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What is an online course?
An online course is a program of learning that’s organized according to a syllabus (usually in units) and that takes place in a virtual space. Online courses can be informal and focused on one skill or as formal as leading to a certification or degree.
Different online courses have different features: Some courses might stick tightly to a syllabus, others might let you pick up and take a break from the class when your schedule allows.
Some might have “live” discussion groups scheduled over video conferencing at a certain time, others might simply record lectures and let you access the videos of them whenever you’d like (for more on self-paced online courses, see below). And one of the best ways to do an online course is as a cohort course, and do it live!
We usually think about online courses as being either synchronous or asynchrous. Your audience will either learn together, at the same time. Or, they will learn separately on a pre-recorded, self-paced course. (Although adding community to your course lets you blend these!)
What is a self-paced online course?
Self-paced online courses are online courses where you can study units, take tests, access lectures, and complete any coursework on your own time—there is no fixed timescale for completing the syllabus or parts of it.
It allows for more autonomy over where and when one does the coursework, but some find it hard to stay on track with the lack of structure.
What are the benefits of online courses?
There are many benefits of online courses. One of the main advantages is the flexibility: Online courses are accessible anytime, anywhere. Self-paced online courses, where learning is self-directed and there are no time commitments beyond what the student is motivated to put in, are often ideal for those with demanding schedules or who are trying to balance a family or multiple jobs.
Since anyone can teach an online course, they can also be useful for those who want to learn a specific skill from an expert in the field—many in the creative professions, for example, might not be a certified teacher but have skills they are qualified to share and instruct others in (for example, a professional photographer teaching an online class about digital photography).
Online course examples
Online courses don’t necessarily have to be professionally or academically oriented: It’s possible to find online courses for everything from cooking a specific type of dish to building a following on Instagram.
Mighty Networks' Community Design Accelerator: Mighty Networks’ Community Design Accelerator is an online course that teaches students to start and grow an online community, including how to structure it for engagement, how to attract paying members, and what content you need before launching. The course is taught live and cohort-based, but also offers the option for self-paced learning.
Wealth Without Wall Street: Russ Morgan and Joey Murewas created this online course site for members who want to set themselves up for long-term financial freedom and develop sources of passive income—without sinking their money into the stock market.
Verbal to Visual: Verbal to Visual is a membership for sketchnoters, complete with courses that help introduce members to the basics and beyond of visual note taking. Within the Verbal to Visual community, Host Doug Neill offers courses that cover topics like Digital Sketchnoting and Build an Online Course with Sketchnotes.