The Ultimate Guide to Online Education
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Trying to decide what route you should take in online education can be dizzying. There are short online courses, bootcamps, nano degrees, creator run courses, and online degrees from traditional universities. So which should you do?
I’ll go over each genre of online course and what situations they work best for.
As you read, remember to take your situation and needs into account. Ultimately it will be your experience, education, and how much time and money you can invest that will determine what route you should take.
Investment: 1-20 hours, $0 - $200
These courses are great if you just want to learn how to do something specific or if you want to add a skill to your resume.
Maybe you’re in marketing and you want to add photoshop to your resume—a Udemy course on the subject is a great choice. Or maybe you’re trying to get your first customer support job—LinkedIn learning will have several short courses specific to customer support.
These courses won’t compensate for significant shortcomings in experience or education when it comes to high-barrier careers. For example, if you’re wanting to break into UX/UI design, these courses won’t hurt, but they probably won’t be enough to get you a full-time UX job.
Here are some situations where these courses have the most benefit:
- Getting an entry-level position in a new field that has a LOW barrier to entry.
- Ex. You have unrelated job-experience and now you’re trying to get an entry-level customer support, sales, or marketing position. Short courses can help you become a competitive applicant.
- Learning how to do something specific (Excel, Facebook Ads, Photoshop)
- Ex. You currently work in marketing and would like to learn more about paid ads, so you take a LinkedIn Learning course.
- Learning about subjects you’re curious about
- You’re thinking about getting into data analytics but not sure if you’d like it, so you take a Udemy course to find out.
- A compliment to an already qualified resume
- Ex. You’ve been working in project management for a few years, but are now applying for a new job and would like to give your resume a boost.
- You want to start freelancing a skill
- You want to try getting gigs on Fiverr or Upwork for logo design, so you take a course on Skillshare to get the basics down.
Investment: 1-12 Months, $100 - $1500
These courses are great if you’re trying to make a career change or break into an industry with little to no education or experience.
For example, I have a lot of experience in customer support, but if I wanted to pivot to design or data analytics, I might take a course on Coursera or Udacity. This way I finish with a certification as well as a portfolio. Of course it would then take rewriting my resume and cover letter for data analysis jobs, that’s another story.
Portfolios are very important for breaking into certain industries (marketing, UX/UI, programming, writing). The benefit of long-form courses is that most have you do actual projects that can later be incorporated into your portfolio.
These courses have the most benefit for when you don’t have education or relevant education for an industry that you’d like to break into.
For example, if you want to get into data analysis and don’t have a degree, or you have a degree but it’s unrelated, you can take a nanodegree path on Udacity or a certification on Coursera. Personally I like Udacity because they offer real-world projects, mentors, and career guidance.
If you’re feeling hesitant about making the commitment to a long-form course, try taking a short course from the previous section to test the waters.
Investment: Anywhere from 3-12 months, ~10k-30k
You’ve decided you want to break into a certain field (programming, UX, sales, data, ect.) and you’re ready for a career change. Maybe you want to go from sales into design, or you want to go from marketing to programming. Or you’ve been stuck in retail and are ready to get a career-level job.
The main difference between a bootcamp and a long course is that a bootcamp is more hands-on. Bootcamps provide dedicated help along every step of the way, as well as a community that you’ll be a part of. So if that’s something you feel that you need, a bootcamp is a good option.
Bootcamps are great if you:
- Are certain you want to pursue this career (this doesn’t mean you’re going to UX/UI or programming for the rest of your life, but that you are certain it’s the next step in your career).
- Want dedicated help in training for your new career and finding a job
- You have little education or work experience
Independent Creator Courses
Investment: 2 weeks to 6 months, $7 - $5000
These courses are rising in popularity and are great for learning about something you have a passion for or just want to know more about.
I’ve personally taken all the courses I’ve listed above and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made. Although I didn’t take these courses with the aim to further my career, they have definitely benefited me in my job.
People often think these courses are scams. Why take a course if you don’t get a certificate or can’t list it on your resume?
I’m an advocate of investing in yourself because it will have the highest return. While the other types of courses I’ve mentioned can be taken to directly help you get a job, these independent courses can be taken to improve your lot in life.
For example, after taking Building a Second Brain, I’ve been more productive with my side hustle, writing, and also work. Legendary Marketer helped me get down the basics of marketing.
There are independent courses on everything from starting a blog, learning investing, getting a side hustle going, to learning crypto.
To find the best independent creator course, I recommend using courseranks.com.
Keep In Mind
No amount of courses, certifications, or portfolio work will get you a job if you don’t position your resume or LinkedIn properly.
Hell, if you have a properly positioned resume and LinkedIn, and properly network, in some cases if can land you a gig that you’re under-qualified for.
Just remember landing a job is about getting qualified, then showing you’re qualified. Don’t expect a certification listed on your resume to do all the work for you.
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