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3 Types of Online Courses

It isn’t uncommon to hit a plateau some time in the middle of your career. When you don’t see an easy way to reach the next rung of your career ladder, you might consider enrolling in an online course to shore up your skills or gain new experience. But before you sign yourself up for the first course you can find, you should think more critically about the kind of online education you need to jumpstart your career.

Not every online course is built the same, and different types of courses offer different benefits. As you consider what you need to help you along your career path, you should learn about the three dominant types of online courses you can take:

Introductory Courses

Introductory online courses are designed to provide concentrated information for students who need a quick primer on the essentials of a subject. Some students progress deeper into the field with more advanced courses, and others gain what they need from the introductory course alone.

Introductory courses are exceedingly helpful for business leaders who only need to know the bare minimum on a topic to remain engaged with their teams. For example, an upper-level manager should have a passing familiarity with a topic like machine learning (ML) when their product development team is building something using ML, so that manager might enroll in machine learning short courses online that provide instruction in ML essentials.

Introductory courses are often advantageous because they don’t require a significant time or energy commitment. Thus, you can spend less time learning and more time applying your knowledge within your career. If you discover an interest in the course material, you can delve deeper with more advanced courses. However, you need to be careful to choose an introductory course from a respected source, or else you might not conclude the course learning what you need.

Introductory courses can take many forms. Most online introductory courses look just like you might expect, with a professor, regular lectures and coursework. However, you can find introductory courses that take the form of live video chats with industry experts, group coaching sessions, virtual retreats and the like. You can experiment with different types of introductory courses to find the one that works for you.

Transformation Courses

An online transformation course offers a deeper look into a particular topic. Often, transformation courses are intended to give students tools and techniques to improve their results in a certain field. These courses can offer step-by-step instructions, formulas, templates and other helpful solutions to apply to their roles or careers.

You might seek out a transformation course if you need more help than an introductory course can provide. Perhaps you already have the foundational knowledge but you need help developing actionable insights, or perhaps you are looking for deeper intelligence in a more technical field.

Though transformation courses involve more complex material, they are usually available in more limited formats. You can find online transformation courses from traditional universities, though they might use terms like “strategic” instead of “transformative.” Industry experts often have their own transformation courses available for purchase, which can take the form of video series or whitepapers available for download.

Certification Courses

An online certification course provides students not only knowledge to apply in their careers but a useful credential that proves their proficiency in a particular subject. Certification courses are essential for certain careers, like web development or personal training. In other careers, certification demonstrates a job candidate’s commitment to a certain skill or field of knowledge, perhaps setting them apart from their competition.

Certification courses can be longer, more intensive and more expensive than other types of online courses. Before you invest in a certification course, you might ask hiring managers in your field whether certification is truly necessary. If it is not, you might look for a non-certification option that provides the skills and knowledge you need. If you do need a certification to advance in your career, you need to be careful to enroll in a course that is properly accredited to provide certificates in your line of work.

You can push past a career plateau with online education — but you should be careful to select the right online course for your needs. Introductory courses, transformation courses and certification courses all offer valuable information and abilities, which you can leverage to climb your career ladder at different times in your career.

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