As online courses are becoming more and more popular (at least if we are to believe Google trends), it’s only appropriate to ask, whether online courses have any real-life value. And the short answer is Yes!
Online courses have tremendous value, whether it’s gained certificates, licenses, or an added value to your resume. When thinking about online programs that result in a certification or a license, make sure it’s from an accredited program. Value can be obtained even if it doesn’t result in a certificate.
We shouldn’t, however, forget that not every learning experience is about whether you get a certificate or not. The certificate itself does not give any value to anyone. The knowledge and skills gained from a program are what matters and not the fact of owning a certificate or license of some sort.
A certificate is only a paper. And while employers usually do appreciate you having a certificate in a topic that is important for the employer, the skills you have is the thing that truly matters.
Online courses are a fantastic way for you to gain new skills, knowledge, and certificates to boost either your career or life forward.
However, not all course platforms give you certificates that are recognized by employers. Certificates that come from accredited sources are the ones that are “gold” at employers’ eyes.
First, we cover some basic terms to get a better understanding of accredited and accreditation.
What accredited means?
Accredited means (of a person, organization, or course of study) are officially recognized or authorized.
BBB (Better Business Bureau), for example, accredits businesses. And by being accredited, an organization has proven itself as a legitimate establishment in its field.
The State typically recognizes accredited schools. When thinking about accreditation, it’s important to check who accredited them, and not just think about the fact of being accredited or not.
Continuing Education Unit (CEU)
One CEU unit counts as 10 contact hours in an accredited program meant for professionals with certificates or licenses to practice various professions.
All this means is that having enough CEUs will verify that you have completed the required course to get your professional certificate, which in turn will allow you to continue practicing the profession on the topic.
That’s that, shortly describing the benefits of going through an accredited course program. You get a certificate or a license to practice your topic as a professional.
Next, we will go through different online course platforms that offer you accredited certificates and programs. And then we look at course platforms that are useful to you, while not giving you any formal paper upon completion.
Coursera.org is a platform that offers hundreds of courses on various topics, taught by world-class universities and companies all around the world.
You can find courses from companies likes Google, IBM, Autodesk as well as university courses from the likes of the University of London, Arizona State University, University of Michigan, etc.
Coursera has a vast collection of courses, programs, and master’s degree level of studies.
Coursera has hundreds of “free” courses as well as courses that start from $15,000 (accredited university programs).
The “free” courses are 100% taught online, and lets you earn a certificate. However, this certificate is only nice to have but doesn’t necessarily bring your resume to a level that satisfies employers.
Coursera also has a course selection called specialization, where you can earn a specialization certificate. Again, this certificate is not the one that is recognized by the employer.
So even though you get some nice paper out from these courses, it might not give you the same benefit as owning a professional or accredited certificate.
In other words, it might not land you your next job. Prices start from $39/month.
While these courses offer you a professional certification, these are still not those coveted accredited certifications that are recognized by employers.
However, these courses are taught by well-known companies like Google, IBM, SAS, etc. So even though these might not be accredited certification programs, they can be useful in your resume.
Having a well-known company level program under your belt could give you a boost in the market for expertise.
Some of the courses are free to enroll, while some make you pay for the program.
Prices start at $39/month, and you earn a shareable certificate upon completion. Shareable for sure, accredited, not so much.
Mastertrack is a trademark of Course.org. These courses offer you university-issued career credentials. Prices start at $2,000 (USD) with the option to pay in installments. You can take a module from a real master’s degree and learn it 100% online.
Still, you don’t get an accredited certificate, but you do get a university certificate that can count toward a master’s degree.
Finally, you can get a certificate from the Coursera platform that is from an accredited source. You can get a degree from a world-class university, and complete a course that results in an accredited university bachelor or master’s degree.
It’s not 100% online, but it’s flexible online learning, but for you to get into one of these degree programs, you will have to shell out at least $15,000. And that is a lot of money to get an accredited degree.
Coursera courses do offer a lot of value for a low price, just don’t expect to get an accredited certificate from this platform without paying high-dollar for it.
Do employers care about Coursera certificates?
It’s up to the employer do they care about certificates and what kind of certificates, whether accredited or not. It’s usually not too important who or which organization gave the certification as long as it’s from a recognized one.
More important is the fact of whether you can do the work required from you or not. It’s not about the certificate; it’s more about your skills and abilities.
Having a Coursera mentioned in your resume rarely hurts. If anything, it only shows that you are a person who is eager to learn new skills and like to keep yourself updated. This kind of message is only beneficial when you are looking for your next job.
Even if you don’t have a Coursera certificate in your resume, you still show yourself as a person who likes to learn new stuff and likes to advance in life.
Is the Coursera certificate worth it?
It’s more of a question whether the knowledge you gained is worth the price you paid for it or not. Having a $15,000 accredited degree from Coursera could be worth it. But then again, if you didn’t learn anything new or it didn’t bring your knowledge to another level, then it was probably worth nothing.
What about other massive open online courses (MOOCs) like Udemy?
While Coursera, edX, Udacity, and other massive open online course programs out there, Udemy and Skillshare offer you another aspect for online learning.
Coursera, edX, and the likes offer you university and company level learning experience, whereas Udemy, Skillshare, and LinkedIn Learning offer you a selection of courses created by individuals, professionals, and enthusiasts on a specific topic.
While Udemy offers user-created courses, the main difference is that anyone can create a course and start selling it on their platform. Udemy handles pricing and billing, etc. So the user only creates the content and reaps the “rewards.”
Udemy is very different from the likes of Coursera and Udacity, for example, as it offers courses that are not vetted or accredited by some organizations.
What about the Udemy certificate?
As mentioned before, Udemy mainly offers courses that are created by enthusiasts and other professionals. However, the courses are not so much accredited as an organization does not recognize the courses.
Udemy certificates are nice to have, but they do not have real-world value in the same sense an accredited certificate has.
Having a company level program certificate can also be seen a bit more valuable as the employer might recognize the company whose online course you took.
It’s about recognizing the source of the course and getting a feeling of professionalism from a certificate on your resume.
Adding online courses to your resume
If you have taken an online course that is in line with the profession that you either have or want to have, then it’s only appropriate to add that to your resume.
Even if the certificate is not an accredited one, it still shows your interest in the subject and shows that you are serious about advancing in your career.
Certificates of any kind usually don’t hurt your resume, as stated before. Show your interest and add those certificates when appropriate.
Experience and knowledge
Probably the most important thing to remember from this all is that it’s not about the certificate. It’s not about whether it was from a company or a world-class university. It’s about you and your skills and knowledge.
A certificate is only a paper that shows that you’ve done work and research — studied and shown interest in a topic.
What matters in business is experience and knowledge. With experience comes knowledge, and with that knowledge, you know how to do your profession right.
Making use of your knowledge and experience
As we can see in platforms like Udemy and Skillshare, people sell their knowledge and experience in the form of courses.
You and I have experiences and knowledge that is valued by others, and others are willing to pay for the information we have. It’s not tied to business either; people buy courses on weight loss, dog training, watercoloring, etc.
There’s a course almost on any topic you can think of, and while you might not get a certificate at the end of the course. You will gain information that you can use later in your life.
I’ve personally have taken a lot of online courses in my life, and every single one of them has advanced me in my life and business. None gave me a certificate, and none have been recognized by an organization.
So the question is, why do you need a certification? To advance in career? To show potential employers, you are an ambitious individual?
The key is your willingness to learn new things and develop yourself as a professional, not to get a certificate.
A final note
Online courses have tremendous value in many forms. The biggest reason being that you develop yourself and your skills. You are evolving, and online courses give you an excellent way to do so.
The value shouldn’t be thought from the view of whether you get a paper of some sort at the end, or not. Take an online course if the subject is something you are interested in, if you see the value in the content and not in the paper you get after going through the course.
The value should be evaluated whether the price you paid and the knowledge gained is in balance. A $4,000 course can be useless or priceless; it all depends, whether you got what you wanted from it.
Courses can be pricey, and if you didn’t get what you were looking for from a course, it’s money wasted, even with a certificate in your pocket.