Getting the most from your Online Courses
The following topics strictly reflect our opinions; however, they are meant to help you in your quest for online knowledge as well as a better job and/or economic future. In particular, this page is dedicated mainly to those of you who want to better themselves “economically” by taking online courses and MOOCs to acquire Certificates and/or Degrees. If you’re not in this category, then some of the points listed here can also help as technical careers and making money aren't everything. Again, these are our opinions and the points below come in no particular order. They are presented here to help you. Once you’ve had a chance to review the topics below, we hope we’ve succeeded where you’re concerned. If online education is not for you, then you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and money by what we have to say below. However, if even one of our online courses can help, then what’s presented below should answer some of your questions - and from our point of view exclusively.
Let’s Get This Out Of The Way First…consider why you employ any contractor like a plumber, electrician, house painter, etc. In effect you’re NOT employing them for “what they know”; rather, you’re employing them for “what they can do for you”. You don’t care about their training or certificates; you’re only interested in having them do a good job for you. The same holds true for any job be it blue collar or white collar; it’s what you can do with your knowledge and not just the knowledge itself. So look at doing a project when you apply for a job.
Do I need more education?
If this sounds like a rhetorical question, it is. Because if you're here reading this, you've already decided that you do need more personal education regardless of your job or career choice (including vocational). So the real question is, or should be... Is online education (as opposed to in-class education) the right choice for me? That's what this page is all about, and the following can help you to make your decision.
What is an online course?
An online course, as compared with a MOOC (next) is generally a way to acquire certain knowledge and skills from a wide variety of course creators via the Internet, many of which are not formal instructors. One such online course provider is Udemy - there are others. Also, online courses usually don't come with Certificates or Degrees, although they say they do, so be careful here. A Project is your best bet to succeed in finding a job or career. Check out what we have to say about Projects here.
What is a MOOC?
A MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, is what online education is all about these days, and that’s what’s presented on this Website. Regular classrooms have between 10 and 100 students while MOOCs have thousands. But individual attention in online education is the reverse of regular schools. With the Internet you can expect one-on-one assistance from your online contacts, both teachers and students. That’s what our third-party hosts do for you. MOOCs started around 2010, so they’re not that old or established yet. Here’s a YouTube video that explains the current MOOC approach fairly well.
Can MOOCs "scale"?
What this means is..."How can a university handle 1,000 to 100,000 students in an online class setting?". As it turns out, it is easier and more efficient to handle these amounts on students "online" as everything is run by computers as compared to in-class where human beings (like the instructor and assistants) handle all tasks. There is no longer any doubt that MOOCs can offer a better educational experience for you including better personalization, better grading and a (far) better grasp of knowledge. Read on...
Will MOOCs replace traditional college?
Not for a long time to come - and maybe never - again, our opinion but wait - there's more. Within a lifetime automobiles replaced the horse and buggy and flat panels replaced CRT (tube) TV sets and computer monitors fairly rapidly. But there is inertia and lots of money in regular colleges (paid for real estate, tenured professors who can't be fired, etc.) , so it's really up to them, the colleges and universities, to make the switch completely to online education. Right now online education is "supplemental" to traditional in class learning. Obviously, we're personally in favor of online education "supplanting" traditional education, but old habits die hard. Remember your last horse and buggy ride to the General Store? Probably not, since at one time this was common place but is now replaced by something better. So to is the fate of online education versus the campus; its time will come when it comes - if ever.
Are MOOCs impersonal?
Hardly. Even with thousands or millions of students enrolled in the same online course, the experience is highly personal. Why? Because the Internet itself is the great equalizer. No longer is just the teacher in charge of the class; rather, the students are now able to see each others online course work as well the instructor…and both are able to comment on it directly to you via email, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.. This means that you, too, can see and comment on your peer’s work, as well, which is the best way to learn. The teacher becomes the facilitator of the materials being presented and not simply the authority on the subject that dispenses the knowledge and grades. Then the students take it from there. And just like a big city where you won’t know everyone, an online course still gives you the opportunity to interact with enough of your peers (as well as your instructor) to make it personal. The result is a better understanding of the material being studied coupled with a an insight into of your peers’ work. Remember, your peers are the people that you’re both competing with in the job market as well as those that are there to help you with your online courses (along with you helping them). This stuff works!!
Are the MOOC online courses accredited?
Most are but some aren’t. Here are some examples. Coursera was founded by professors from Stanford while edX is an MIT/Harvard collaboration and, of course, these educational institutions are fully accredited and have been for decades. Udemy is not; it is mainly for acquiring general knowledge at low cost. That said, the majority of Udemy courses are great ways to introduce subjects to you so you don’t have to spend an “arm and a leg” to find out if they’re right for you. Udemy costs are generally between $10 and $50 per course (and sometimes less). Going back to Coursera, edX, ed2go and Simplilearn that offer Certificates and/or Degrees, these organizations have partnered with many local colleges and universities that may, or may not, be accredited. Check out the next subject about accreditation, i.e., don’t take accreditation too seriously, since it's what YOU DO that counts.
Is accreditation that important?
This is a qualified “yes”, but it really comes down to what you can do with your knowledge that is far more relevant to employers. Just because your Certificate or Degree is from an accredited source doesn’t guarantee (or even qualify) you for a job. Just look at all the formally educated people out there (from accredited institutions) that can’t find a job in their chosen profession and are drowning in student loan debt. To get ahead of the game check out what a Project can do to get you your dream job. Get your knowledge with any of our online courses (accredited or not) and then do a Project based around your knowledge to prove what you’ve learned…AND…prove to your employer that you can do “them” some good. IOHO accreditation is over rated and, again, it’s how you apply the knowledge you receive from anywhere that makes the difference.
Is it free?
Mostly…and with no catch…you can audit most of the courses for free, but you’ll need to pay the fees (they vary) if you want credit for taking it like for a Certificate or Degree. The exception is Udemy that charge for the courses up front but only after a few free introductory videos, which can also help you to decide if the course is for you. This gives you a lot of opportunity to check out courses that you might want to take before paying for them. But like anything that’s free, you won’t have much of an incentive to finish the course once you’ve started. Think of it this way; if you went into a movie theater “free” would you watch the entire picture or just walk out after (you thought) it got boring. Paying for something has the effect of commitment, so consider that when you choose any online course. Free is the model for MOOCs right now, but that may change over time. Take advantage of this free stuff while you can to filter out what you want and don’t want to learn. It will probably change later on to some other economic model.
Is it confusing?
It can be and it is. The basic fact is this; every online course provider or MOOC has their own language that you'll need to learn (like pedagogy, rubric and even MOOC). Also, most of them have a different term for "Certificate" or "accredited" or whatever. It's just a bunch of in house jargon that you'll need to sift through to understand what's being offered to you - and what it can do for you. Like any advertising hype, online education has its own way of trying to convince you that their program is better than the next guys. Plus, some of this language goes back years. But take heart; you'll eventually learn it, but only if you dig deep enough into their individual programs and attempt to compare apples to apples.
Is online education fun?
Maybe, at first, but it’s really hard work. Parties are fun. Outings are fun. Some people and activities are fun. But education is hard work…mainly because you don’t know what’s expected of you (at first) and because learning something new is always outside your comfort zone.
Is online education easy?
No…again, it’s hard work. Watching TV is easy. Social media is easy. Education is not. Face it.
Is online education fulfilling?
Yes…definitely! That is, when you do the work correctly and receive a great grade (or Certificate or Degree) then it all becomes worth it. When you’re doing fun stuff (like parties or playing with your smart phone) you need to do it over and over because the thrill passes quickly. Accomplishing something hard (like online education…or any education for that matter) lasts a long time and can be savored over and over again like a great meal ... and for a long time to come.
Do I need to start early in the morning?
Probably not. Online learning is not like regular school where you must physically be in a certain place at a certain time (remember those horrible morning classes where you were more dead than alive?). Generally, you can study your course material at any time, day or night, but you’ll need to check with your online course provider for specifics. Some courses require attendance at specific times (online, that is), but this is rare. Online education is coming around to what email has been from day one…you get to it when you want and respond when you want... and not when they want you to.
Which online course provider is best?
That’s like saying which automobile or restaurant is best. All the online offerings on this website are valuable. Your job is to research which one is right for your situation just as you would for your next car or meal out. We’ve taken the time to filter through what we think you’ll need, but it’s up to you to (put in some hard work and) research things for yourself.
Can an online Certificate or Degree help me?
Absolutely! But you still need to know how to apply it to your situation. The best way to secure a better job or advance in your current job or career is to add a Project that you’ve done to show your employer that your new Certificate or Degree did you some good (make that…did your employer some good). Remember, it’s not what you “know” …it’s what you can “do”…that’s what employers are looking for, and your Project can be your edge.
If a Project can help me then what is a Project?
A Project is something physical.
It’s a “thing” that shows your perspective employer that you can “do” something (rather than just “know” something, like a Certificate or Degree generally does).
Do a physical Project based on your newly acquired knowledge. If you’re a programmer, then create some code (and add comments). If you’re applying for a medical job then create something that looks like you know your stuff.
And HAND THEM SOMETHING ON PAPER…like an example of what you’ve done on your own. Don’t just show them a link to your website or blog or resume or on your smartphone - make it a physical HAND OUT so that they take it.
And include your photo, email and phone number on the HAND OUT so they’ll remember you and be able to contact you.
This is what every good sales person does when they meet you – they hand you a brochure, business card or something with their contact information that you may eventually toss in the garbage, but the fact that they did so will also cement their interaction with you in your mind. And you might go back to them after all.
Employers are looking for “what you can do for them” and not so much about “what you know”. A Project will set you apart from your competition. Know this difference and you will be way ahead.
And BTW the MOOCs don’t tell you this because education is their primary focus (and not your job). But give them time; they’ll catch on.
Coursera may be ahead of the game on this with their Capstone Project, and the other MOOCs have and will follow with equivalent project-based learning models.
But in the meantime, do a Project “of your own” and not one that’s given to you by the providers. It will look like you really know your subject and that you "care enough" to take your employer's valuable time to interview you.
Above all else a Project will set you apart from the crowd.
What if I like techie stuff like engineering but don't want to do math all day ?
Take a look at this YouTube video (and this one) that explains it pretty well. And you'll see that you don't need to be a math wiz to be a techie, but you do need to understand problem solving and critical thinking. These are good videos; take a look!
What careers pay the most?
Technical careers like engineering, computer programming, finance and medicine are just some that pay the best. But you’ll need lots of math and science (which is really math) to make it happen; that is, while you're in school (online or not). If you’re inclined to these subjects, then technical careers are the best choice. But if you can’t at least cut Algebra, then a technical career is probably not for you.
What careers pay the least?
Music, teaching, art, fashion, drama, history, entrepreneurship, poetry and the humanities to name a few (non-technical careers). There are courses here for these “rewarding” subjects, as well, so if you’re not motivated completely by money and don’t care much for math, you’ll find what you want here. Remember, if everyone were a programmer or engineer (perish the thought), this would be a dull world. Make a living at what you want, but be careful about going into debt for it.
What about vocational careers?
While these are sometimes the best way to go, we don’t offer much here for you. That said, if you like to work with your hands and don’t mind getting dirty, then the sky’s the limit for some great (money making) careers in plumbing, mechanics, electrician, brick layer, stone mason, etc. Especially, learning how to operate and program new CNC automated machines is a fine and relatively clean career (https://www.haascnc.com/index.html ). My boat mechanic gets $130 / hour and he’s busy all-day long. My plumber makes about the same and he’s also a concert clarinetist in the evenings. These are top notch men and women who do a valuable service for a lot of dough. Something to consider.
Should I research the company/government agency that I’m applying to?
Yes…without a doubt…and now more than ever. Knowing about the company you want to become a part of before you interview is now a must! Do your research online before you interview with them. Mention the company’s products, services, techniques, etc. in your interview, because it will show them that you’re interested in “them” and not just yourself. While your new online Certificate or Degree is about you, you must construct your interview around how your new knowledge can help your employer. And in the process, you’ll be well taken care of should you get the position you’re after. Why? Because you’ve shown interest in the things you’ll eventually be doing for them.
Where do I start?
Begin by reviewing all the courses we’ve selected for you here. Delve deeply into their websites and begin to pick the course(s) you’d be interested in. Then, go to some job websites like www.monster.com, www.dice.com, and others to see what employers want. Then make your choice. Remember, underwater fish surveys could be your calling because you like the ocean and SCUBA diving, but who will pay you to do it?
Which course(s) should I choose?
If you don’t already know what courses or career path you want to take, first take a look at Udemy. They have courses in just about anything you can think of, and they’re not expensive (about the cost of a book or DVD). Take a few courses to see if this is what you’re after, then go on to research more challenging (harder) ones that can offer a Certificate and/or a Degree.
Is a Certificate (and the cost to get it) “worth it”?
Yes…but only if you check with your employer or future employer first. Make sure that they will recognize your accomplishments, a.k.a., your Certificate or Degree as proof (or at least evidence) of your hard work. Otherwise, save your money and don’t go for it. That said, a Certificate or Diploma can usually look good hanging on your wall if you don’t follow through correctly. Do a Project along with your Certificate or Degree to get an edge on your competition.
Is a Certificate the same as college credit?
No. It simply means that you actually took and passed the course rather than audit it. Generally, no credit is assigned to a Certificate, but things change so keep looking at the Certificates page for updates.
Is an online degree as good as one from college?
The fundamental answer is Yes, but the actual reality may be something else entirely. It all depends on your employer or future employer. Online education is here to stay, but some companies are still stuck in the middle ages as far as “formal” education goes; they think “brick and mortar ” classes are the only way to learn. That said, all the online degrees offered here are from established “brick and mortar” institutions, so they’ve already gotten the message about online education…it’s here to stay and they know it. Here's a YouTube video that has additional information. Regardless, do a Project along with your Certificate or Degree that proves you know what you know. That’s what ALL companies (and government agencies) want, a.k.a. a Project that you did on your own. They want you to demonstrate to them what you know through something tangible…. and not just show them that you know it with a Certificate or Degree.
Should I “Pay to Play”?
Yes, without a doubt. Once you know what you want then get some skin in the game (a.k.a. money) or else you’ll most likely drop out or fall way behind. Just like anything that you pay money for, you’ll probably do better if there’s that nagging factor in the back of your mind that says you need to do something positive and not just cruise along and eventually quit. Once you’re ready, pay for a Certificate or Degree, and by doing so you’ll be automatically motivated to continue regardless of the difficulty. You’ll do this for college in any case, so there’s not much difference, except you probably won’t have a massive student loan(s) in the end that you’ll never be able to pay off. Online education has the important advantage of a mostly lower cost education (that is, right now...things change).
Is there a guarantee of success or a job if I get a Certificate or Degree?
Is there a guarantee of anything?
Not in this life.
Is there financial aid?
Yes. Most of the online offerings here have some form of financial aid but be very cautious of “loans”. Don’t get trapped into a massive or even small debt to pay for your education. Make sure that it will pay you back before you commit to any financial aid. Think of education as an investment like buying a house; you want it to pay you back with a profit when you need to sell it.
How do I start when I don’t know what I want?
Try Udemy. They have courses in just about everything, and the courses cost about the same as a book or DVD.
Can I drop out and get my money back?
It depends on the course provider and your circumstances. Most of the participants here offer refunds if you’re not too far along in the course. But, again, this varies widely. Remember, these people are in business, so making money is a prime goal for them. They’re also human and can usually accommodate extenuating circumstances like a sickness, a move, a fire or a flood, etc. But don’t tell them you couldn’t finish the course because you had to go to Tahiti for a month’s vacation because your partner wanted you to. Think of it this way – online education is your job and the thing that will get you fired or promoted is the same as your actual job.
Will I really learn something?
Probably. That is, if you apply yourself to what you’re supposed to be learning.
Will online learning make my life better?
Hard to say, but it’s like chicken soup for a cold, it might not be able to help, but it can’t hurt.
Is the cost worth it?
Most likely, but it all depends on how you structure your “investment” (and that’s what it is) in your course work. If your new knowledge can earn back your investment and then some, then it’s worth it. Otherwise, you’ll be like all the other college grads that “thought” they were guaranteed a career if they just got a diploma. Not true. Make your money work for you by researching your new Certificate or Diploma carefully. Remember, your education is like a good business decision. Do something that’s profitable from the get go.
Are there grades?
Yes. But you should make an “A” in everything you tackle. Why? Because you will have the “time” to go back and review what you missed and actually have a chance to learn the subject completely. This is “the significant difference” between in-class and online education. In online education time expands to allow you to really understand what you’re learning. In regular school time is “fixed” and grades are the variable (A, B, C, D, F). In online learning the grade is “fixed” and time is the variable. If you shoot for an “A” (full understanding of what you’re learning) you should be able to do it.
How long does it take?
Weeks to months. Don’t fall for “Learn XYZ in a Day”. This is a come on and is designed simply to take your money. Like anything important, it will take time and effort on your part to learn something valuable for both you and your employer.
Can I get a better job?
Most likely, but make sure you do a Project along with receiving a Certificate or Degree.
Can I get help?
Yes. This is one of the fundamental advantages of online education – help is always a mouse click or Skype visit away. It varies with which online educator you go with and the particular course that you sign up for, but help is always there. Try getting one-on-one help in regular college (ask your friends that tried); online education has this part beat hands down!
What about socialization?
It’s there but in a different way. You’re in “class” with hundreds or thousands of other students just like you and you’re normally given the opportunity to interact with them via email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc., so while physical socialization may be lacking, online socialization is part of the package. And if you ever attended regular college, how many people did you get to know personally? Probably just a few, as college is very isolating in this regard; online education shines in terms of knowing others personally.
Is online education just another job?
Yes – or you can think of it that way. At times it can be fun, hard, frustrating, exciting, boring and rewarding – just like a real job. But payday comes with more benefits than just money; your online education puts you ahead of the game - way ahead!
I’m a professional already – can online education help me?
Yes. Online Professional Development is really designed more for you than anyone else. It’s there to help you with your career “on your schedule and within your budget”.
What does “self-paced” mean?
It means that you can go as fast or slow as you need to learn your subjects. There are certain restrictions depending on the courses you take, but that’s about it.
Can I always get an “A”?
You should…because with online courses you can go back and review what you’ve missed. We all zone out and miss important details during normal lectures, but with an online course you’re able to never miss a thing, since you can go back and review what you missed the first (second or third) time around.
What if I fall behind?
If you’ve ever played a musical instrument the following will sound familiar. Some of you will learn to play quickly while others will take longer…sometimes much longer. But if you stick with it you’ll eventually learn your instrument. What this means is that (with online courses) you can give yourself enough time to learn the subject completely and not be pushed along with the rest of the class as in a standard classroom setting. In regular classes, either you get it the first time the material is presented or you don’t. Online is better in this way. Much better!! You can give yourself the necessary time to learn your subject(s) by going back and re-reviewing the material. Then everyone can perceive you as a “virtuoso”.
What does “self-motivated” mean?
It means that no one is standing over you to do your work. You, and you alone, need to do it…just like your job. If you don’t do your job correctly after a little training, you’ll get fired (or at least demoted). So, if you don’t do your coursework, you’ll fail…same thing.
What’s with all those “smiling faces” in the ads?
You’ve noticed that, huh. These people look like they’re really having fun; some even look ecstatic as if they just won the lottery. But is online learning like this? Well IOHO it isn’t. It’s hard work. Your smiles will come later when you put in the time and eventually ace the course. Maybe the people in these ads already have done so; or maybe it’s just standard marketing on the part of the course givers (you decide ;). If you have a smile on your face at work then you’ll probably have one with your online course. Otherwise, you won’t. But it will come across your face once you do the work and get rewarded for it (by your grade, better job, recognition, etc.) Stick with it and like anything in life, you’ll eventually get rewarded.
Why are most online courses just like classroom lectures?
In the original motion pictures (1910 – 1925) no one really knew how to make movies, so the theater Play model was used to make films, i.e. fix the camera in a location and let the actors perform as if on stage (again, because they didn’t understand the medium of film or how to use the camera yet). So to are most of the current crop of online courses. Most simply use the standard classroom lecture model for teaching – the teacher lectures and the students listen – notes are taken (by students) and tests are given (by instructors) for grades as a measure of what you know. This is still a fact of life for (most) online courses for now, but things will get better as time goes on – just like movies did. Bottom line…online education is better than any sit-down class lecture any day, so take what’s being given to you and make the best of it. Stay tuned, however, as online courses are improving daily and some course providers are moving away from the strict lecture model to more interactive learning paradigms. Remember, these are some of the smartest people in the world that create these courses, plus they have a job responsibility to make their courses the "best". Take heart, things will get better soon enough.
Who grades my work?
If you’ve picked the right courses, both your instructor (or TA – teaching assistant) AND your peers will grade your work. As a matter of fact YOU will be eligible to grade others in your class, too. And they will grade and comment on your work. This makes for the best learning possible, since you’ll receive feedback from your peers who are more than willing to help you. Plus, once you’re used to it, you will probably help others, as well. It’s win-win and you won’t find this kind of direct help in the standard classroom, where everyone is on their own.
Why Trades are like MOOCs
Trades, like plumbers, carpenters, machinists, electricians, brick layers, mechanics, etc., normally require a “mentor” to teach one-on-one as to how things are done. That’s not true in college; in college you’re on your own. However, online education is like a trade in that you do get one-on-one help when you need it…and from both instructors and your peers. Online education is better than college in this (very important) way. And BTW don’t shy away from trades if you’re so inclined; they can be, and sometimes are, the most rewarding careers out there – just ask my $130/hour boat mechanic who learned from his father…that’s $260K / year full time, but he works 7 days a week, so it’s really more like $300K+ per year. What white collar career pays that?
Online Shopping and Online Education
Remember when online shopping was a new thing? Then, again, maybe you grew up with online shopping being what it is today. Online shopping hasn't replaced traditional stores, but if Amazon is any indication of its success, online shopping is here to stay. So to is online education (we feel). While it won't replace traditional in-class education for awhile, it has the potential to reach 1000X+ more people that can directly benefit from it. Online education is in its infancy right now, so give it time to mature. But if you're an early adopter of online education, you'll benefit immediately from it, which we hope you will.
More To Come....