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Top 5 Reasons Not to Enroll in an Online Course

sell me something

“Every day is a school day.”

I was reminded of this often throughout my anesthesia residency. Not only did I learn something every single day, but I also heard that exact phrase at least weekly from one of my attendings or co-residents.

Fifteen years later, the sentiment rings true, and it’s a phrase I often use. Lifelong learning is a key tenet of a life well-lived. Whether I’m learning the Spanish language, slick travel hacks, or zipper repair (stupid backpack), I learn something new every day.

There are teachers everywhere, too. I learn from my children. I learn from my wife. I learn from my friends online.

A number of these online friends have embraced their role as educators, offering online courses that vary from free to hundreds of dollars.

Are these online courses worth the price of enrollment? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. It depends on who you are, what you value, and how you best learn. If the following factors speak to you, you’re probably best off keeping your credit card in your wallet.


Top 5 Reasons Not to Enroll in an Online Course


1. You plan to find the same information for free.


An honest course creator will usually tell you that most if not all of the information to be presented can be found elsewhere, often for free. By the time an online content creator produces a course, he or she has already built a solid reputation and following by publishing hundreds of articles (or podcasts or videos).

Those many of pieces of content are stuffed with valuable knowledge, and you can read (or listen or watch) it all for free if you’re willing to be subjected to a bit of advertising.

If that particular teacher doesn’t have the answers you’re looking for in a free and available format, the odds are that someone else in that niche does. If you can’t find it, there are numerous online forums and Facebook groups where you can ask the question.

There are challenges in seeking the answers you seek from multiple sources in this fashion. It can take a lot more time. You may not know who to believe when you find conflicting answers, especially if you don’t know much about the people providing them. You may give up and never truly understand the topic you set out to master.

Nevertheless, the internet is a vast resource, and there is no shortage of free education (and opinions) out there just waiting to be consumed.


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2. You won’t finish the course.


“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

No, not those tequila shots on my 26th birthday. I’m talking about that course you forked over big bucks for thinking that having some skin in the game would all but guarantee your undivided attention and dedication. The tequila? Never again.

I’ve spoken to a number of course creators and one of their biggest sources of frustration is a surprising one. It’s not that they can’t come up with compelling content, and it’s not that they can’t find people to take the course. It’s that a surprising number of paying customers who begin the course don’t finish.

I find that source of sorrow to be endearing. These maestros genuinely want their students to get the most out of their courses, and that means taking their students from the first module to the final exam.*


*There usually is no final exam. Or grades for that matter. You get out what you put in.


If you’ve got a keen interest in the subject and a habit of finishing what you started more often than not, you may be an excellent candidate for an online course.

On the other hand, if you never can seem to read a book cover to cover or have a history of making broken promises to yourself and others, commitment to a course may not be the best idea.

The good news is that most courses will refund your money if you change your mind in the first week to month (know the rules when you sign up!).  It’s also common to retain lifetime access to a course if you don’t complete it in a reasonable timeframe once it’s purchased or made available to you.

Do yourself (and the course creator) a favor. If the odds of you actually completing all modules is slim to none, don’t bother enrolling in the course in the first place.


3. The course won’t lead to meaningful change.


My buddy Michael from Uncommon Dream sent me a great shirt. On the front, in lowercase script, it reads “goal digger.”  He also sent one to our mutual friend Steve Adcock and we both wore our camisetas at the recent Ecuadoran Chautauqua.

The shirts were quite popular. Several people asked where they could get one of their own, and while I’d like to think it was because Steve and I are ideally chiseled tee shirt models, I know better. They were sought after because we were surrounded by people who like to set goals and achieve them. [Side note: Michael, I see an unmet need for your tees.]

In an exercise led by Paula Pant of Afford Anything, we were asked to define “meaningful change” and why it mattered. We then had to answer why that “why” mattered and then “why the why the why” and some of us muttered “wtf” under our breaths, but the end result was profound.

We all want meaningful change because it means we’re improving either our own lives or the lives of others. For me, it boiled down to wanting a happier and healthier world.

I don’t know of a course that promises to create a happier and healthier world or your money back, but the first step is to do something that will result in meaningful change in your knowledge base, habits, or relationships.

If you’re considering purchasing a course, you should start with a goal in mind. “After completing the course, I hope to do, know, or change X, Y, and/or Z. And that action should result in some kind of meaningful, and perhaps measurable, change.

If you’re only at the “I’d like to know more about X, Y, and/or Z,” you should continue to peruse free resources until you’ve further refined your why into an actionable goal.


4. The course is not available or not on sale.


There are people selling courses about courses. Yeah, that’s a thing. Just like blogging about blogging — that’s a huge, potentially lucrative thing.

I have not taken a course about courses, but I know some of the messaging. If you’re a course creator starting with a goal in mind, you do what you can to encourage people to enroll.

Whether your goal is to help the most people or being as profitable as possible, you’re going to need students. There’s an obvious role for marketing here.


sell me something
“are you trying to sell me something?”


Part of that marketing plan is to give people an incentive to enroll now rather than later, and that incentive typically comes in one of two forms: a limited time window for enrollment or the occasional discount or bonus available for only a limited time.

Many courses are only open for enrollment for a few weeks of the year. There are often legitimate reasons for this beyond creating artificial scarcity. Many course creators also offer live interviews or Q&A sessions in the opening weeks of the course launch. There may be other interactive components, or you may be given the opportunity to pair with “accountability partners” to encourage course completion in a timely fashion.

Courses that are considered “evergreen,” or always available, will usually offer a discount or a bonus at least a couple of times throughout the year. Again, if a potential student has no incentive to enroll now rather than later, procrastination often rules the day.


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5. You can’t afford it.


Steve Martin had a hell of a time wrapping his head around this zany concept of not buying things that cost too much. In this SNL skit, Chris Parnell hammered home the wild idea that you should not buy stuff that you cannot afford.

Even if you can’t find the information for free and you are certain you will complete the course, you know it will lead to meaningful change, and it is available or on sale, you should not buy the course if you cannot afford it.

If you’ve got credit card debt, pay that down first. You don’t need a course to teach you how to do that. If you’re a student or resident trying to somehow provide for a family, focus on them first. There will be time for self-improvement later.

There are some caveats to consider here. The ability to afford something is somewhat relative. There’s “debt collection agencies are calling daily” can’t afford it and there’s “we can’t meet the goals of investing $10,000 a month” can’t afford it.

As Paula Pant likes to say, you can afford anything but you can’t afford everything. That phrase, as much as I like it, has some caveats of its own.

For example, I can’t afford a megayacht. I doubt I could even pay the megayacht’s staff for more than a few hours. But I can afford a boat, and I can afford to take my family on an awfully nice cruise ship with a massive crew for weeks at a time. That’s good enough for me.

Look at your own budget and decide whether or not you can truly afford to enroll in a course (or a cruise) before committing.

Now, there are situations in which the investment in a course will earn you far more over time in the form of additional earnings or mistakes avoided in the future. That’s probably true of most courses, at least the ones in the personal finance space, particularly if you set a goal and commit to taking action.

However, if the benefit is ill-defined or far in the future and you’re under financial stress now, I would argue now is not the time to enroll in that course. If it is truly helpful and successful, you can expect the course to be available at a later date and possibly in a new and improved form as the course creator continues to gather feedback and refine the content within.


The Worst Salesman on Earth


With this approach, I’d have a hard time giving away totally free cervezas to a bunch of thirsty, sober, partygoing tailgaters. Or was this whole post a not-so-subtle attempt at reverse psychology?

I haven’t taken a psychology course since high school, and I’ve never read a marketing book or taken a marketing class, so your guess is as good as mine.

What I can tell you is that I do want you to be successful financially. That’s the end goal.

I also have a charitable mission here and it’s a big part of what drives me to continue to deliver fresh content several times a week.

If an online course makes no sense for you for any or all of the above reasons, please do not pay for one.

If you are committed to meaningful change and can afford the price of admission, there are courses out there that will almost assuredly pay for themselves many times over. When you enroll via a link on this site, you’re also supporting our aforementioned charitable mission. That’s a win / win in my book.

I do believe that WCI’s Fire Your Financial Advisor course is truly valuable, as are many of the educational talks from the inaugural WCICon.

The main course (FYFA) is designed to educate you and guide you through creating your own comprehensive plan with appropriate investments, insurance, asset protection, and more.

The WCI conference course features talks from Drs. Bill Bernstein, Nisha Mehta, Jim Dahle, Bonnie Koo, and me, along with other great speakers like Jonathan Clements, Mike Piper and Sarah Catherine Gutierrez.

More info:

So buy now! Or don’t. Totally your call.


Check out Dr. Dahle's FYFA Course


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Have you enrolled in an online course? Why or why not? If yes, what value did you get from it? If not, share a 6th reason not to bother.


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2 thoughts on “Top 5 Reasons Not to Enroll in an Online Course”

  1. I would completely disagree with the above. I have learned so many wonderful things from online courses in many different areas ranging from investing to functional medicine and learning various skills about things that I was interested in. I also took the WCI FYFA course which was awesome. As for folks who teach people about how to put online courses together: it does take skill to do so, to learn to come across well on video and deal with all the tech aspects. I am sure there was a steep learning curve for Dr. Dahle to put on his course.

    • First, I’m happy to hear you found Dr. Dahle’s Fire Your Financial Course to be awesome. I found great value in it, as have many of my readers and the vast majority of the nearly 2,000 pupils who have enrolled in it with us.

      If you reread the post, you may find we are more in agreement than you think. I believe there are some good reasons not to enroll in online courses as outlined above, but I will also be publishing a followup post on the top 5 reasons TO enroll in an online course. Thank you for the pre-endorsement on that one!



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