(This post was kindly shared by our friends at the Beaglecourse blog)
More and more people are joining the online learning bandwagon. For those that are just getting started or want to know more: This post is meant as a beginners guide to online learning. Hopefully these tips will help you be more effective at finding the best online course. Below are:
1) Certificate of completion
This is an important thing to remember before you enroll on a course. What is your purpose? If part of your goal is to improve your resume for instance, it might come in handy to get a certificate of completion for your efforts as you need something to show for it. Several providers offer certificates of completion, including Udemy, Coursera, Edx and Udacity. It’s good to keep in mind though that while many of these providers offer their courses for free, you’ll often need to pay a premium to become eligible for the official certificate.
2) Study credits
Sometimes a certificate of completion is not enough. One of the great promises of online learning is that it’ll eventually be able to replace traditional education. Providers such as Straighterline are actually quite far on this mission, as their platform enables students to receive actual study credits for their online efforts. This way, it’s possible to get an almost free “real-world” degree through online learning.
When searching for a course on a given topic, it often happens that you’ll end up with a bunch of courses that seem to be quite suited to your needs. This can make it hard to choose. A good differentiator to look at in such cases is course popularity. Of course this is not an unambiguous metric, as the wisdom of the crowd is not always right for your case, but it’s often a good starting point.
This sounds like quite an obvious one, but there are quite significant differences between providers that you wouldn’t expect. Especially MOOC*s often have a duration that’s between several weeks and several months. More skill-based courses as offered on Skillshare or Udemy have a duration that’s more likely to be measured in hours.
Generally speaking, providers such as Udacity, Skillshare, Udemy and Lynda have courses with constant availability. EdX and Coursera courses on the other hand follow a specific paradigm and are usually available every 6-12 months.
Some providers try to lock in users by making their courses only available through memberships. Especially Lynda and Treehouse are known for this. Other providers such as Udemy have a pay-as-you go business model, which allows for easier exploration.
One of the bigger pitfalls to watch out for when searching a course are the provider rating systems. The main problem here is that every provider has its own way of rating courses, which is not always as objective as it should be and quite hard to compare. Udemy for example has a fairly straightforward star-based rating system with a scale from 1 to 5. Skillshare on the other hand gives a percentage that’s based on the number of ratings. While both can be expressed as a percentage, their meaning is much, much different.
Are you someone who likes to work alone? Platforms such as Skillshare allow for lots of collaboration and have deeply integrated peer-reviews into their learning materials. For some this can be highly beneficial and a lot of fun, but it might also not be for you.
9) Practice vs. Academics
This is a tradeoff that’s of course also very present in traditional education. In online learning this is no different. MOOC providers such as Coursera and Edx are almost always based upon academic standards, as the courses are given by professors. The content is therefore of a very high level, but possibly somewhat less practical by nature. Skill-based providers such as Lynda, Skillshare and Udemy offer more practical courses that are very hands on, but somewhat less academic.
10) Course structure
This is probably the most important one of all. Especially when you’re new to online learning, you might expect that all providers have a very similar offering in terms of structure. After reading this post, you might already have some ideas of how providers differ, but it felt good to address this once more. MOOC providers have an academic background and follow a curriculum structure that shows great similarity with the academic world. There are online video lectures, followed up by a series of exercises. In addition, there are forums where you can ask questions when you get stuck. Skill-based providers are less bound to a specific structure. Some courses are really focused on learning-by-doing, while others can be just a series of video lectures with no exercises at all.
Online learning is growing rapidly. As you can see, there are a lot of options out there and it can sometimes be overwhelming. Hopefully this post helps you get a better understanding of all the offerings out there. A lot of the issues listed above are underlying to what Beagle is trying to solve. Beagle is completely free, so if you’re on the lookout for a great course, be sure to give Beagle a try.
*MOOC - massive open online course.
Post first published on the BEAGLE blog by Vincent van Leeuwen.