Why should I pay for courses in the first place?
That was the first question Tonya asked herself. She’s not wrong! There are many free courses in well-renowned online schools and even on YoutTube that can give you just as much value. However, learning goes beyond passively consuming information. Here’s what you really pay for when you buy an online course:
- High-quality feedback. When you pay for a course, ideally, you pay for the tutor’s time. They check your tasks and answer your questions, and high-quality feedback can help a lot in your journey — especially if you’re radically changing your career path or you need advanced training.
- Structure. Let’s say, you want to become a UX designer. This position requires a long list of skills from drawing mobile app pages in Figma to conducting studies. If you try learning all these skills separately, from different sources, you’ll spend way more time and end up with no clear picture in your head. Meanwhile, a paid course provides you with all the necessary knowledge in one place, prioritized by complexity and importance.
- Certification. Many companies, especially corporations, look for candidates who completed courses from globally recognized providers. Some of these courses, like HubSpot Digital Marketing Certification, are free. However, in niches like data science, a paid online degree from a well-known university can do a lot for your career.
- Practice. Online courses provide tests and home tasks so you can start applying your fresh knowledge right away. It’s especially valuable for those students who don’t work in the position they’re learning for yet.
- Exclusive knowledge. Let’s say, you want to improve your competence in a niche field — for example, social media marketing for Chinese restaurants. You found a course run by an owner of a small but profitable dumpling joint franchise. This course will contain a lot of niche-specific, less common recommendations you won’t find in general social media marketing courses. Such exclusive content and advice from experts in niche industries is worth paying for.
- Schedule. Most free courses are self-paced. Although this format is convenient for people with full-time jobs, some find it hard to keep their learning routine consistent. Many paid courses provide a strict schedule and deadlines, which can increase your motivation and chances to actually finish the course.
- Networking. When you sign up for an online group class, you can talk to other students and professionals in your field of choice — who knows, maybe you’ll meet your future colleagues or the love of your life!
- Portfolio. During a paid course, you often work on a project — and, once you finish the program, you get a case for your portfolio. It’s especially useful for those who are learning a new profession and have no prior work experience. You can finish a project using a free course though — however, with personalized feedback from tutors, you’ll refine it to the portfolio-ready state.
Can you learn it for free?
Lindsey is Tonya’s friend, and she’s never paid for online education — she thinks there’s enough free content online to learn whatever you want. Tonya talked to Lindsey and wrote down a list of cases when free courses are enough:
- You need to learn new software. If you need to perform a certain task in Figma, paying for a course is too much. YouTube tutorials, a knowledge base, and maybe online forums will do the job.
- You only need the basics. For example, if you only need a general understanding of SEO, the free course from Ahrefs is enough. It’s also helpful if you’re choosing a new profession but you want to test the waters first.
- You need to master a specific skill. For example, you’re not going to quit your current job and become a software developer but right now you need to create a simple chatbot in Python. In this case, enrolling in a programming course won’t help — but one or two tutorials on developing chatbots and posts on Stack Overflow will.
- You don’t need it for the job. Imagine you got into photography but you don’t consider turning it into a side hustle. There are enough free materials online on the technical basics, communities on Reddit will help you with feedback on your early attempts — and the rest is practice. Paying to learn about exposure settings is unnecessary in this case.
Tonya revised the list and decided that free courses won’t cut it now — she needs advanced training and some guidance on her career track. Also, her boss said that her soft skills needed work, so a community where she could talk to people would be a nice addition to her education. So, it’s time to choose a paid online course!
Now, let’s take a look at some possible red flags and learn how to choose a course that’s worth the money.