Free Online Courses: Pros and Cons

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Free courses are extremely popular, with people enrolling in them all the time. They include short training courses and MOOC units from some of the world's best universities. The great benefit is, obviously, that they're free.

But there's some truth in the adage that you get what you pay for. Just the act of paying for a course means you're more likely to finish it. Free courses have high dropout rates and essentially don't lead to a recognised qualification.

Pros of Free Courses

1. It's free

A big advantage of taking a free online course is that you don't have to pay tuition fees. The only significant costs are your time and energy. All you really need is:

  • a fixed or mobile computer device
  • basic broadband (with enough GBs for downloading videos).

Some courses ask you to pay if you want a certificate at the end. But that's an optional expense.

2. Control what you study

Because there's no financial commitment, free courses give you ultimate control over what you study. You can get what you want out of a course and stop at any time. Just quit and move on if the course has taught you what you want to know or if you see a better option.

Many people don't finish free courses. Often, it's not because of a problem with the course, or due to a lack of effort. Students opt for a quick learning hit and move on before finishing the full curriculum.

3. Mix and match

Another control element of free online courses is that you can choose whatever courses you want from any discipline. Because you're not working towards a formal kind of qualification like a bachelor degree, no boundaries exist. Free courses are a good way to sample different careers.

4. Demonstrate genuine interest in a topic

The commitment involved with doing free online courses is generally not as great as committing to a full degree that you pay for. Because of this, you can impress a prospective employer by doing them. Completing non-accredited courses shows personal drive. You are studying a topic out of interest and because you have a passion for learning, not just to get a qualification.

Cons of Free Study

1. You don't gain a recognised qualification

Distance learning providers try hard to give you a qualification that recognises your achievement in completing a free course. But, at this stage, accredited university degrees are unavailable through free online study. Employers generally won't consider you as qualified in a subject just through free training.

Part of the problem is that free courses generally aren't designed to provide credentials. Often it's possible to cheat on the testing. Teaching standards may be low as well, and it can be too easy to pass. Providers of free online courses make it easy because they want you to do more than one unit (and not give up because of poor grades).

2. It's harder to study consistently

The lack of financial commitment with free courses makes it harder to persist with study. Eventually, your self-discipline (or ego control) becomes depleted.

You're much more likely to skip content that is dull or put in a half-hearted effort. This is fine if you are just studying to have fun and stimulate your mind. But it doesn't help with developing good study habits and means you may learn much less than you could through a paid course.