Lifelong learning has been a buzzword for the past couple of decades. Although the term itself and the notion behind it were created in the 1990s, lifelong learning has never been as accessible as it is today.
In the 2010s, online courses are available for virtually any area of life. For example, you can choose from language, photography, science, IT, psychology, writing, or even parenting courses. However, not all online courses are created equal. Tempted by easy money-making, several organizations are offering courses that promise to be more than they actually are.
That being said, we can’t dismiss all online courses as worthless scams. Many renowned universities are offering genuine online courses and certificates that make a higher education accessible to thousands of people eager to learn.
Before you choose a course, there are several things you need to set straight about your own goals, commitment, and the institution that offers the education.
Why Do You Want to Learn?
It’s important to have a clear idea of your own goals. Do you want to change careers, enrich your resume in your current field of profession, or simply learn about a new subject as a hobby?
There are various online courses that present certificates or even complete degrees (both graduate and undergraduate) to students upon completion. If you consider changing careers, picking such a course would probably be your best bet.
Adding a certificate to your resume will help prove your knowledge of a certain field, especially if you lack practical experience in that area. Many courses don’t offer certificates, but you can still put them on your resume as a reference. If you want to deepen your knowledge of your current position or want to get a promotion, taking such a course could give a boost to your career.
Similarly, if you’re interested in learning more about your hobby, you don’t really need a certificate; only the knowledge that comes from the course. As an additional bonus, non-degree courses tend to be cheaper and shorter than those offering some kind of certificate at the end.
It’s important to be realistic about your goals. Completing an online course most likely won’t fast-track you into a highly coveted position or get you a top job in a new career path. However, gaining new experience is always important, and your willingness to learn can make your resume stand out in the eyes of employers (both prospective and current).
What Do You Want to Learn?
Many fields of knowledge are accessible online. IT and programming, writing, foreign languages, math, even health and fitness courses can be offered fully online.
However, there are professions that you might prefer a hands-on education in. If you want to learn carpentry, medicine, social work, dentistry, or anything else that requires your physical presence in the room with your teacher, it’s best to look for traditional methods.
Who Do You Want to Learn From?
This is the trickiest part. With the advance of online learning, scammers emerged that promise fast-tracking students to a traditional degree or even to a certificate. However, many of these institutions don’t deliver on their promises and their certificates are practically worthless.
Use your common sense. If it sounds too good to be true (e.g. a BA degree in six months), it probably is.
Another factor to consider is whether the institution offering the course is accredited. In the US, it’s either the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) that accredits institutions offering a post-secondary education. Check their websites to see if the course you’ve chosen is offered by a reputable institution.
This is especially important if you’re going for a certificate or a degree program, since you don’t want to end up with a degree from the University of Scamland. But even if you’re “only” learning for self-enrichment, it’s reassuring to know that you’re gaining valuable knowledge from a legitimate school.
Research your field of interest and find accredited schools to study with. Many well-known universities offer online courses and certificates, including MIT, the University of Oxford, Columbia University, or even Harvard. Alternatively, sites like Coursera aggregate courses from various institutions like Johns Hopkins, Penn State, or Stanford.
Whichever course you choose, keep in mind that lifelong learning is not a burden or an obligation, but an opportunity. It’s a chance to open your mind to the world and gain knowledge that ultimately makes you a better person.
About the Author
Lili Torok is a content writer at Veem, a global payments platform that allows businesses to send and receive fast, secure, and easy payments.