Today, Skillstalk Blog looks at how to choose an online course. There are lots of courses and providers out there, so it pays to spend time choosing carefully. So what should you look for when choosing to study online?
Finding your best course in 5 steps
According to this study, "The rate of growth in online learners is ten times that of the rate in all higher education and while growth rates increase, 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course, an increase of 560,000 students over the previous year."
#1: Do your research
Let’s start with the number-one tip: do your research! More people are studying online courses than ever before, which makes for more choice than ever before. That’s great news, but it does mean you need to sort the good from the bad. One of the best indicators of quality is accreditation.
An accredited course tells employers and other education institutions that you've completed a course of study that’s relevant, rigorous and of a high standard. But don’t just take the provider’s word for it – take a bit of time to verify accreditation by checking with awarding body. In Australia, quality providers are listed as Registered Training Organisations; visit www.training.gov.au to search the listings, and visit the Australian Qualifications Framework.
#2: Look at reputation
Our number-two tip is to look at the reputation of the course and the provider. If previous students have mostly positive things to say, you’re probably on to a good thing. But don’t forget, not everyone leaves feedback, and even reputable providers are stronger in some fields than others. Look at completion rates; a high drop-out rate is a flashing red light. So is what happens after you’ve completed the course; ask how many students have found relevant employment or gone on to higher education after study. If the figures are low, the course probably isn’t delivering.
#3: Open up the lines of communication
Number three is all about communication between you, other students, and your trainer. Online learning means just that: there’s no campus or college library, and your desk is your classroom. That means a solid, fully interactive network of support is vital, so you can reach out to others when you need to. You want to see plenty of active discussion forums, and a responsive trainer who gives regular feedback and support. So here’s number three: find out what interactive channels are in place before you choose a course.
#4: Only consider what you can reasonably afford
Tip four is one of the most important; make sure that you carefully consider the financial implications of any course you undertake. If a provider you encounter is pushing you to take on a course that costs more than you can afford, or has overly pushy sales tactics - then these are very loud alarm bells. It’s important that information about course fees is easy to follow and transparent. If it isn’t, it’s time to move along.
#5: Look at the course content closely
Tip five is one of the most important things to consider. Let’s say you’ve found the right course delivered by a reputable provider, then it’s time to take a good look at the course material and the course structure (modules/units etc.).Look for logical, dynamic and easy to understand, well designed course materials, with plenty of supporting documents. You don’t want to be scrolling through screens of unbroken text. If you’re looking for a vocational, marketing or IT course, make sure the course is correctly up to date and industry supported.
The beauty of online learning is its flexibility, which makes it easy for you to fit in your learning around other commitments and study when it suits you. That means knowing what to expect is key, and a good course will set this out very clearly from the start. Look for a comprehensive course introduction, with a rough guide to the sort of time commitments you’ll need to plan for each element.
Launch your career with a course closely related to your career outcomes
You’ll need a working computer and basic programs like Word and email programs for most courses. Obvious, right? Check what sort of bandwidth and software capability the course demands for good accessibility. A good course should take into account that not everyone has a super-computer on their desk. Pages should load quickly, links should work, images should be small, and videos linked rather than embedded if they are particularly large or lengthy.
If you want to use an online course as a stepping-stone to further education, or to build up your resume, you’ll want your course credits to be transferable (look at RPL or recognition of prior learning) and relevant to higher education institutions, employers and your industry. Choose a course offering credits that can be counted towards further studies, awards, and membership of professional associations.
Finally, get a feel for the course and who’ll be teaching it by dropping the trainer a line via LinkedIn, or by looking at their online profile. Most trainers will be happy to talk about their subject, but this is also a good way to find out how responsive and engaged the learning provider is, and what to expect from the course and assessments. This might be the closest you’ll get to meeting the trainer - probably one of the most important relationships you’ll have during the lifetime of the course.
At the end of the day, online learning has come of age. Now, there are more courses available from a wide range of providers, leading to both academic and vocational qualifications, with fully interactive and engaging learning materials. The advantages for learners are many: increased opportunities for higher education and improved prospects in the job market to name but a few.
Has an online course made a difference to your work or higher education prospects? Leave a comment and share your experience with others!