Are you planning to attend an Online course? Here are some of the questions you should ask

Selecting a program that will develop your skills and boost your career can be difficult, particularly if you are planning on taking an online program. Here are 7 questions you should ask any potential learning partner:

1. Will this program help me in my career?

Beware of providers who simply sell you a program. Unscrupulous providers, keen to get your credit card number, will undoubtedly respond with a resounding yes. However, this question can only be answered if you, and the program provider, are clear on your learning objectives.

In IMD’s online programs, the first question you are asked when you apply, and then again during the first interaction with your coach, will be around your specific aims and objectives. This will be the frame through which you will ultimately decide if the program will generate a strong personal return and yield a meaningful impact on your career.

Embrace learning partners who engage you in a discussion around what you want to achieve. If you’re not clear on where you’re going, you’re unlikely to get there. 

2. Who are the other people on the program?

Regular interaction with other participants is an important aspect of an effective online program. However, so is the form of interaction provided.  

Interaction with all current participants of the program, typically via a discussion forum, is particularly useful to share best practices and ideas and to get a feeling that many others are on the same journey, facing the same challenges. Group interaction (ideally 5-8 participants) enables you to network very effectively. You form stronger relationships with a subset of participants as these smaller groups lead to robust discussion and debates around conflicting viewpoints and ideas. Additionally, such interaction provides the opportunity to jointly apply concepts and frameworks to business challenges. Pair work allows for deeper bonding with one other individual and leads to disclosure–the ability to feel comfortable sharing intimate details around a business challenge you face–leading to personalized feedback and new insights gained from a fresh pair of eyes.

Of course, interaction is only as good as what the participants have to share i.e. meaningful and relevant experience. If the only criteria to onboard a program is internet access and acceptable bandwidth, be prepared for mediocre interaction and off-the-cuff questionable ‘advice’. If you’re not explicitly asked upfront what experience you will be bringing to the party, best steer clear.

3. How is this different from other online programs I have followed?

It’s highly probably if you are reading this article, that you’ve already had some kind of online learning experience–ranging from a dreadfully dull health and safety compliance training (think death by PowerPoint slides), to an engaging transformational learning experience that kept your motivation high and led you to willingly sacrifice more time to stay the course.

The difference? Ultimately 3 factors: the program design, the production values, and the delivery mechanisms.

Think back to the last time you got hijacked at a family gathering to see Uncle Jack’s holiday photos. After a mind-numbing hour of random photos that were presented haphazardly, many of which were redundant, and some of which were blurred shots of people’s feet, and you start to get the picture (no pun intended). Perhaps, however, you’ve also been fortunate enough to be invited to the world première of your niece Sally’s holiday iMovie–a carefully selected filtering of photos whisked on screen for just the right amount of time, ably supported by Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl, with a total running time of 7 minutes.

Online learning is no different. Well designed, well produced, well-delivered learning experiences can be spotted a mile off. Ask in advance to see snippets of videos that will be coming up in the program. If you are primarily treated to classroom footage, talking heads and static slides you may want to run for the hills. If on the other hand, you feel like you’ve been watching a trailer which rouses your curiosity, you’re probably in safe hands.

4. Is my coach qualified?

A serious online learning provider will not leave you to your own devices. A self-study program that relies on you having an iron-will to wade through multiple screens, with no feedback or support mechanism is akin to watching paint dry. And the chances are that you’ll not learn much. If, on the other hand, you have a coach who helps you reflect not only on what you’ve seen and read, but more importantly on what you have applied, you’re well on the way from knowledge consumption to learning application.

Knowing that you should run 5km per day and actually putting on your running shoes are two very different things. And only one yields demonstrable results. Of course, some coaches are better equipped and more qualified than others. Ask your program provider who your coach will be. If the answer is ‘other participants’ or ‘previous program alumni’, alarm bells should start to ring. If your coach isn’t qualified, why should you listen?

5. Can I access the course whilst I'm traveling?

If your online program doesn’t include mobile access or better still an app, you’ll probably not make it to the end. Just ask yourself how much time you spend on your phone per day, and you’ll soon see why this might be true. The number one consumption channel of our time is your smart device. If your online learning deviates from what has most likely become an extension of your right hand, there’s not much chance of success.

It’s also extremely important to check that you can watch videos and consume content offline. Why? This enables you to transform ‘lost’ downtime such as travel commutes into micro-learning moments. In a time-crunched world, ‘carpe diem’ applies equally to your learning agenda as it does to any other activity vying for your time and attention.

6. How many people complete the course?

Most people must make it to the finish line, otherwise, this is a bad sign. A poorly designed and executed program leads to poorly motivated learners.

What’s a good number?

IMD’s open online programs have a completion rate of more than 90%. It’s rare that our learners don’t complete and it’s ever rarer that they haven’t had a meaningful learning experience. If you can’t get a clear answer to this question, proceed with caution or not at all.

7. Can I talk with past participants?

If this channel is closed to you, move on. Every provider will shout from the mountain-tops about their unique selling propositions and provide shiny brochures, even delight you with Oscar-winning video footage… but at the end of the day, what really counts is the feedback from people who have gone before. And don’t just ask them ‘Did you enjoy it? Was it good?’ but rather ‘What precisely did you learn? What are you doing differently today that you weren’t doing before? Have your colleagues/boss/direct reports noticed a difference?’ There are the questions that matter and program alumni are the people to ask.

In summary, march into the fray of online learning armed with precise questions to ask, and expect precise answers. You owe it to yourself to be sure that the learning journey you are about to embark on is meticulously planned, superbly executed and has the right tour guides–guides that will show you not just the usual learning tourist haunts, but who will also take you off the beaten track, sometimes to places you might not feel comfortable visiting, but that ultimately lead to a richer, more memorable and more impactful experience. You may even be able to leverage this for a captivating iMovie of your own….

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