Not long ago, I detailed the Top 5 Reasons Not to Enroll in an Online Course. In summary, you should not join a course if you won’t finish it, can’t afford it, have no particular goal to meet, it’s not available (at all or at a discount), or you are confident you can get the same info without paying for it.
There are some course that don’t cost a dime. Semi-Retired MD’s Zero to Freedom and Coach Carson’s Get Started with Real Estate Investing courses come to mind. These, as you might expect, are not going to be as thorough as the paid courses they offer, but they can be a good introduction to the format if you’re not sure yet if a course is right for you.
How do you know if a course is right for you?
It would be easy enough to invert the reasons I gave that make course enrollment a bad idea for you. If it’s available, you can afford it, the course will help you meet a goal, you will finish it, and the info can’t easily be obtained for free, you should go for it.
That works, but I believe there are good reasons to become a student once again that are only loosely related or completely different than the opposite of those reasons to shy away.
Top 5 Reasons to Enroll in an Online Course
1. You choose to invest in yourself.
To invest in something is to commit an asset to an enterprise with the expectation that you will profit in some way.
Which investment has had the best ROI (return on investment)? It’s tough to compare apples to centipedes, but it’s also tough to argue with the $400,000 or so I averaged per year as an anesthesiologist. I had to invest in my education and continue to invest lots of time, but gaining the knowledge and skills to provide patients with compassionate, competent care certainly paid off.
As I stated in the reasons not to enroll, if you haven’t defined a goal, you’re less likely to benefit from taking an online course. A good course landing page will not only describe what you’ll learn and how, but it will also spell out a list of goals that you can expect to meet by completing the course.
When you think of the cost of participation not as an expense, but as an investment in yourself and your education, you can see how a course has the potential to give you a better ROI than any other investment you can make (with the exception of buying Bitcoin in 2011 and selling late 2017).
If the course gives you the confidence to invest soundly on your own, you can save millions in fees. If you learn how to navigate the world of rental real estate, you could be on a 5-year track to fast FIRE. I never had the gumption to do so, but I’ve seen it done by people earning a lot less than I did.
2. You value your time.
How much is your time worth?
Many high-income professionals earn at least $100 an hour. Some earn multiples of that. If your time is limited (and it is, no matter who you are), it makes no sense spending hours trying to find the best deal on the latest MacBook Pro to save $50 or $100.
The difference between a good deal and a great deal isn’t going to be enough to make up for the time lost, and you’ve got better things to do. Also, is there such thing as a good or great deal on a Macbook Pro? I kid! I kid. Sort of. But not really. I’m a Lenovo guy, but that’s just me.
One of the main benefits of an online course is not that the information within is exclusive or super-secret, but that it will be well-organized and delivered in a logical, sequential fashion from someone who has some sort of track record in the space. If you’re considering enrolling, you’re likely at least somewhat familiar with the creator. If not, there’s typically plenty of free content you can digest to get a better feel for that person’s approach and knowledge.
Most courses have content that lasts from maybe a few hours to a dozen or more. It won’t take you any more time to complete than a season of Mad About You or Mike & Molly. What’s the best use of your time?
A member of my fatFIRE group said that he learned more in one month taking The White Coat Investor’s Fire Your Financial Advisor course than he did in the prior 9 years and 11 months of independent study.
If you value your time, an online course might make a whole lot of sense for you.
3. A desire to give back to (or be part of) an online community.
Most online course creators offer their audiences most of their content for free. They have blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels with plenty of content provided at no cost.
A number of courses include access to exclusive online communities that may give you better access to the person who created the course as well as other students who are serious enough about learning to have taken the plunge and enrolled.
These exclusive communities are formed in private or secret Facebook groups, Slack groups, or password-protected websites. They’re a place to speak freely, seek advice, support one another in mastery of the topic at hand, and connect with other like-minded individuals.
You don’t have to purchase a course to be part of many online communities. I have the Physicians on FIRE Facebook group for physicians (18,000+ members) and another 8,000+ members in the fatFIRE-focused fatFIRE Facebook group.
Just being a regular reader, listener, or viewer can be enough to give you a sense of community. Enrolling in your favorite content creator’s course can strengthen that sense of community while giving you an avenue to give back.
If you decide to take a course as a show of gratitude or dedication, you might still learn more than enough to cover your costs in the form of future profits, cost-savings, or the enjoyment of a new skill acquired.
4. You Learn Best in a Structured Environment
We’ve all taken classes. You receive a syllabus, progress through the chapters or topics, have assessments of your progress along the way, and hopefully come out with better understanding of the topic and some new knowledge gained.
Online course work in much the same way. The exams, if present, are optional, but it’s common to have workbooks and self-assessment tools as you progress through the materials.
Most online courses are set up in a similar manner. You have access to a series of sequential audio-visual presentations and progress at your own pace from start to finish. As I mentioned, you may be doing some hand-written exercises along the way, or taking notes of your own. By the end of the course, your goals and the teacher’s objectives should be met.
The course may be supplemented with reminders to continue making progress or various group activities like online Q&A sessions or “office hours” with the course creator or subject matter experts.
If a comprehensive, organized approach to a subject is your preferred method of learning, an online course may be ideal for you. You can often piecemeal many of the components together from one or several sources, but these courses are specifically designed to take you from novice to knowledgeable in a matter of weeks.
Did you know that for every actual Nigerian prince in Nigeria, there are over 400,000 people impersonating Nigerian princes online? Or that men in the U.S. spend more money purchasing “male enhancement” pills online than they do on online courses?
Me, neither. I made up both of those statistics. You see, you never know who you can trust online, and the internet is full of liars and scammers.
I’ve come across a ton of misinformation online, even from well-intentioned and respected individuals. Even their books can have a surprising number of factual errors.
When you’ve been a regular follower of an online person or personality, you can develop a sense of trust. You should have some sense of whether or not they have a strong command of the topic at hand. Are they generally helpful and knowledgeable? Or are they just trying to make a quick buck?
As a blogger, I’ve realized that trust is an extremely important commodity. If you can’t trust the words I write, why would you read them?
If you’ve purchased a course that I’ve featured here, I trust that you have been satisfied with the value you have received. I’ve only promoted courses that offer money-back guarantees from people I know and respect.
To view recommended courses, books and more, continue on to my page of recommendations.
Have you found online courses to be valuable? What courses have you taken? What appeals to you most about an online course?