There’s No Such Thing as a Free Course: Steps for Choosing How to Invest Your Time Wisely

learn to code

OWS goes back to school

There's No Such Thing as a Free Course: Steps for Choosing How to Invest Your Time Wisely

With the prevalence of online learning options and the abundance of MOOCs (not an alien species in Dr. Who, but the acronym for Massive Open Online Courses), there are more and more free and low-cost ways to learn just about anything you need to know as a solopreneur.

But even a free course requires an investment of your time and attention, meaning investing in learning isn’t always a no-brainer. Your first move is to decide whether it’s time to learn a new skill. (Read this to help you make that decision.) Once you’ve settled on a “yes”, it’s up to you to choose the right course from the dazzling, and sometimes overwhelming, range of choices out there. Here’s how:

Set clear goals for your learning

The best starting point is to decide exactly what you want to learn or what skills you need to develop. In the early stages of business it can feel like you need to know everything, all at once. If this is you, create a brain dump of all those ideas (web development? sales? copywriting? accounting?) and ask yourself which is most important right now in order to help you take your next step.

Once you’ve decided what you want to learn you can turn to Google or one of the MOOC directories like MOOC List or Class Central to search for courses on your topic. Note that the directories do not cover all providers so if you use them it is a good idea to do a Google search as well.

After you’ve identified some course options there are a number of ways to decide which one is right for you:

1. Try before you buy

If the course you’re considering is free you can have a good look at it before you dig in:

  • Scroll through the syllabus and check that it covers everything you want to know - and not too much else;
  • Check whether the mode of delivery (e.g. PDF; video; audio) suits you;
  • Try a lesson or two to see whether you like the style of the presentation.

Some platforms, particularly those where you buy a monthly subscription to access all of their courses like Lynda or Skillshare, offer a free trial period. The trial period is usually quite short so be savvy and check out any of the courses you might be interested in while you’ve got the chance.

On other platforms you might be able to view a preview lesson or two. CreativeLive and Udemy offer this option on many of their paid courses.

2. Choose your instructor

You might find that you already know of the instructor. For example, CreativeLive attracts very high-caliber instructors that are often big names in their niche. MOOCs first came out of the universities so the more traditional ones like FutureLearn are usually delivered by people who teach at academic institutions. Others, like Udemy, exercise less control over the courses they offer and have a more diverse range of instructors.

Whatever the credentials of the instructor, you also need to gel with their style. Unless you already know them, it’s a good idea to do some research. The majority of course instructors will have some sort of web presence. Search them out and have a look at what they’ve got to say:

  • Have they published any books?
  • Do they have a website or a presence on social media?
  • Have they created any free resources that you can download?
  • Can you watch them on YouTube to get a feel for their presentation style?
  • What are other people saying about them?

3. Read the reviews

Most platforms, including Udemy and CreativeLive, and the MOOC directories mentioned above have a rating and review system so you can find out what previous students thought about the course. If you’re looking at a course that doesn’t have reviews or you just want to do some extra due diligence, search for the course name and platform on Google. As long as it isn’t brand new, there’s a good chance you’ll find somebody talking about it somewhere on the web.

Balance your investment of time versus money

It always feels good to get something for free, but sometimes it’s worth investing some money if it means saving yourself time. For example, this might allow you to get a course more tightly focused on exactly what you want to learn.

On the flipside, if the pennies are tight then you may be able to get something for free by being more flexible with your time. For example, CreativeLive courses are recorded in front of a studio audience -- during recording, you can watch the live stream for free.

It’s amazing just how much knowledge we now have access to as online entrepreneurs. Choose the topic that will help you where you are right now and research the course to make sure it’s the right fit -- then, go and make the most out of it. Remember -- for almost any learning opportunity: you only get out what you put in.

The following two tabs change content below.
Lucy believes that the single best thing you can do for your business is to build a strong community. Through her business, The Community Builder, she helps solopreneurs and other small businesses do just that. You can find her at or on Twitter @CmtyLucy.
  1. Jennifer Almarine says:

    I hadn’t really thought of this before but it is a great reminder that time is money and that free stuff is not always worth it. On the other hand, there is some great content out there!

  2. This is SO true! I’ve made the mistake before of purchasing a course and not even having time to thoroughly digest all the lessons. I’m trying to be more mindful of the free e-courses and webinars I sign up for. We forget that it’s still a time investment—and often it just creates email clutter because I don’t even go to the course I signed up for!

leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© One Woman Shop, LLC | 2021 | Privacy Policy and Terms of Service