Are online courses worth it?

September 20, 2021
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The popularity of online courses continues to skyrocket. Convenience, depth of knowledge, affordability, and access are just some of the reasons why online courses are worth the investment. 

The University of Illinois began offering online classes to students in 1960, many years before desktop computers became the norm.  

But the humble beginnings of Khan Academy in 2004 — with a guy named Sal trying to tutor his cousin from afar — kicked off the availability of non-university coursework to the masses. 

These days, online courses can range from language learning to TikTok strategies and everything in between. 

Let’s dive into what makes online courses so popular . . . and why you may want to create your own! 

Pros of an online course:

  • Allows students to study at their own pace.  
  • Fits into a busy schedule. 
  • Can be taken anywhere with internet access.
  • Saves on tuition, travel, and textbook costs. 
  • Provides only the most pertinent information (no filler content!). 
  • Teaches practical, real-world skills (like how to be a drone pilot!)
  • Offers choices for instructors and class formats. 

Cons of an online course:

  • Requires the internet to access content.
  • Leaves the responsibility of creating conducive study environments to the student.  
  • Limits access to instructors (depending on the format of the course). 

Who are online courses for?

Person Taking an Online Course with Chalk Board in the Background

In 2018, almost 7 million students signed up for virtual learning in postsecondary institutions. Anyone who wants to earn a degree can do so with the accessibility of online courses. 

However, degree-seeking students aren’t the only ones to take advantage of the virtual classroom. 

Online learning is for students who:

  • Have the time and desire to follow through on a remote course. 
  • Don’t mind not having in-person contact with your instructor.
  • Can learn effectively with video instruction mixed with other modes of teaching. 
  • Want to make their resumes stand out. 
  • Need a program that works around a busy schedule. 

Are online courses taken seriously?

Teacher Leaning on Desk with Books and Computer in Classroom

Several years ago, people debated the respectability and credibility of online courses. 

But as platforms emerged, higher learning institutions got in the game, and professional individuals struck out to teach online, the legitimacy of eLearning was established. 

Today, institutions and professionals have been diligent to offer high-value course options that are widely recognized and provide credit for a student’s completed work. 

Platforms like Coursera provide world-class training from well-known schools and companies. You can enter a completely different field of work by completing one of its programs. 

LinkedIn, the largest job search engine in the world, also offers online courses and continuing education credits. Professionals across industries seek out digital credentials awarded by that platform.

The point is this . . . 

Ivy League schools and enterprises no longer have the monopoly when it comes to valuable, respected educational programs.

Through online courses, talented instructors from all over the world share their expertise on just about any topic. And perhaps you should join their ranks!

Why are online courses so popular?

Man Trying to Work While Kids are Climbing on Top of Him

Since most courses are available on-demand, they're particularly helpful for people who already work a 9-5 job or have a full plate of responsibilities.

The simplicity of online learning can't be beaten. Students only need internet access, a laptop, and some free time.

Other popular reasons for taking online classes:

  • Variety of course choices ranging from hobby learning to starting your own business.
  • No commute time.
  • Lower tuition.
  • Flexible time (usually no semesters to worry about!) 
  • No textbook fees (most virtual learning provide digital resources.)
  • Free trials before commitment.

Things to Consider Before Enrolling

Teacher Helping Lady with Virtual Teaching for an Online Classroom

It can be a challenge to find motivation when doing a self-study course. Students should really consider if they can be responsible for their own education outside a classroom setting.

Some people learn best with in-person contact. Students who need this regularly should stick to a traditional classroom format.  

Those who aren’t very tech-savvy may also want to veer from virtual learning.

Online Course Accessibility

Pointing at Good Rating for User Experience on a Tablet

User experience in an online course indicates its ability to meet accessibility standards.

Accessibility is typically thought of in terms of disabilities, providing tools for students of varying abilities. 

But accessibility can also mean consideration of course materials on mobile devices, less-than-optimal internet connections, ease of course navigation, and clarity of the syllabus.

The ADA (American Disabilities Act) mandates that colleges and universities follow set guidelines for providing accessibility in online classes. 

Private course creators, however, are not bound by law to meet a certain level of accessibility but are highly encouraged to do so to avoid legal issues. 

You can use the checklist below to see if your course meets accessibility standards: 

  • The course uses the Zoom platform for instruction (it is compliant with screen readers and many closed captioning providers). 
  • You are willing to provide written materials in the form of Word or Google documents which can be utilized by screen readers. 
  • The course syllabus is clearly laid out and organized. 
  • The website has easy-to-access navigation. 
  • Clearly label links and text that describes images for sight-impaired students.
  • Present course materials that accommodate different learning styles. 

Can you get a job with an online course?

Woman Shaking Mans Hand at a Job Interview

It can be hard getting a job without proper qualifications. Online learning helps close that knowledge gap.

There are now hundreds of accredited colleges, universities, and tech schools offering degrees and certifications online in almost every field of study. 

Students can leverage their newfound skills to land jobs or move up in their careers.

How online courses help your career:

  • Introduces students to new avenues in their careers.
  • Provides more affordable certification compared to traditional training. 
  • Imparts practical, applicable skills.
  • Keeps skills up to date in swiftly changing industries.   

With all the affordable courses, degrees, and certifications available online, students can learn the skills needed for just about any industry!

The Online Learning Market is Growing

Growth Chart with Arrow Showing Upwards Trend on Chalk Board

The growth expected in the next few years for the virtual classroom is staggering.

The online learning market in the U.S. is projected to grow to $12.8 billion by 2024. 

And the massive open online course (MOOC) sector could be worth a whopping $25 billion by 2025.

Examples of popular MOOCs are Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, edX, and Canvas Network. Most of these offer free access to a catalog of courses.

Considering that Udemy alone has over 400 million enrollments and offers 157,000 courses, we can be confident that the growth of the online course industry won’t slow down anytime soon. 

Technological Advancements in Online Learning

Man Touching Hologram Globe with Virtual Reality Headset On

Technology will continue to improve online learning by making it more interactive, interesting, and immersive.

Imagine studying ancient Rome in a history class and being "transported" to the Coliseum. Or an entire class attending a "field trip" to a different part of the world without traveling a single mile.

Hologram technology is ramping up and will most certainly bring cutting-edge experiences to online learning.

It's already happening in London where guest speakers at an Imperial College Business School tech event were relayed on stage as holographs.

More exciting tech advancements 

  • The use of artificial intelligence (AI) can help identify individual student needs. Another helpful use of AI is with chat bots that can answer questions on the spot.
  • Virtual reality offers stress-free settings for skills such as public speaking and precision-focused training such as surgical skills. 
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) connects smart devices between teachers and learners and helps with tasks like delivering assignments and real-time interactions. IoT enables the use of a variety of tools and apps which allow for better tutoring experiences.

Are online courses worth your time and money?


Students can meet their career and educational goals through online learning. It’s also a great investment for those who want to teach online courses. There are people out there who may be looking for your particular skills and knowledge. If you’re interested in teaching online but don’t know where to start, here is a guide to show you which online courses are in demand.

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