How to choose an online course (last post of 2014!)

After tomorrow, the Thoughts on Translation world headquarters will be closed for vacation through January 4, so before we dig into today’s topic, here are a few end-of-year recommendations:

  • Start thinking about taxes as soon as you get back from your holiday break. You can close out your books immediately, so why not do it in January rather than on April 14?
  • If you achieved your business goals for this year, be a good boss and give yourself a bonus. If you need some ideas, I wrote a whole post about bonuses last year.
  • If you’re an experienced translator with enough work and income, take some real time off over the holidays. Put your auto-responder on and put the computer in the rear view mirror.
  • If you’re a new translator, be aware that the holidays are a great time to pick up new clients; end-of-year panic plus lots of experienced translators on vacation equals a potential opening for a newcomer. Today on Twitter, one agency owner commented that at this time of year, agencies are much more likely to take a chance on a new person…which could lead to a lasting relationship. French to English translator Karen Tkaczyk reported that during her first year as a freelancer, she picked up many new clients by being available between Christmas and New Year’s.

But now, let’s talk about something else: how to select an online course. I’m a big fan of this topic, having taught my own courses for about eight years, and having taken several Coursera classes, a couple of writing classes through Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and most recently Ed Gandia’s Warm e-mail prospecting course. There’s no shortage of online courses out there, but the question is how to choose one; while the range of potential courses might be limitless, your available time and money surely are not. So here are some deciding factors to help you:

  1. Are you interested in a specific topic, or in a specific teacher? When I took Coursera’s class Epidemics: the dynamics of infectious diseases, it was the topic that grabbed me. As a bonus, the instructors were amazing (and just for the record, I learned more from this class than from any other science class I’ve ever taken, including in-person courses in college), but I didn’t know any of the instructors to start out with. When I took Ed Gandia’s class, I was attracted by the fact that he’s a marketing coach whose advice fits with my preferred way of finding new clients (as he says “without the ick factor”).
  2. What delivery method works best for you? Here I’m talking about live versus self-paced, video lectures versus audio lectures, etc. The advantage of a live/synchronous course is that you have to be there, so there’s no weaseling out. With self-paced/asynchronous, you can do the course at 2 AM if you want. My tip: if you take a self-paced course, set a certain block of time aside for it and stick to that. For example I listened to Ed’s e-mail marketing course in the evenings, when I didn’t feel like staring at the computer screen any more. In terms of audio versus video, the topic may dictate your preference. For example the Coursera epidemics class includes tons of animations; that may have driven some people crazy, but for me (person with a strong interest in science but not much of a hard science background), they were tremendously helpful. I also really appreciated the possibility of pausing the video and looking something up on Wikipedia, or listening to a few seconds of the video again. By contrast, Ed Gandia’s e-mail marketing course is audio lectures with handouts; this worked for me because it’s a topic I “get,” and because Ed has a great speaking voice, but if you’ve never done much freelance marketing before, it might be better to take a video course.
  3. Do you get any individualized feedback? To me, this is huge. If you’re taking the course primarily/exclusively to absorb information, individual attention may not be that important. For example in my epidemics classes, I was fine with the auto-graded quizzes and peer discussion boards, because my main goal was to learn facts, not improve my subjective skills. But if you’re taking a course specifically to improve your skills, individual attention makes a huge difference; this is something I always mention when people are considering my online courses. Lots of classes in the $150-$200 price point are going to give you great information, and will be a lot more interesting than reading a book, but you won’t get individualized feedback from the instructor, whereas the whole foundation of my classes is individualized feedback. From the instructor standpoint, individualized feedback takes a lot of of time, which is probably why most courses that offer it are in the $300+ price point.
  4. If the class is self-paced, do you have the discipline to follow through on it? Another big one: with Ed’s e-mail marketing course, I found that I really had to carve out the time to do it, or I forgot about it since there’s no enforced schedule. Especially if the course is a significant financial investment, consider your level of self-discipline before you sign up. Ditto for courses that last a long time: signing up for a year of coaching at a reduced rate sounds good, but if you lose interest after three months, it could be a waste of money.

Readers, any other thoughts on this? And happy 2015 to everyone!

8 Responses to “How to choose an online course (last post of 2014!)”
  1. Catherine Demaison-Doherty December 19, 2014
  2. Liz Cencetti December 19, 2014
  3. TranslationCraft December 19, 2014
  4. mothergoutte December 21, 2014
  5. Desi Mandarini December 26, 2014
  6. TranslationCraft January 15, 2015

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