How to Select the Best Online Courses

What do you need to keep in mind when selecting the best online learning courses for your needs? We explore the topic in this helpful guide.

Emily Bisset - 23 February, 2021 · 12 min read

Over the past few years, online learning has changed drastically, evolving the way we look at modern education. The increasingly digitised world has allowed for cheaper, easier and most importantly better access to high-quality courses in almost every subject you can think of. 

Online learning has so many benefits, which many have begun to acknowledge after almost a year of being unable to attend a physical learning environment; including, access to world-class tutors and less distractions.

However, narrowing down which online course to take can be hugely difficult, especially because there are so many options available to you. But if you’re looking for the best online courses UK, then we’ve compiled a helpful guide for you to use below. 

With key questions and ideas to help you decide on what you want to get out of your learning experience - we’ll help you choose an online course which is perfect for you. 

What do I need to keep in mind when selecting an online learning platform?

If you’ve ever tried to find the best online course for you, you might have felt overwhelmed. There’s a lot of choice out there, particularly since 2020 when the whole world moved online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this case, it can seem difficult to know where to start.

We think there are two key questions to focus on when you look for an online course:

  • Will I enjoy this experience?

  • Will I really learn something new?

Ideally you want the answer to both of those questions to be a fist-pumping, resounding ‘YES!’ With an enjoyable experience which really helps you to learn, you’re making the best possible use of your time and money. 

But how can you be sure you’re going to get a fun, rewarding, effective learning experience before you embark on a course?

We’ve put together this short guide to choosing between the many online learning platforms on offer. This will help you decide what you want and what will help you to have the most effective educational experience in a short time. By looking at who is teaching the course, thinking through the subject you want to study, and understanding how you will learn, you can start to narrow down your options and find a course that will really work for you

Who is teaching the online course?

One of the most important things you can do when selecting the best online course in the UK is to take a close look at the kind of tutors which an online learning platform offers. Most of you will have experienced good and bad teachers at school, and you’ll know that a good teacher can be totally transformative in the way that you learn, drawing on their own experience in the subject and making it come alive. 

As William A. Ward, an American writer and poet once wrote:

‘The mediocre teacher tells; the good teacher explains; the superior teacher demonstrates; the great teacher inspires’. 

You want to find an online tutor who won’t just tell you what you need to know and explain how it works, but who will demonstrate how it links to real life, and inspire you to think for yourself. 

But how can you tell whether your tutor will be that inspirational voice in your life before you embark on an online course? Here are a few things to look for:

1. Subject background

Does the online learning platform offer teachers who have dedicated years of study to their subject? Or have they been drafted in to teach on something they’ll be revising themselves before your class?

You can get an idea of this by looking at tutors’ degree subjects, which you should be able to find online, as well as by their level of study in the subject. Look for those who have studied for a degree in a relevant subject and who have a high level of education themselves. If tutors are still studying for their own undergraduate degrees they won’t have as much in-depth subject knowledge as someone who has a Masters degree of PhD in the subject. But equally, they may be working at the very cutting edge of new and innovative research which may be really important for you to learn.

2. Institution

Where did the course tutors study? Where are they teaching or researching now? Think about how this fits with your goals and aspirations.

If you want to aim for a top institution for your future studies, particularly the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge or the Russell Group of Universities in the UK, you might want to look for an online learning platform which offers tutors who have experience of either learning or teaching in those kinds of environments. That way, they will be able to pass on their knowledge and experience to you, and prepare you for your future study. 

3. Current activity

What are the tutors doing now, other than teaching?

Have they dedicated their life to teaching and research, or even practising in their given field? Or is teaching just something they do on the side while they undertake a career in a totally different area? 

Look for tutors who are currently working in an academic institution, as a teacher or researcher, or who have careers directly related to your subject area. If you’re taking an online medicine course, you’d rather learn from a doctor than from someone who once studied medicine but now works in a bank. Find teachers who are immersed in their subject area day-to-day.

4. Teaching experience

Not all subject experts are good tutors. 

Some researchers can be working at the cutting edge of their field, making world-changing discoveries, and yet they don’t have the communication skills needed to pass their knowledge to others. 

Find out if your course provider offers teachers who have taught extensively before, and - if you can - you might even want to search for an online example of the teaching offered. Even a short video of an example class for an online learning platform can give you a good idea of the teaching style to expect. It will also tell you whether the tutors you will be working with are good communicators. If you can, try to find tutors who are passionate about passing their subject on to others.

You might not be able to find all of these pieces of information before embarking on an online course,  but even knowing some of this background will give you a good idea of what to expect. The better your tutor, the better your learning experience is likely to be.

Which online courses are in demand?

Beyond having a good tutor, you will want to make sure that you select an online course that is going to satisfy your learning needs in other ways. One of the most important factors in your selection of an online learning platform will be which subjects you can study. Think about your goals - where do you want this online course to get you? 

Often students are looking for a course which will give them a taster of what university study in the subject might be like. So, some of the most in-demand courses are those in subjects that you can’t normally study at school, like Medicine, Law, Business and Entrepreneurship, Computer Science, or International Relations and Politics. This type of online learning experience gives you a rare opportunity to dip your toe in the water educationally, and gain a glimpse of what your future studies could be like. 

Are there any subjects that you’d like to test out? Look for courses in these subjects.

Or, are you looking to deepen your knowledge in a subject you’re already familiar with? In that case you might want to look for a more ‘traditional’ subject that you can study in a different way, like Mathematics, or English Literature and Creative Writing. Although you might be studying a subject you know, an online course can give you an opportunity to gain confidence and get comfortable with a different style of teaching. School teaching is often quite formal as it revolves around exam preparation. An online course in a familiar subject can offer you a completely different experience, helping you to see the subject in a whole new light.

Whatever your goal, you’ll want to make sure that you choose a course that excites you. Does your heart skip a beat when you read the course description? Then it’s probably the one for you. 

How will you learn?

As well as considering your subject choice and the teachers offered, you’ll want to look for how you will learn on the course. 

There are a huge number of self-paced, free courses available online. These sound appealing - they are easy to sign up for and don’t break the bank. But research shows that these courses often fail to encourage real learning. Shockingly, 75% of students who sign up to one of these free, open online courses (sometimes called ‘MOOCs’) never watch a single video available to them online. There’s nothing to motivate them to keep going or to keep them hooked. 

When you’re looking for an online course, you’ll want to find something that keeps you interested and helps you to make real progress in your learning journey.

So how do you do this? Look for how your course will be delivered. 

Back in the mid 20th century, an American educational psychologist named Benjamin Bloom put forward a number of theories around learning which are still widely accepted today. One of them was this: an average learner can become an exceptional learner, when they are given personalised teaching, and when they are given targeted teaching (what he calls ‘mastery’ teaching) in the areas where they most need help.

The same goes for finding the best online courses in the UK. 

If you’re looking to expand your learning via an online course then you’re likely to be an above-average learner to start with. 

But if you really want to become exceptional - to see strong progress after undertaking your online course - you need to look for a course which is going to give you teaching which is tailored to you.

In order to have this, you need to look for an online course or platform that will give you direct access to your tutor, face-to-face via video call, so that they can get to know you. Some courses will give you pre-recorded videos accompanied by access to your tutor via email or a discussion forum only. While this is better than no direct communication with your teacher at all, it won’t really allow them to understand you as a learner and tailor their teaching approach to you.

You will likely get the best outcome from a course when you have access to your tutor within a small cohort of students (ideally 10 or fewer) and some time in a small group (2-3 students) or even a one-on-one tutorial setting with your teacher. This will allow your teacher to personalise their teaching to you, and identify areas in which you might need more support, so that you can receive this support.

Small group teaching will also push you to be the best you can be. Alex Beard, Director of Teach for All (a global network of learning communities) says that ‘learning should be desirably difficult’.

If learning is too easy for us, we stop making progress. We switch off, look at our phones, think about something else, and the learning process halts. If however, we are gently pushed - taught on the edge of our comfort zone, neither too far into it or outside of it, that’s when education gets exciting. Learning becomes an exhilarating process of finding out what our minds are capable of, and seeing the jigsaw pieces fit together.

An expert, experienced teacher, in a small group setting, will be able to give you the kind of tailored instruction that will help you to get the most out of your learning experience. 

The course doesn’t have to take a solely small-group approach. Independent, self-paced learning is great for learning new concepts, posing interesting questions, and consolidating on material you’ve already covered. But you’re unlikely to get the most out of your learning experience without at least some element of personalised learning.

You’ll also want to think about whether you want a course that just offers you one-on-one tuition, or that offers you group teaching with other students too. 

One-on-one tuition is highly valuable in the way that it gives you an opportunity to receive teaching which is customised just for you and your needs, as we’ve discussed. But there is value in learning in a group too. Learning in groups, with your peers, has been proven to encourage creative thinking. Sharing ideas and understanding others’ perspectives can greatly enrich your learning experience. 

Think about what you want. Here at Melio Education, we offer programmes of solely one-on-one tuition, and programmes in cohorts of up to nine students (which also includes regular tutorial sessions in a small group of 2-3 students). 

This is because we believe that you learn best when you’ve consciously chosen the learning experience that you would prefer.

What have other people said about the online course?

Finally, a good way to be assured that you will get a high-quality learning experience online is to read reviews. The best courses will have reviews that mention both how enjoyable the course has been and how much other students have learnt from the experience. Look for mentions of the tutor and what students have got out of their course. 

If you have friends who have been on online courses, you might also want to speak to them about their experiences. What was the best bit about the online learning platform they chose? What could have been better?

Discover unrivalled online learning with Melio

To find out more about our 2-week Academic Online Courses and one-on-one Tutorials, email our admissions team

They will be happy to walk you through how our courses work, how we choose our tutors and which subjects you can take. We want you to choose the best online courses in the UK, creating a rewarding, enjoyable learning experience which takes you where you want to go.

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