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Last updated: 10.08.18

Free courses online - better than paid learning for staff?

Over the past decade, social, technological and behavioural changes have all contributed to significant developments in e-learning.

With platforms like YouTube and Google, people have so many free learning opportunities at their fingertips, so is there a need for anyone to do paid online courses anymore? Is there such a thing as free online courses with qualifications?

Here, we're going to take a look at the benefits of both free online training and paid e-learning to see whether or not one is really better than the other.

Free online training courses: What's the deal?

There are two types of free e-learning: free and freemium. While free online training courses are cost-free for the learner, freemium services are free to begin with, but offer upgrades for premium services.

Online free courses can generate a lot of engagement, and can have a significant impact, and they shouldn't be ruled out as valuable learning resources just because they're free.

The 3 main types of free online training

YouTube and Google

Whether you want to know how to do your make-up a certain way or how to fix a problem with your bathroom sink, you can probably find out via YouTube or Google for free.

At the same time, these services may offer free online training courses, where revenue is generated for the provider through advertising. Digital learning via YouTube and Google is typically learner-led and can take as little as 30 seconds, with a bite-sized learning approach favoured.,/p>

Massive open online courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs tend to focus on theory-based, rather than practical learning, which means they can require a big time commitment from the learner. However, as MOOCs are often delivered in line with established learning brands, enrolment numbers for these free online training courses can reach the hundreds of thousands or even millions.

Vocational open online courses (VOOCs)

VOOCs are typically intended to convey both theory and practical-based knowledge, usually focused around a particular subject, thereby providing learners with an in-depth insight into a sector.

Free online training courses: the benefits

Aside from the fact there is no cost attached to them, free online training courses have multiple benefits. These include:

  • They're easy and convenient to enrol on
  • They provide learners with instant access to learning materials
  • They have great engagement rates - many people take free courses online for fun, so they actively want to learn
  • They can be regarded as egalitarian, as they are open to all, as long as people have web access
  • They can have a social element too, allowing for interactivity in virtual classrooms and spaces such as the YouTube comments section
  • There's no risk of losing money if learners drop out of a free training course midway through, meaning people may be more likely to try out different courses
  • They don't impact organisations' budgets, meaning companies can create a more rounded workforce and expand their skills training on a tight budget

Dark learning: what is it and why is it important?

Dark learning refers to free online courses that have not been audited or quality controlled. So, while learners may be trying to actively take part in skills training, their training coordinators won't be aware of this, and therefore cannot capitalise on it.

Learners should always exercise caution regarding free online courses with qualifications in case they fall under the category of dark learning. With this type of online training, they won't be encouraged to see a course through to the end, and won't necessarily be awarded a recognised certificate.

It's also important to bear in mind that free online courses are never completely free, as they will cost learners in terms of time. In addition, someone out there has paid for the training, whether through investment, sponsorship or crowd funding.

When is paid e-learning more appropriate?

Sometimes, paid e-learning will be a more appropriate skills training option, for example:

  • Compliance training: especially when trying to demonstrate compliance with health and safety regulations. Businesses can't afford to take their chances with online training courses that could turn out to be low-quality.
  • Professional qualifications: If learners need evidence of having gained a recognised qualification, they will probably require a paid-for e-learning course. Most of our online courses at Virtual College have been independently verified as adhering to Continuous Professional Development (CPD) guidelines.
  • Bespoke courses: Business-specific and other kinds of niche, bespoke e-learning courses will usually require someone to pay for them to guarantee their quality.
  • To gain a record of completion: Records of completion or certificates are often necessary to prove a training course has been completed. At the end of all Virtual College courses, learners can download and print a certificate for their records. Some courses come with the option to have a high-quality certificate sent through next-day post, too.

The benefits of paid e-learning courses

Learners can benefit from the guarantee that a paid-for e-learning course has been quality-assured, so is therefore more likely to be recognised and worth something to them professionally.

Paid course learners are more likely to be committed to their learning too, as they are required to invest more than just their time.

Meanwhile, for organisations that invest in paid e-learning courses, the return on investment can be significant. Paying for online training courses means a good standard of teaching can be guaranteed, so no one's time will be wasted.

Businesses can closely align paid training courses with their needs, goals and strategic aims, making sure that they are using these opportunities to maximise their potential.

With a Learning Management System like Virtual College's Enable, there is also a centralised reporting function, and automatic progress tracking, allowing management to keep on top of their staff's learning.

At Virtual College, we offer a range of both free and paid e-learning courses. Explore our full offering here.