Conceptually, online courses aren't really a “new age” thing, are they? Remember correspondence courses from the days of yore? How different were those really from today's online courses? In theory, you'd take up these courses for the same reasons and would watch out for the same qualities and/or pitfalls as you would in a correspondence course. Only now you have many forums, like udemy courses that give you the opportunity and have lots and lots of choice in terms of subjects covered.
How online courses evolved?
A quick look at the evolution of online courses will show us how it is growing in importance and will also point at why this is happening.
From the said correspondence courses to courses in classrooms that played videos there was one thing running in common. They made high quality education accessible to people who would've otherwise been deprived.
I too have taken up courses in the latter form covering a huge variety – to study for my CPA exam in a small town in the US to doing Vipassana, a meditation course that is popular world-wide. Both courses had the founder of the institution give lectures on the subject matter through videos.
I cannot emphasize enough, how much difference it made having the expert address you directly. Sure, there are teachers around in person who can help you with any questions you have, but the lectures themselves were self-sufficient.
Next logical step: Online Courses
With the advent and creative use of new technology every day, it is only logical that you have access to this from your desk. There were hiccups when the idea was introduced in the early 90s with employers not being too impressed and general skepticism about the quality. But, with bigger universities getting involved the growth and acceptance has increased exponentially. The growth in education itself has given rise to more experts who in turn are using the medium effectively.
Why online courses make sense?
From a learner's point of view, online courses make perfect sense too. Once you are sure of the quality of the course, the three main reasons just spring on you, as soon as you think of “online courses”. Each of them is as imposing as the next.
Almost all online courses are very flexible about when you read the assigned material or watch the related video. This allows you to continue with your day job and learn on the side. Whether it is a new subject altogether or an update on your line of work, these are great advantages that no classroom can offer. In fact, more and more organizations are using online courses for in-house training and empowering employees who are spread across the world. There is nothing really that can substitute learning from the comfort of your own space.
With the growing popularity of demand for online courses, suppliers are naturally increasing too. Not only can you now find a course for almost any subject you like online, you will most likely find a niche provider for the said subject.
For example, udemy courses have a range of topics in just web-development related topics. “Online education about being, staying and keeping others online” – as meta as it gets!
Udemy courses also range from short to long courses, so it is really up to the learner – how much of an in-depth study they'd like. And top it off with Udemy courses being affordable, not to mention these courses have very appealing discount offers too.
The overall online courses for in-house training. Sure, your internet usage bill might see a jump, but you cannot dismiss the cost of commuting, in terms of all - money, time and energy spent. You also save on course material purchased because many a times the text books, etc required are less and/or available online for free. In addition, many colleges and universities accept credits from online courses.
Which online courses?
Quality of institution:
With a dime-a-dozen courses, comes in the question of quality. How popular is the institute that offers the said course? How accepted is it in the industry that your course is in? For your specific purposes, do you even need the institute to be a recognized one? Look up reviews of the institute.
Quality of instructor:
Similarly, look up reviews about the instructor. In this day and age of a new social media platform a day, it is very easy to look up someone, especially professionally. Check out the blogs, v-blogs, podcasts, presentations by the presenter. Look them up on LinkedIn to know what their teaching experience is like.
The Commitment required – Quality and Quantiy:
What kind of a time commitment does the course need? Not only in terms of how much, but also whether they will need you at specific times for say group discussions, etc. Make sure that these needs match your requirements.
Coverage of topic:
Sometimes we don't really want to know a topic in too much of a detail. We want something more than a cursory glance. At other times, the course might be designed assuming you have the basic knowledge and want to take yourself to the next level. See if the said online course has any pre-requisites. Read up the format and course content in detail. Approach the organizers with questions, if any. Their promptness and what they say in reply, will also be a cue.
Make sure you know what the other costs are like. Small amounts might add up. For example, you might need to buy some reading material or the cost of the course might not include the cost of material.
Having convinced yourself that “online courses” are no longer the unknown elephant and you can take the plunge into the next update of your life using the virtual route, you also know what you need to learn before signing up for one. There is nothing that can stop you now, really. Udemy courses offer you a complete clarity of prices and time span required along with the information about the instructors.