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Are Paid Online Courses Worth It?

January 11th 2024
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Yes, paid online courses are worth it. Especially if you seek extensive knowledge of a subject and look for a much more in-depth course. However, a free course is an excellent option if you are looking for an introduction to a course topic and are curious about the general subject matter.

Deciding whether to opt for a paid online course vs a free online course depends on your goals, budget, learning style, and available time. Paid online courses can cost from  $200 up to $2000. These paid online courses offer an in-depth, working knowledge of a topic.

Paid vs Free Online Courses: Choose The Right Option for You

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Investing time and money to learn a new skill is a worthwhile investment. However, there are factors such as your specific goals, budget, learning style, and time schedule to consider before enrolling in a course. 

What Are Your Goals?

Whether you choose a paid online course, or opt for a free one, it should contribute meaningfully towards achieving your goals. A paid online course with valuable certifications is the right choice for those seeking in-depth knowledge and career advancement. 

However, if you are exploring a hobby or a new interest, a free online course is an excellent option as it will give you an overview of the topic without requiring any investment. 

How Much Are You Willing To Spend?

Consider how much you are willing to spend to ensure you have budgeted enough for the course to make the investment worthwhile. According to Sell Courses Online, expect to pay between $25 to $2000 based on the course length and curriculum:

Mini-courses: between $25 and $50

Introductory courses: between $25 and $100

Shorter online courses: between $197 and $497

Premium online courses: between $200 and $350

Flagship courses: anywhere between $200 and $2000 

One advantage of online courses is that the information is always available to review at any time. However, you are wasting your money if you pay for a course but never complete it. 

All paid courses offer a structured curriculum, experienced faculty, hands-on projects, peer networks, mentorship, and career services, leading to recognized certifications and successful career transitions. 

Do Online Courses Suit Your Learning Style?

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Online courses suit students with visual and verbal or visual and nonverbal learning styles. The University of Illinois describes each learning style as follows: 

Visual and Verbal Learning Style

Students with this learning style prefer content presented in a visual way, such as graphics, videos, or written texts. They also prefer to sit quietly by themselves to learn. Online courses work best for learners with this learning style.  

Visual and Nonverbal Learning Style

Students who thrive with the visual and nonverbal learning style excel when learning material is presented through images, diagrams, and charts without accompanying text. Online courses incorporating infographics, interactive visual simulations, and videos without heavy reliance on narrated or textual explanations can significantly benefit these learners.

Auditory and Verbal Learning Style

Individuals with an auditory and verbal learning style prefer to receive information through listening. They find it easier to absorb and retain information when it is delivered through speech.

These learners benefit from online courses that provide lectures, discussions, and other audio materials. While not all online courses cater to this preference, many include video lectures and podcasts, which can be very effective for auditory learners

Tactile and Kinesthetic Learning Style

Tactile and kinesthetic learners prefer to learn through doing and experiencing. They benefit from a hands-on approach to education, where they can physically engage with the material. Online courses with interactive elements, such as simulations, virtual labs, or opportunities for real-world application of skills, can accommodate these learners. 

If you are new to online courses, try completing a free one to assess whether your learning style is a good fit. If you are well-suited, a paid one may be worthwhile. 

How Much Time Do You Have Available?

Assessing how much time you have available in your schedule and booking regular study sessions in your calendar will help ensure that you complete the course. To justify the expense of a paid online course, you must be committed to finishing it in a timely manner.

Paid online courses can range in length from a few hours to a few months, while free online courses range from a few hours to a few days. Reviewing the course outline will give you a good idea of how much time you will need to complete a course. 

Be honest about the time you have available to complete the course. Since the curriculum is more in-depth, a paid online course requires more focus and dedication to finish. 

A 2015 study of paid online courses at the University of Columbia indicated that only 15 percent of students who enrolled, completed their courses. However, a pre-survey revealed that 60 percent of these students intended to complete their courses. 

In the same study, it was found that only 5 percent of students completed free online courses. 

Differences Between Paid and Free Online Courses 

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Paid online courses differ from free online courses in four fundamental ways: course length, level of accreditation, the number of course exams, and the online support available. 

  1. Course Length

Paid online courses range in length from a few hours to several months to complete while the average time to complete a free online course is between 5 to 25 hours long. You can expect the following differences in course length and content for different types of paid online courses: 

Mini-courses: The mini-course is one to two hours long, and the content provides an overview or introduction to a topic.

Introductory Courses: You can complete an Introductory Course in one or two days. The course content provides the foundational knowledge of a topic and sets the groundwork for a longer course.

Shorter Online Courses: Shorter online courses typically take a week to complete. The course content delves deeper into the core concepts of a subject.

Premium Online Courses: Premium courses take several weeks or months to complete and provide advanced knowledge on the subject matter.

Flagship Courses: These extensive online courses provide the most comprehensive information on a course topic, with advanced content, interactive elements, and high-value resources. They can take several months to complete. 

A free course may be a great option if you are only looking for an introduction to a course topic and are curious about the general subject matter. If you are looking for a working knowledge of a subject, you may look for a longer, much more in-depth course (such as a flagship course) for which you would typically be charged.

Look at the outline on the course sales page to get a good idea of what the course offers. Then, review the course modules and their descriptions to understand the level of detail. 

  1. Accreditation
An educational certificate

Paid online courses often come with accreditations from industry-recognized institutions, while free online courses often only offer a certificate of completion.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Courses that receive approval from prestigious institutions are known as accredited courses and can prove invaluable in the workplace. Paid online courses can earn you highly accredited industry certifications.

For instance, Kaplan University Certificate Programs offers an accredited accounting certificate, a highly sought-after qualification in the industry. Another example is the Talent Management Institute, which offers globally recognized credentials in the HR industry. Adding these accreditations to your CV or LinkedIn profile is a great way to help further your career or land that dream job. 

Paid online university courses, such as those offered by Coursera, an online learning platform backed by Stanford professors, have been approved for credit equivalency. These courses can provide the credits you require for a college transfer to institutes accredited by the American Council on Education (ACE). 

  1. Projects, Exams, and Assignments

Both paid and free online courses often incorporate projects, exams, and assignments to facilitate learning and assess your understanding of the material. These components are designed not only to test your comprehension but also to identify areas where your knowledge may be lacking, guiding you toward improvement. 

Completing these assessments successfully in paid courses is crucial for obtaining a certification, which can be a significant asset in your professional development. While offering similar assessments, free courses typically lead to a certificate of completion, marking your engagement with the course content.

The work you produce for these courses, such as projects and assignments, can be valuable to your professional ePortfolio. A well-curated ePortfolio demonstrates your practical skills and completed work to potential employers. 

Research by the Hart Research Institute highlights the value employers place on such portfolios, with 83 percent of surveyed employers affirming that an ePortfolio is beneficial during the candidate evaluation process.

  1. Support

Students enrolled in paid online courses receive additional support such as access to online communities, tutorials, and live instruction that are not available to students enrolled in free online courses.

Paid online courses provide students with more options in their Learning Management System (LMS), such as live instructions, tutorials, and access to an online community. In a community, you can communicate with experts in your field of study, make friends with fellow students worldwide, and gain access to work opportunities. 

Sign up to Teach.io and take advantage of the excellent online learning communities available with a paid online course!

  1. The Expertise of The Course Instructor

For paid online courses, you’ll get more value from experienced instructors who can provide more in-depth knowledge of a course topic. In some fields, you may be able to find a free course hosted by a qualified professional with extensive experience. A free course can be used to get a student interested in the paid version of the course.

The Disadvantages of Paid Online Courses

The disadvantages of doing a paid online course include the amount of time you would need to complete the course, a less flexible course structure, and the expense of the course. 

  1. You May Need More Time To Complete 

Make sure that you have enough time in your schedule to complete the course. Paid online courses can offer in-depth knowledge of a subject. However, you could lose interest and lag behind if you are not disciplined enough. You may need to pay close attention to pass assessments in order to proceed with the course. 

  1. Paid Courses May Be Less Flexible

Paid courses are more structured. You will be expected to complete certain tasks and projects by a certain date and attend meetings with your course instructor. In this respect, paid courses are less flexible than free online courses.

  1. Paid Courses Can Be Very Expensive

Paid online courses can cost up to $2000, while free online courses do not require any money.

With a free course, all you will be spending is your time. This is why you need to research the course to make sure that you are investing your time and money wisely when you opt for a paid course. 

Final Thoughts

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Online courses have made furthering one’s education a very attainable goal. Choosing whether a paid online course is worth it is a personal choice, and factors to consider include your budget, time commitment, learning style, and goals. 

In terms of value, paid online courses are a great option because they offer far more comprehensive information, support, access to learning communities, and better certifications. 

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