7 Reasons to Take a Class Online

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Creative Commons Clemens Locker

Clemens Locker

If you’ve been putting off signing up for an online course, I have three words for you: Just do it!

Why? Well, I’ve got seven compelling reasons (and a caveat):

1. Big Thinkers. Online courses connect you to incredible thought leaders. Seth Godin offered his first course on Udemy this year. I paid the $27 and signed up. Why? Because I’m always eager to hear what he has to say and I know I’ll rarely see him in person.

2. Timely Topics. If there’s a topic I want to learn more about, there’s a good chance I can find a course on it. For example, when I wanted a course on Big Data, I was able to sign up for a free course with Ryan Baker through Coursera.

3. Diverse Approaches. Taking online courses helps me to see what approach others take to teaching that topic. I learn which materials they choose, how they organize them, and how they design the experience for the learner. Most recently, I’ve taken edX’s Data Wise course for that reason.

4. Multiple Perspectives. Online courses offer me a quick way to gauge the instructor’s perspective on a topic. What views are they sharing? What resources get prioritized? Which authors or speakers get a voice? Which perspectives are missing? How do their perspectives compare to others in the field, as well as my own?

5. Many Ways in. When I take an online course, I can enter it at any point. That may mean taking a course after it’s been offered in real time. It may also mean registering for a course and then diving in a few days, weeks or months in, after it’s already begun.

6. Useful Tools. Courses like Jane Friedman’s MBA for Writers or Jeff Goins’ Intentional Blogging course help me gain specific skills, like intentional blogging or search engine optimization (SEO). They also help me sense make a new learning landscape.

7. Maximum Flexibility. I can engage with the information provided in any way I like. I can do a deep dive, get a broad understanding, work through every assignment and project, and so on. It’s up to me. And it depends on what I need and how much time I have.

What else do you need to know? Well, some online courses are free (e.g., Coursera and edX), while others require payment (Udemy, Jane Friedman’s MBA for Writers). Others are ways for folks to swap their expertise (e.g., Jeff Goins’ course on Intentional Blogging) for your email address (to grow their email lists). You can choose whether you want to audit the course or, where offered, take it for credit or certification. Especially if you audit, don’t let the fear of an “incomplete” deter you – this won’t be held against you in future courses.

Oh. And here’s a caveat: research shows that we ascribe more value to what we pay for. In fact, the value we ascribe increases the more we pay. In may case, I paid $27 for Seth Godin’s Udemy course. As a result, I viewed many classes, downloaded a number of handouts, and worked through some of the reflection exercises. In contrast, with Jane Friedman’s MBA for Writers course, where I paid $249 for all 6 sessions at 1.5 hours each, I not only downloaded every resource but also attended the sessions in real time, contributed questions and ideas, and connected with session participants on and offline.

What’s next? Well, I’m looking forward to taking Andrew Ng’s course on Machine Learning and Pieter Abbeel’s course on Artificial Intelligence. Most likely, I’ll also audit an economics course. Best part? They’re free, they’re available to me whenever I want to get started, AND they’ll connect me to the big ideas and deep thinkers associated with these topics.

Let me know which online courses you’ve taken or plan to take this year!

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