How to Choose the Right Online Course for Professional Development

Professional development, whether it’s required by your employer or something that you’re personally interested in as a way of advancing your career, plays a key role in industries like accounting, IT, law, real estate, and more. But with so many online courses to choose from, selecting the right one can feel like a daunting task.

Finding Quality in the Quantity

The online learning industry has taken enormous strides in recent years. There are more options than ever before. And while this is ultimately a good thing for professionals who desire high-level skill development options, it has also created a watered-down effect.

Barriers to entry for the online learning industry are lower than ever. Anyone can start a website, upload some self-made courses, and invest money into marketing and advertising. This has led to an artificially inflated industry where the quantity of courses outpaces quality. And that puts the onus on students to identify the quality options and set them apart from the lesser-than options.

6 Tips for Choosing the Best Course

In this article, we’re going to outline some of the top ways you can identify high-quality courses and advance your career through strategic skills development. Here are a few helpful tips:

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  • Identify Courses

The process starts by identifying what’s out there in the marketplace. In other words, you need to make a comprehensive list of all learning platforms that offer courses in your desired area, as well as the titles of the different courses, what the content is like, and other determining factors as they related to price, format (online, classroom, or hybrid), length, etc.

This first list is designed to give you a feel for what’s out there. Not every course on this list will make it to your “shortlist,” and that’s okay. You’re simply focused on getting the lay of the land at this point.

  • Consider Track Record

When it comes to identifying quality in the quantity, you have to take track record into account. Be wary of trusting your education with any platform that’s just recently entered the marketplace. Lack of experience doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know what they’re talking about, but you don’t know what you don’t know.

Look for courses that have a long track record in providing quality education. The longer a course has been around, the less likely it is that it underperforms. (Over time, bad courses have a tendency to get dropped as negative word of mouth picks up.)

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  • Explore the Features

Look beyond the curriculum and consider the different features that come with the course. This is especially important when it comes to online courses that are preparing you to pass some sort of industry certification exam.

Consider the CMA exam as an example. While most courses offer pretty bland and straight-forward study materials, Wiley CMA uses personalized and proprietary elements like predictive scoring and FocusMe Technology™, which includes elements like adaptive reviews that address a student’s weaknesses in real-time. It’s features like these that make a difference in how well prepared you are for your exam.

  • Prioritize Support and Flexibility

In addition to the course itself, consider how much help you get from instructors and other support staff. Do you have direct access to qualified individuals who can help you with the content? What happens if you experience issues with the course? Are there online community forums that allow you to contact other people who are enrolled in the course? Proactively getting answers to questions such as these will further pre-qualify courses.

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  • Consider the Institution

The type of institution offering the course is an important factor to consider. If nothing else, it’ll help you set proper expectations.

“Online training courses for professional development are available from a number of different types of institutions, each with its own benefits and drawbacks,” MBO Partners mentions. “The training school that’s right for you will depend on factors such as your specific goals, your future ambitions, and financial and time restraints.”

Common options include:

  • Training institution. Depending on your niche and the type of course, specialized training institutes may offer options. These schools often focus on a very specific hard skill and tend to identify with a particular niche. Because of this specificity, the curriculum is usually pretty good.
  • Accredited university or college. In many cases, accredited universities and colleges offer standalone course options through online or hybrid learning portals. The beauty of these courses is that they’re typically certified and come with a degree of name recognition.
  • Vendor-specific courses. If you’re learning a specific software or product, it’s possible that the vendor offers its own education. And while this will result in narrow subject matter, it’s a situation where the quality of knowledge outweighs the lack of breadth.

In some cases, you’ll need a program from an accredited university, while other times you have more flexibility in your choice. There’s no right or wrong answer. It all depends on the type of course you’re taking, the type of certification you need, and your available options.

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  • Read Online Reviews

The beauty of the internet is that you can research almost anything and get valuable feedback in a matter of seconds. Online courses are no different. Read independent reviews and ratings to get a feel for how people really feel about the course. YouTube and social media can be great resources as well. (Be sure to gather insights from as many different places as possible. This will give you a variety of opinions. The truth is typically somewhere in the middle.)

Ready, Set, Learn!

The practicality of online learning has opened up so many neat avenues for professionals who want to further their careers and pursue bigger and better opportunities. However, in order to maximize the benefits of this unique and versatile learning medium, you have to be conscientious and disciplined with which courses you pursue. And now that you have some understanding of what it takes to vet courses, you can confidently invest in professional development without worrying about the quality of the material and teaching.