Online classes are becoming a popular method for continuing your education and learning new skills.

While at least 28 percent of students are enrolled in an online course at a degree-granting institution, there are many other options for quick and affordable learning that aren’t part of a degree program. Sites such as Coursera and Udemy, for example, are great for learning skills online.

I earned my college degree a few years ago and have taken several online courses since then to improve my skills and advance my career. The cheaper online classes have contributed more toward increasing my income over the years than my college degree.

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I’m taking yet another online class for a certification that I hope will allow me to increase my income by offering a new service in my field.

The course costs $300, but I hope to earn back that investment several times over within the next year.

If you're wondering whether an online course could help boost your career, here are a few things to consider:

It’s All Up to You

Taking an online course often means that you’re doing the majority of your learning independently. While you may interact with other students or even the instructor, you are responsible for “showing up” to learn and for properly processing the information you receive.

No one is there to check your attendance or make sure you’re doing your homework. Instead, you must be highly self-motivated and be able to adapt to learning independently. If you can, you may want to team up with another student for accountability to increase your chances of success.

Are Online Classes Worth It?

As with any type of educational investment, you are hoping to gain some type of return. With an online course, you can do this by setting clear goals. Do you hope to gain a new skill so that you can break into a new career field? Are you looking to advance your experience and credentials so that you can leverage a higher salary?

Digital courses have become very trendy these days, but it’s crucial that you stay focused on your goal. Create a clear action plan before you invest in a course.

Even if you take a free or cheap online course, realize that you’re investing time and effort into learning the new material, and you’ll want to cash in.

How to Spot Scams

Nowadays, anyone can hop online and create a digital course or claim that they’re a part of a prestigious institution and can help you to do x, y, and z.

Do your research before you sign up to make sure you aren't not wasting your money. If you hope to earn a certification or degree, check that the course is offered by an accredited institution.

If you’re just looking to gain skills, make sure that the person teaching or selling the class is experienced and has a proven track record. Read through the syllabus, FAQs, and the return policy, along with credible reviews from past students.

A course promising that will earn lots of money while doing hardly any work is likely a scam. If you're trying to earn a degree or certificate, check out the U.S. Department of Education‘s database of accredited programs.

The Pros and Cons of Online Classes

At the end of the day, you want to sum up the pros and cons to find out if online education is right for you. I love online courses because I'm learning new things all the time. Plus, they're a great option for those with busy schedules.

Here are a few pros and cons:

Benefits of Online Education

  • It's flexible. You can work around your schedule and other responsibilities.
  • You don't have to commute to class.
  • It's cheaper than most degree-granting and continuing-education programs at universities, trade schools, and community colleges.
  • You can find a wider variety of courses and programs to meet your needs.

Challenges of Online Education

  • There’s very little social interaction. Online courses may not be the best solution if you thrive in a group-learning environment.
  • They may not be considered “legitimate” if you’re looking to transfer credits for a degree program.
  • Financial aid may not be available (though you may not even need it if the course is free or affordable).

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Carefully weigh the pros and cons to determine whether online learning is right for you. Do your research and compare different programs based on your needs and preferences, and on your goals for the future.