Are there Downsides to Free Online Courses?

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free online coursesOne of the great things about the Internet is that it offers you the chance to access a great deal of knowledge. In fact, it’s possible to learn a great deal from free online courses.

However, there are downsides to online courses. First of all, with free courses, you won’t earn college credit. So if you are interested in getting a degree with online courses, you will need to pay for the credits, and do the schoolwork.

But if you are just looking for your own edification, free online courses can help you boost your knowledge base. Even so, there are still downsides.

Natalie Novoa, the co-founder and CEO of tech startup Teachmeo, has been researching how to address some of the issues associated with online courses. “We have been researching the space for a while,” Novoa says, “and found that the disadvantages of a free online course are many.”

This is especially true if you are serious about your learning. Here are some of the issues Novoa believes are inherent to free online courses:

  • No one-on-one support: One of the biggest drawbacks to taking a free online courses is the lack of support. With a paid course, or a course connected to a degree, you can receive support via email, live chat, or other options. With a free course, you probably won’t receive support, unless you get a little help in the comments — and you can’t expect a fast response in that case. “The majority of free courses online don’t offer one-on-one support,” Novoa says.
  • No customizations: In many cases, paid courses and university courses can adjust the work to your level. “Free online courses do not customize the course to your skill level and want.”
  • Unprofessional: “Free online course video and audio tend to be non-professional and hard to follow at times,” Novoa points  out. While you can be sure that accredited college online classes are taught by professionals, a free course may not be properly vetted, and you can’t always be sure of the information.

What about Paid University Courses?

Even when you take a paid online course with the expectation of earning a degree at the end of it, there are still disadvantages to online courses. Yes, there is more flexibility, allowing you to study and work on your own time, but you also have to deal with some of the same issues that come with free online courses.

The biggest difficulty is the lack of support some university courses come with. While you do have access to an instructor, you don’t have that face-to-face interaction. Additionally, you can miss out on some of the classroom engagement and discussions that can prove beneficial in ways that go beyond just learning material from a book or doing homework exercises.

Some college online courses attempt to replicate some of these aspects of instruction by holding webinars and chats in real time, but there is no way to truly replace the experience of being in the classroom. While some learners thrive in such an environment, others need that in-person contact to really find success.

What do you think? Do think there are downsides to online courses? How do you learn best?

Image: nyuhuhuu

{ 6 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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6 Responses to “Are there Downsides to Free Online Courses?”

  1. admiral58 says:

    I would say there aren’t many downsides. You learn a subject that you’d never know the full syllabus for.

  2. MIT and several other universities offer open access to selected courses online. There’s nothing unprofessional about these. I’ve also never taken a real college course that has adjusted to students’ level. 🙂 You’re expected to do the work as assigned.

    Depending on your field, college credit might be desirable, or it might be entirely extraneous. It depends on whether the goal of the course is just professional development, or whether it’s prep work for an important exam, or whether you actually need some form of formal recognition for it. Much of that depends on what kind of job you have!

  3. Aimee says:

    While I’ve never taken a free online class, I have two online degrees from accredited universities. Online learning is not for everyone, but I would never have gotten my MBA without it. Some free online courses do offer support. It is important to know what you’re getting into when you start something. And if you are going for an online degree, make sure that the school is regionally accredited.

  4. Seasongs says:


    I’ll start with the cons and end with the pros:

    One course I was involved with turned into an ad for meditation. While stress-relievers are marvelous, the thread of comments after each week’s online class became an ad for various methods of yoga, etc. I’m so glad yoga and meditation help folks; however, let’s keep to the course content when participating in online discussions. It was frustrating to weed through so many posts, to eventually arrive at one or two that are relevant to the content.

    Online courses provide a great avenue for learning. Many of us work full time, have families, are older, etc. It would be difficult to enroll on campus, or maybe financially challenging to participate in a for-credit online program. The free courses offer much for lifelong learners, and I am grateful for these opportunities to participate.

  5. Charity says:

    I am one of those who prefer the face-to-face classroom setting. One-anothering is important to me, in and out of the classroom.

  6. Shafi says:

    The best website that I find very interesting and educational is No college credit hours but pure learning.

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