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How to choose the right online course?

Many schools and universities across the world are moving face-to-face teaching online due to the coronavirus outbreak. The popularity and availability of online courses have grown dramatically in the past couple of months, and the structure of these courses continue to grow and evolve as technology evolves. This new landscape might be difficult to navigate, that is why we have made a list with some of the most important things to consider before choosing a course.

Online student with laptop

What's your goal?


Look for established schools and course providers who have already delivered face-to-face courses successfully and have positive reviews or testimonials to prove it. There has been a surge in scammers selling fake online courses recently, make sure you do your research and verify if the school / course exists and if it is good value for your money.

Choosing an accredited course provides students with quality assurance and additional security. Being accredited by a professional body such as the British Council means that a school is inspected regularly and maintains high standards quality of their training and learning provision.


Foundation & university pathway programmes are a popular option for international students who would like to improve their English, academic skills, subject knowledge and gain direct entry to undergraduate degrees. Universities often run their own foundation courses, but there are also of independent institutions that offer pathway programmes with progression opportunities to a wide range of universities via partnerships - such our International Foundation Diploma - if you would like to keep your options option and you haven't decided on your chosen university yet.


When it comes to university programmes, it is worth checking the national and international rankings of the institution and subject league tables that are based on a variety of measures – for example teaching quality, research quality or the ratio of staff to students and student satisfaction.

What's your budget?

Tuition fees for online courses tend to be more affordable than face-to-face ones. In addition to a lower tuition cost, you can save money on accommodation, food, and travel costs and flights. However, bear in mind that technological infrastructure, planning and delivering a quality online course still takes a lot of time and effort even for established institutions and experienced educators.

Online Course Formats & Terms

Learning online is a vast landscape. The terms online learning, e-learning, distance learning, blended learning, and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) all refer to the act of using technology in learning, but how students engage in that process is slightly different.

E-learning is a broad term describing the delivery of learning and training through digital resources. E-learning can be either interactive or static in nature. Interactive sessions can be hosted through a video connection between all the participants such as Zoom, Skype or Google Meet. Static e-learning courses, on the other hand, consist of pre-recorded or uploaded online materials that are not are not customized for each group of participants. E-learning is also commonly known as online learning.

Distance Learning lets you study a degree remotely without regular face-to-face contact with a teacher in the classroom. Many distance learning programmes offer rolling admission, you can start the course once you have been accepted and you will get to decide exactly when and where you study.

Hybrid or Blended Learning is the combination of classroom and virtual learning. Ideally integrates online learning with face-to-face classroom learning in a way that enhances the learning experience and improves learning outcomes.

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) offer higher education level short courses or modules and provide a flexible, affordable way to learn new skills (e.g. Coursera or FutureLearn). Anyone can join without entry requirements and they mainly teach through recorded video or animated content that can be accessed any time. Interaction is possible through group discussion boards or automated feedback through quizzes and multiple-choice tests. Completing a MOOC might look good on your CV, but it is not a substitute for a degree course and the majority of MOOCs do not offer college credits

Online Learning Platforms

It is important to have a good look at how your course will be taught and how easy it will be to use the tools involved. Language courses are often offered through videoconferencing apps like Zoom, Skype or Hangouts. Learning Management Systems (LMS in short, e.g. Blackboard, Moodle, Google Classroom) and Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) have become increasingly common in education offering a wide range of learning materials, assessment, digital libraries, discussion groups online. Ask for details and carefully consider what options will be available to you when choosing your course.

Student Experience & Support

An important aspect that determines the quality of a study experience is the level of support that students receive. Ideally, you should look for a course that offers one-to-one tutorials, direct feedback from your teachers or other forms of individual support.

Your fellow students can also be a great source of help and advice. Make sure you choose a programme that offers online discussion forums or group chats provided by the institution, so that you can be part an online community and support each other as a group.

Technology requirements

Most online courses will post the recommended (or required) technology needed to take the course. It is recommended to have a well-functioning laptop with a webcam and a reliable internet connection when joining lectures and live online sessions. A tablet or phone is useful if you are on the go or to read over coursework. It is best to look for courses that can be accessed from a range of devices, such as computers, tablets, and smart phones and offer a clean, easy to use interface.

Social programmes

A lot of students worry that studying online means that they will miss out on the social or ‘campus experience’. Social activities like fresher’s week, nights out, travelling & visiting attractions may be off the table until travel restrictions are eased, but look out for virtual alternatives offered such as online quiz nights, meditation or exercise classes, online ‘Cook-Offs’ and Netflix evenings. There are plenty of virtual social activities that can bring students together, they may be new and different but no less fun.

Time management

Some courses may require students to be online at a specific time for a live online class or interaction with a teacher, others allow you to log into the course material whenever it suits your schedule. You should choose a format that works best for your goals, learning style and preferences, but bear in mind that studying online will probably require greater independence when it comes to organising your calendar. Procrastination is the worst enemy of online learners, so make sure you have a plan and commitment to stay organised and not to fall behind in your online class.

Get in touch, we are here to help

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to both students and educators, but a changing landscape doesn’t mean you should put your future plans on hold. Explore how you can turn your challenges into opportunities. Find out more about our Online English Courses and the Blended International Foundation Diploma. If you are still not sure whether you would like to study online or if you have any questions about online learning, please get in touch we are here to assist you.

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