How To Evaluate An Online Course (Free Checklist)

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: December 8, 2021

Sometimes, picking an online course can be harder than the actual course itself. With so many options out there, there’s no surprise that many people struggle to figure out if a course is even worth the time or money.

The great thing about online learning is that it gives many experts the platform to teach a whole range of subjects. The downside to this, however, is just about anyone has the power to launch an online course, no matter if they have the means to teach.

In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know about how to evaluate an online course as a student. Since we know how difficult this can be, we’ve made sure to search hundreds of forums to make sure all your needs and concerns are heard and addressed.

7 Elements To A Good Online Course

When searching for an online course, there are a few things you need to take into consideration to ensure you’re getting your money's worth. Remember, just because someone is an expert doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to teach.

The following qualities make a good online course:

1. Interactive

A student in a zoom meeting solving a problem

One of the biggest indicators of whether an online course is good or not is how interactive they are.

Your online course should be much more than just a platform where you can access the information you can find on Wikipedia.

A good online course will allow students to access lecture videos or specialized reading, while also connecting the student with the professor and other students.

This interaction may involve reading personalized guidance, support, and feedback.

Interacting with other students may include support, debating various issues, and working together to solve a problem. You’ll want to feel like you’re a part of the community, combining education with a healthy social environment.

The course should feel much more than an online textbook.

2. Inclusive

A good course goes hand in hand with informed justice and equity. Students should feel like their backgrounds and social circumstances are valued. This, in turn, will help craft a learning experience that is exclusive and just [1].

Political, social, and cultural issues should all be acknowledged. This includes an intersectional and diverse reading list that doesn’t degrade or stereotype people.

3. Practical

A professor teaching and showing a tablet with solution

“Practice makes it perfect” is a saying said by many. This also rings true even for online courses.

An online course worth your time will involve lots of “doing” and not just watching and listening.

A great course will even ask you to do it more than once in order to perfect your skills.

For example, in a creative writing class, your professor may ask you to create a short story.

Once it’s submitted, your professor will provide you with feedback and ask you to revise it. Once it’s revised, they’ll then ask you to write another story to implement the things you have learned.

This goes for all types of classes - computer, economics, art, science - no matter the subject, you should always be learning by doing, and not only reading and watching.

4. Challenging

If your course doesn’t challenge you, what’s the point? 

A good course is made up of challenging and engaging material. It urges students to learn by participating and motivates them to add their thoughts and ideas to the course. Learning should be fun and challenging at the same time. The course should catch interest to develop knowledge, skills, and abilities.

5. Active

A one on one consultation with a professor

Instructors and professors are there to help you, therefore they should be often active and available if you need help.

Of course, they have their own lives too, so they can’t be at your beck and call. However, your professor should exhibit trust, care, and empathy towards you and your other students.

A thoughtful instructor will understand that you also have a life beyond their online course, both with other courses as well as personal life.

A good online course will have professors that are friendly, approachable, responsive, and good at their job. A student should feel comfortable going to their instructor to air any concerns and problems that may arise.

6. Effective

A good course will be straightforward with what they can do for you and what you will gain by the end of it. In other words, it’ll be effective. The abilities, skills, and knowledge the students will obtain should be clear and conducted well, not covered with fancy words and frilly edges.

7. Flexibility

A woman smiling in front of laptop while writing

If you’ve found yourself a good online course, you’ll notice there is some flexibility within the things you learn and the things you practice.

A quality course will take into consideration the background and interest of their students, finding a way to incorporate it into their classes.

For example, an accounting course may allow the students to analyze documents from a company they are interested in and not one picked out by the instructor.

This goes for any course, whether it be writing a paper on an author you like or analyzing the painting of your favorite artist.

Essentially, a quality course will almost allow you to edit your course within reason, to fit your likes and interests.

Always Check The Reviews

When looking at how to rate an online course, feedback from real students speaks louder than you can imagine. A good quality course won’t be afraid of giving its students a platform to speak freely (and anonymously) about their experiences and concerns with their course.

A quality course will also value their feedback and do their best to address the concerns of their students. A good indicator of this will be whether or not the course has questionnaires or surveys where they can rate their experiences.

Support Goes A Long Way

A woman smiling in front of her laptop having a good conversation

In recent studies, it was found that quality of instruction and academic support was the biggest concern for online students [2].

A good indicator of a quality course is how much support they’re willing to give their students.

If you feel like you’re alone on your journey and you have no one to turn to, you’re on a bad course.

If your course provides you with a help desk, tutoring, access to the online library, and disability services, then you’re on a good course.

Your instructor should also be willing to help you when you feel stuck or have any concerns.

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The Bottom Line

With so many courses out there, it can sometimes be impossible to know if you’re getting your money's worth. If you’re wondering how to evaluate an online course, you really have to look at what they can do for you beyond textbook education.

A good course will make you feel included, whether that be via communication with your instructor, fellow students, or culturally. A well-thought-out course will be interactive, challenging, and form around your interests and needs.


  1. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/350/6265/1245
  2. https://www.bestcolleges.com/research/annual-trends-in-online-education/

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