The internet has seen a vast increase in e-learning in recent years as technology continues to improve platforms through which to deliver information. You can learn almost anything online nowadays from linear algebra to finding the best way to remove grease stains from your clothing. For those of you seeking the former, you may have decided that an online course provider may be right for you. But with all your options, how do you decide?


Free vs. paid

Online course providers come in all shapes and sizes —and budgets. Free course providers are fantastic places to take individual classes rather than full study programs. Common individual classes include foreign languages and computer programming.


You can also find plenty of paid courses, which may offer some additional elements to your online course experience. Support and interactivity are helpful to many students. If you’re interested in a paid program, you can also find out about scholarships and financial assistance that may be available to you.


More recently, colleges and universities have begun to offer a selected number of their programs online. While most of the schools will charge you standard (often pricy) tuition fees, there are a couple of free online-only Bachelor degree programs offered via University of the People and available anywhere in the world.


Open University is a great option for UK residents. While you may also enrol in Open University as a US resident, the program option will not be as robust.


You can begin your search at CourseFinder where you will be able to search for programs by subject, cost, and mode.


Audit vs. credit

Some online course providers outside of the traditional university route will offer a certificate of completion. These certificates are great resume boosters, though they usually don’t count toward academic credits. EdX offers a variety of courses that offer certificates, or you are welcome to audit the course for free and at your own pace.


You may also want to choose audited courses to build skills you will need later in your academic career, but don’t necessarily need credit for. For example, it will be helpful to first build up mathematical skills and then test out prerequisite math courses once you are enrolled in a college program. This advice applies to language studies as well. For online language programs, check out Duolingo or Livemocha.


Fixed vs. flexible schedule

If you opt for a fixed schedule online course, you may be required to login during a specified timeframe. In that case, you’ll want to choose a course that is based in a time zone that is comfortable for you to work with. A flexible course schedule allows you to study around your busy schedule, but you’ll have to make sure you have the discipline that is required to complete a course with a loosely structured timetable.


Passive vs. interactive

Many students, whether online or in the classroom, benefit from a thorough discourse on the subject at hand. Consider the level of involvement you’d like to have in an online course. Many providers offer forum spaces for students to exchange thoughts and ideas, and some of them even make forum participation mandatory.


Finally, ask the right questions

It is important to comb through the details of each program you enrol in. For online courses through universities or colleges, find out if there will be any mandatory in-person components. Search the course provider websites to find out what, if any, kind of accreditation the program has. Some schools will also list the completion and/or hire rates for their graduates. Check out reviews from other students on unbiased websites, and if you have a question you can’t find the answer to, take the initiative to contact the online course provider directly.



If you’re brand new to online learning, have a go at a free audited course and see what you think. Some students may find that they are more suited to a traditional classroom environment while others may opt for an entire degree program via an online course provider. Whatever you decide, you’re bound to learn something!