Online Course FAQs for Professionals

By Denton Zhou | Updated August 2, 2017 (Originally Published August 1, 2017)

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Who can take online courses?

Almost anyone can. Some restrictions do apply, however. If you are under the age of 13, you must ask your parents to create your account (edX is the only platform that does not have this limitation).

If you reside in an OFAC sanctioned country, which at the time of this writing includes Iran, Cuba, Sudan, and Crimea region, you may be restricted from accessing certain courses. Coursera and edX have licenses that allow them to offer all courses with the exception of advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses.

How much do online courses cost?

The majority of online courses listed on OpenCourser are free. Paid courses and/or verified certificates typically cost between $20 and $250. Courses designed for professionals typically cost slightly more, however, ranging from $50 to $300.

Can I get course credits to with online courses?

Not at the moment.

Some course providers, including edX and Coursera, have experimented with issuing credit through third party universities. Those programs have been discontinued.

If you are interested in earning course credits to meet requirements for a professional certification (e.g. to sit for the CPA exams), to meet admissions requirements for continuing education, or to apply towards degree requirements, then we suggest enrolling in a similar course offered by a local college or university, using online courses on the side as a study aid.

Will employers view my online courses favorably? Should I list a course certificate on my resume or LinkedIn profile?

Only the employer or hiring manager reviewing your job application can give you a definitive answer.

In general, listing a relevant online course certificate that’s helped you work more efficiently or learn skills to make you more productive signals your initiative to grow independently. That’s a favorable trait for most employers.

We’re generally cautious on listing certificates as there are instances where they can actually do more harm than good. Only list certificates that are directly relevant to your current field or a field you hope to transition to, and limit yourself to certificates earned for courses whose teachings you clearly understand.

If you have trouble articulating to an interviewer or employer the concepts you learned from a course, or explaining how the course has helped you on the job, leave the certificate for that course off your resume and profiles.

I have a busy schedule. Can I pause and resume courses at my leisure?

This largely depends on the course you choose. In general, there are two kinds of courses. One kind allows you to self-learn at your own pace. The other sets the pace by running on a schedule with due dates, exam dates, etc.

While the former is fully flexible, the latter may not necessarily allow you to pause. Before you start a course, ensure you’re aware of its structure and required weekly time requirements.

What are the benefits of taking a course with a strict syllabus / schedule?

Scheduled courses offer numerous benefits. Their very nature forces learners to set time aside each week to study. There are also benefits to having all learners in the class study at the same pace.

Instructors are able to offer more effective office hours, for example. During office hours, instructors might take questions live in Q&A format or provide additional help over difficult areas of the course.

Learners like you can also engage in more vibrant discussions in the course forums. That gives learners the opportunity to give and receive help, share and dissect ideas based on concepts learned, and network.

English is not my first language. Will I be able to keep up with the material?

Most courses offer the ability to set your video speed and set captions on and off. If you’re a non-native English speaker, try setting a slower (0.5x – 0.75x) playback speed and turning the captions on.

If doing so is ineffective, try seeing if a course is available in your native language. OpenCourser has built in language options that you can set for this purpose.

What are the differences between free and paid courses? What are verified certificates?

There are three main pricing models for courses: free, paid, and a hybrid mix of the first two.

Free courses allow you to complete a course without paying and represent the majority of online courses. Paid courses on the other hand require payment in full to access any course content.

Hybrid courses are a bit more nuanced. They might offer certain parts of their course for free, but exclude components like quizzes, exams, and other graded assignments. Because passing these assessments and assignments are necessary to earning a certificate, you’re essentially barred from earning one until you pay.

In most instances, you can pay to earn a verified certificate. This applies to free courses as well.

Verified certificates certify that you completed an online course without outside assistance (your super smart friend didn’t just knock out all of the quizzes and exams for you, for example). They’re an extension of the course provider’s honor policy that, as their name suggests, are backed by verification.

When you apply for your verified certificate, you must personally certify (in signature) that you abide by the honor policy. Further, you must provide a form of identification (e.g. a scan of your driver’s license) for the course provider’s records.

Consider getting a verified certificate if you plan on telling employers, college admissions offices, or any other institution about your achievements.

When should I make a payment for a course? When should I purchase my verified certificate?

Payment schedules vary for online courses. Some course providers require that you pay before a course begins. Others specify payment within two weeks of the course start date. Yet others allow you to purchase a verified certificate even after a course has ended.

We recommend purchasing your verified certificate before you begin your course where possible. Not only will you have a stronger incentive to complete your course, but you’ll also receive confirmation that you’re on a verified certificate track before you begin investing your effort in the course.

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