lecturer teaches, and gives feedback, for example.
How difficult is the course?
Another thing to consider is the course difficulty. Some students may only be interested in entry-level courses, as their professional career only requires a basic knowledge of the subject. They may not have the time, desire or ability to learn more specialist skills.
Other students choosing an online course may be looking to reach the pinnacle of their career. They may want to take on as much new knowledge, and skills as possible. However, a student with lofty ambitions may still be limited by course difficulty.
This is because most online courses have prerequisites for students. These may include previous qualifications and or industry experience. Course descriptions will generally guide a student towards their level using these prerequisites.
However, this is the time to be realistic about your experience and ability. If are not realistic, you could be wasting your time studying an easy course that teaches you nothing. Or worse, it could be too hard forcing you to drop out or fail.
What content does the course cover?
After you have chosen which general subject you wish to learn, it is time to focus on the specific content of any course you are considering. You should know exactly what you will be learning, and how it will help you progress in your field. Most courses will have clearly defined learning outcomes, making your choice easier.
A course page should break down which specific modules you will take, and which lectures will be taught. This is an important aspect when considering an online course. For example, the course may not teach a specific skill you are trying to acquire, rendering it worthless.
An online course may include project-based learning ,such as job placements. The course may be a gateway to getting a foothold in a particular business you are interested in. You should inquire into what industry links and connections the platform has. Such links would represent serious networking opportunities, which could be the key to securing the position you want.
How does the course platform assess you?
A prospective learner should also look at how the course assesses your work, to give your final grade or accreditation. Students vary in how they learn, and they also differ in how they best showcase what they have learned.
This is why a student should take into account the assessment method. For example, a student may thrive on the pressure of live exams. Or, a student may prefer the flexibility and calmness of coursework.
In some cases, such as bar exam type assessments, a multiple-choice style exam is used. It is also worth thinking about how the course structure prepares you for the specific exam. It may not be suitable to do a lot of project-based work for this style of examination.
Does the provider offer dual qualifications?
Some learners may wish to maximise their potential and time by achieving dual qualifications. Dual qualifications can allow learners to be qualified in multiple jurisdictions. This means those that qualify have a greater pool of opportunities. They can practice their trade, in more than one country, leaving the opportunity to travel for work open.
For example, Barbri using the SQE exam allow users to become dual qualified as solicitors. This means that as well as being qualified in their home country such as the US, they also attain accreditation in England and Wales.
This is incredibly beneficial for overseas solicitors, as it means they can practice in places such as London. London city is perhaps a world leader in law, as it hosts five of the world’s top 10 legal firms.
What is the course retention and graduation rate?
A number of key analytics should be explored to find out how effective a course is. The retention rate of a course should give insights into how engaging the course is. If there is a low retention rate, it means students are dropping out of the course, for one reason or another.
A low retention rate can represent a number of problems, including:
- A lack of student support and services
- Convoluted learning tools and resources
- Un-affordable payments
- Unengaging course structure and lessons
The graduation rate will show how many students managed to pass their course. It will give insight into the quality of the course, and the quality of lecturers. A number of online tools and resources are available for free, giving course analytics. Such software can analyse data to show the percentage of students that drop out, and the percentage that graduate.
More people than ever have access to the internet, meaning more people are learning online, instead of in lecture halls, and classrooms. However, some courses are more beneficial than others, and several key considerations need to be addressed.
Price should be a top consideration. Not only the total price but the payment options on offer should be considered. Furthermore, some platforms offer discounts, such as alumni discounts or scholarships. Be sure you can afford payments before committing to a course.
Flexibility is an important factor too. You should ask yourself if the classes fit around your daily schedule. For instance, if you work full-time, do you have the flexibility to learn when you want? Or are classes held at specific times?
You should also establish which kind of learning suits your personality type best. Some learners prefer rigid structure, while others prefer flexibility.
Students should also think about how much time they can dedicate to studying in general. Months or years of study can be too much of a commitment for some. However, flexible learning allows students to keep studying if they change location or lifestyle.
Reputation is of crucial importance. The reputation of the institution may underline the quality of the course and how it is taught. Also, If they are not accredited in the field you are trying to pursue, their qualifications will be useless. The stature, and history of the educator, can give a sense of how reputable the institution is.
Learners should also be realistic about difficulty. If a course is too hard it may lead to them dropping out. Similarly, if it is too easy it may not be worth their time.
Content should also be considered. It is important to research exactly what you will be studying, and how it benefits you in practical terms. It is also a good idea to think about what resources the educator provides. This includes links to relevant employers and library resources.
How the assessment is carried out should be another major consideration. A prospective student should think about whether or not the method of assessment suits their personality type and career ambitions. Students may or may not be given the chance to become dual qualified as well. This extra benefit may suit those that may wish to travel and work in other jurisdictions in the future.