The Internet these days is full of cat videos, bad lip readings and hilarious memes. All good things, of course. But, believe it or not, there’s some useful stuff there, too. And that proposes a legitimate opportunity for the smart entrepreneur.
When I set out to start my own online course, I didn’t know much about education. All I knew was that I wanted to deliver a quality learning experience to readers that went beyond the scope of my blog. That was about it.
Then, I heard entrepreneur Ramit Sethi say in an interview that before you can charge a certain amount for an information product, you had better be willing to pay that much yourself. In other words, he was saying, “Don’t charge $2,000 for a course until you spend $2,000 and see what a $2,000 product looks like.”
So, I took that advice. I started signing up for online courses, and, boy, did I learn some things.
Options for Education
Education on the Internet has changed, mostly for the better. This is not like what I experienced in college, when a particular professor I had would give out a long, complicated URL to remember. And it’s not like those foreign language correspondence classes you may have taken in high school to get around the fact that no one in your small town taught Latin. At least that was the case in my farm town of 1,100 people.
So, yes, things have changed -- big time. Now, an online course can be comparable to a real-life educational experience. In fact, sometimes it can be even better.
Let’s say you didn’t go to college, or maybe like a lot of people you got a degree in one field of study and then figured out that what you actually wanted to do was something different. What, now? you probably asked yourself. In the past, you had two options:
Option 1: Go back to school and get your degree.
Option 2: Go the Good Will Hunting route and teach yourself by reading a lot of books.
Number one is the standard decision for many middle-class people who don’t know what they want to do with their lives, or else realize that college has not prepared them for the real world. Going back to school is not necessarily a bad choice, but if college didn’t work for you in the first place, why return to the institution that failed you? Not to mention that it’s expensive and doesn’t guarantee you success in the marketplace.
Number two is just simply hard. Nor does it work for those of us who need a teacher, someone to walk us through the process -- and that means most of us.
So, what is there left to do? Until a few years ago, nothing.
Time to get serious about online courses
Today, we have a third option: the Internet. The Web is exploding with legitimate online education opportunities that are literally changing people’s lives. But, you may wonder, how can I trust this whole Internet thing -- with all its cat videos and memes? Good question. I was skeptical, too, until I finally understood why online courses work.
Here are five reasons why you should now take online education more seriously:
1. Online courses are less expensive.
For a fraction of the cost, you can now get a university-level learning experience taught by an industry expert. That is, you can if you take the right kind of classes (more about that below).
2. Online courses are results-oriented.
Since you’re likely giving money to someone you’ve never met, online educators are motivated to help you get the results you want (instead of simply teaching dry theory). Their reputations are on the line (literally), after all.
3. Technology makes the experience of an online course more exciting.
Instead of attending a couple of 45-minute lectures per week, you'll now have worksheets, discussion forums and interactive presentation at your fingertips.
4. The classrooms are cooler.
You no longer have to grab a sack lunch and spend a half-day at your local community college, sitting in a cold, dimly lit room. You can attend class right in your living room -- whenever you want.
5. You get to keep the course.
This might be my favorite reason for online education. In contrast to traditional education, where the only keepsakes you get are the overpriced textbook and a three-ring notebook full of illegible scribbles, many online courses let you keep a lot of the course material (including the lessons).
If you haven’t considered taking an online course, then, you should. But, and this is important, don’t sign up for just any class that comes along. There are a lot of swindlers out there (who probably made those cat videos -- no offense intended, of course, to Grumpy Cat).
Here's what to look for in a good online course:
- Solid credentials. Has the teacher achieved the expertise he or she claims? In other words, if you’re taking a course on how to get published, is a published author teaching it? Or is the teacher at least someone with real-life experience in that industry? If other marks of legitimacy (i.e., licenses and such) are needed for what you want to learn, make sure the instructor has those, too.
- Trustworthy testimonials. What do previous students say about the course? Don’t read just the landing page copy; find people who have gone through the class and will give you their honest opinion.
- Legitimate access to the teacher. This is up to you, but I recommend taking a course that gives you some potential live access to a teacher or facilitator. That may mean live video chats or conference calls with other students. Or it could be personal email access when you get stuck. It really depends on the teacher and the material. But having someone to guide you is essential.
- Discussion opportunities. One of the best parts of an online course is the opportunity to connect with other students who are going through the same experience as you (this is the best part of any educational experience). Does the course have a forum or Facebook group, a place to ask questions and get help from your peers?
- Good refund policy. Just as with college, there should be an initial period of time in which you have the freedom to drop the class, if it isn’t what you’d hoped. A 30- to 60-day money-back guarantee is pretty standard in the online business world, and you shouldn’t take a course that doesn't offer something similar.
Notice that I didn’t include price in this list of criteria, and there’s a reason for that. There is no set standard for what an online course should cost. Many four-week courses are $200 to $500, but then others go on for six to 12 months and may cost thousands of dollars. It depends on your field and what kind of value you place on the information. Just know that taking most any course online is typically going to be cheaper than attending in person.
Think you could do better? Then, do it.
If you’ve ever taken an online course, you may have noticed some skunks out there.
One thing I noticed in my research is that certain classes I took weren’t worth the money. There was a lot of hype at the front end, but when it came to the class itself, the quality was sub-par. This disappointed and frustrated me. It seemed like some people were using their marketing savvy to take advantage of people who really wanted to learn. I kept saying to myself, “I could do better.”
So one day, I did.
If you find yourself saying the same thing, maybe you should "do better," too. Because it’s not enough to simply say things should be better. Sometimes, we have to be the change we want to see in the world (someone wise already said that, I think). Sometimes, our deepest frustrations are a sign of the problems we ought to be solving.
So, if you have something the world needs, some knowledge that can help other people, you have a responsibility to share it. And it just so happens that that can be a very profitable venture these days.