Online College Courses Earn a Certificate, Get College Credit or Learn New Skills

Meet the Expert

Keisha Kidan Education Consultant, Founder of Professor Kidan & Company Read bio

Written by…

Shelley Zansler Read bio

Advancing or increasing your education doesn’t have to mean enrolling in a full degree program, taking time off work or disrupting your schedule. Individual online courses are an increasingly popular and convenient way for adults to continue learning, no matter their interests. Around 15 million students are non-traditional, adult learners, and a diverse range of online learning opportunities exists to meet these students’ needs. Online classes are available in many different formats and are great solutions for those who want to learn new skills, advance their careers or try online learning without a making a huge commitment.

Types of Online Courses

Online course offerings aren’t limited to full online degree programs. In fact, there are tons of classes available in a range of formats to suit different learning styles. Many online courses are offered through colleges or universities, but there are many other websites and organizations that offer classes online. Whether they’re looking for needlepoint techniques or an introduction to artificial intelligence, students can find something interesting to learn through online courses.

Some one-off online courses are formatted similarly to traditional college courses, with class discussions, graded coursework and exams, and may even be part of a full degree program. Some courses are comprised entirely of videos and can be completed in a week while others require projects or written assignments and last a year or more.

Online classes can be completely autonomous or have consistent interaction with instructors and classmates. The outcome of different online courses varies, too. Credential preparation, college credit, completion certificates or simple personal fulfillment are all possible through online courses, depending on where you look.
The key to finding the right online class is to get familiar with the types of online courses available, how they’re structured and whether they meet other criteria you’re looking for, like cost and outcomes.

FAQs

When it comes to online classes, there can be a lot of factors to consider. Online education expert Keisha Kidan has the answers to some of the questions most commonly asked about online learning.

Who can take online courses?

Anyone can take online courses, but to be successful, learners should be comfortable using the internet and have access to a computer, tablet or smartphone. It is also important to be organized and to know how to manage time well, because online courses are generally self-paced.

How can I find online courses?

Online courses are offered by various sources including colleges and universities. But, you can also find online courses offered by private companies and organizations by searching for online courses in your subject area of interest. Popular course offerings may be found through Lynda, Coursera, Udemy or edX.

Are online courses usually offered for credit?

To be offered for credit, an online course may be offered by a college or university. However, other organizations offer certificates or digital badges for completing their online courses. These digital badges or certificates can be added to your resume or LinkedIn profile.

Can I take individual online classes through an online college or university?

There are colleges and universities that offer students the ability to audit courses (and you can choose to take one class). The options will vary by institution.

Do individual online classes transfer?

The ability to transfer courses or credits is decided by an institution and would vary. To find out, contact the institution you hope to transfer credits or courses to before enrolling in a course.

What technology requirements are typically needed for online courses?

Online courses offered by private companies are often web-based. You would need a reliable internet connection, computer, tablet or smartphone and an internet browser (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome). If you take a course through an online college or university, they may use a learning management system, which is a system to organize and house course materials. A learning management system can also be accessed through the web, and the technology requirements will be detailed by the school.

If I audit a class for self-enrichment, do I need to pay for it?

Typically, yes if the course is through a college or university. However, this will vary by course and by institution. There are platforms that offer free online courses including Lynda, Udemy, edX and Coursera.

If I’m not taking a class for credit, do I need to complete the homework assignments and exams?

It is likely that you would have to complete the assignments and exams of a course if you wish to check for understanding and have a rich experience in the course. However, turning in course work may not be required by the institution offering the course.

Is financial aid available for online courses?

Financial aid from the government or other sources is typically offered for students enrolled in a certain number of credit hours at a college or university. However, there are non-traditional financial aid opportunities for students who qualify (and for certain courses or programs). Grants, scholarships, fellowships and funding may be offered by private companies, groups or even individuals.