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9 Tips to Choose the Best Online Course Platform
Digital technology has brought us the most innovative ways of learning ever. This incredible advantage gives the benefit of having lots of choices, but it can also be a hurdle if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
When it comes to choosing an online course platform, there are endless options. Yet, these learning management systems (LMS) are not all created equally.
Now that you’re ready for the next step in your education, you have many courses to choose from.
How do you know which one is the best one for your specific needs?
Virtual courses are usually similar to in-person lectures. There’s an instructor who provides the knowledge, coursework for you to complete on your own, and some media to present the information.
How they share that content with you as the student and what you can do with your knowledge at the end of the course are key differences.
With these nine tips, you’ll learn how to choose the best online course platform for your unique needs.
1. Type of Courses Available
Before you do anything, you need an action plan.
What is your end-goal? Do you want a degree or a certificate, or are you just out for the knowledge you’ll get from more education?
With the answers to those questions in mind, now you can be more strategic in your course searches.
What subjects or classes do you need to get you closer to your goal?
In your search engine, look for course platforms that offer the subjects you want to do first. If you can find one platform that covers everything, that’s great! If not, this will get you pointed in the right direction.
Make a list of the top platforms you find. Then use the rest of these tips to narrow them down to your favorites.
It doesn’t matter how great the course is if you can’t figure out how to access the features.
Look for free trials and play around before you commit. It might take a little bit of time to get familiar with the settings. If you can’t figure it out from the tutorials, it could be more complicated than it’s worth.
You’ll know you have a user-friendly LMS if you see features offered like:
- A simple download and install application. You might not understand all the platform yet, but you should be able to install it without a headache.
- Flexible course options for a variety of users. Not everyone handles technology the same way. Look for signs that show your preferred learning style is encouraged.
You should notice this quickly in the way you navigate between pages. If it’s simple to figure out, it probably matches your style.
- Consistently available. The key to knowing if something will have a lot of problems or not is how often you get in without a hitch. Every platform has an occasional glitch. If it’s usually reliable, but you had a problem once, that’s not a sign of regular issues.
- A seamless experience. The layout of the platform should be similar throughout all the courses you take. If it feels awkward and difficult to navigate, it’s probably going to be like that for every class.
If you have one, your trial period should be enough time to decide if the platform will be easy for you to use or too complicated.
3. Check the Price
As much as it stinks sometimes, the fact is that money might be an obstacle to your favorite online course platform.
But don’t look at the price and immediately jump on it or turn away. There could be more in the fine print!
Like with almost anything you buy, look for possible catches behind the posted price. You might be able to get a better deal somewhere else.
When it comes to platform pricing, common questions to consider include:
- Is it a one-time fee you can handle?
- Is lifetime access granted, or do you have to continually pay to get the materials again?
- Is there a group buy option if you know multiple people looking to take the same course?
- Are combo discounts available if you buy more than one course?
- Do they offer any non-profit plans that you might qualify for?
If it’s within your budget, it could be worth spending more at the start in order to pay less overall.
4. The Support Available
Many at-your-pace courses offer the material but no support (other than tech). There are probably extra resources available, but sometimes there’s a lesson you just aren’t clicking with.
When that happens, is there someone you can reach out to you should you get stuck? What is the response time that they post in which you can expect an answer?
Some platforms have professors on demand. You can email, call, or text them for help, and they have a certain amount of time to respond.
Besides assistance, you should have a somewhat individualized experience when it comes to your progress.
Does the platform offer any help to check and measure your learning engagement and comprehension?
5. The Type of Platform
Not all online course platforms offer the same capabilities. Some are standalone, and some are cloud-based.
Standalone programs work whether you have internet or not once you download them. They’re a good option for people who don’t have regular access to WiFI. The drawback to these is that you must use them on the device you downloaded the program to in the first place.
Online programs are cloud-based, and you can access them from any device. You can pick up from wherever you left off anywhere, anytime, as long as you have WiFi. Of course, the disadvantage is that you need internet access to get your work done.
Another thing to look into is to check for offline viewing and casting capabilities. This perk makes it easier to take the course when you can watch it on your TV or another smart device.
6. Variety of Engagement Tools
Do you know your learning style?
During your demo or trial, look for courses that offer tools that match how you learn best.
Analyze the content, too.
Is it just theory? Or do they give adequate focus on the practical application with hands-on engagement?
A lot of excellent programs have reviews from existing and past users. Check if there are any reputable companies already using the platform to educate their associates.
What you learn should be valuable to you somehow. If it’s great content, but you aren’t sure how easily you’ll absorb it, look for another platform.
7. The Legitimacy of the Knowledge
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are exponentially gaining popularity. Every big and small business in the academic field wants to get on board.
Before you invest time and money in a course, make sure the person/organization offering it is legitimate.
Search around for the answers to these questions:
- Who are the instructors of the course and how are they chosen?
- What is their industry expertise?
- Have they published any books?
- Are the instructors certified?
- Do they talk at any conferences?
- Does your potential professor have a good social media presence and/or a large following?
It’s a red flag if the supposed experts teaching you don’t have a lot of experience in the subject.
8. The Languages Available
English is the default language of choice for many online course platforms, but it’s by far not the only option you have.
With billions of people in the world and hundreds of languages, the makers know they need to offer more than English to stay competitive.
If you’d prefer to take your course in another language, check to see if it’s available. Some of the most common offerings other than English include Spanish, French, German, and Japanese.
For those with hearing impairments, sign language translators sometimes are available. More frequently, though, closed captioning capabilities are the default setting.
You might need to ask for it. If you know captioning helps you learn even if you aren’t hard of hearing, check into this benefit.
9. Collaboration Options
Some people prefer to work independently, while others do better with partners and groups.
During your demo or trial, the course curriculum you see should give you an idea of the kinds of assignments you’ll have to complete. You can email the instructor if you feel strongly one way or the other about collaborating (or not).
Consider asking questions like, if there are teamwork and partner tasks, are they required? Can you do them independently? Are there “participation” components?
For some people, this is a make-or-break factor in their platform decision.
Investing in an online course platform without doing your research first could be a waste of time, energy, and finances.
The companies behind these products understand the importance of matching their courses with your learning style. They want to give you opportunities to test out what they offer. It’s up to you to make the most of what they show you before you purchase it.
Take advantage of any free trials or demo versions each platform you’re interested in gives you access to. Keep these tips in mind to help you pick the best one!
Aaron Hunt is the property manager for Prime Place OSU. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by call or text at 405-708-7605.