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How to Know if an Online Course is legit?

educational elearning is online learning trustworthy legitimate online course online learning Apr 29, 2020

By Artist and Founder Charla Maarschalk

Disclaimer: This post is a little longer than my normal format.

If you’ve ever participated in online learning you know that some courses are better than others. 

Online education has grown immensely in the last few years.

You can purchase courses on just about any topic ranging from $20-$2000+. Anyone can launch an online course and call themselves an expert. The problem is that we, the students, need to be diligent in finding out which courses are taught by the experts.

Being an expert is not a free pass to being a good teacher. You must also decipher if their course is taught well.  Seems like a big task but don't worry, there are specific ways to investigate the topics and instructors you are interested in.

Quality content does exist. And you can find them.

I’m going to share a few examples on how I decide if someone has content worth purchasing.  (*This criteria can change depending on what you’re looking for, such as Online Universities. If they claim you can get a degree or ask for huge sums of money up front, you will need to do much deeper research)

I take online courses, and I am an instructor myself.

Therefore you might be thinking: "She's developing this list cause to qualify herself!" 🤓 So please don’t just take my word for it. Read what others are saying and decide on the criteria that’s best for you.



An instructor should have experience working in their field, not just teaching it.

There are many people out there just finding what others are saying on hot topics and regurgitating it into their own course. You want to find out about the work they do before and outside of teaching.

For example, I’ve been a professional portrait artist for almost a decade and a visual artist in other mediums my whole life. You can find examples of my work all over the web. Therefore, you can conclude that I know something about visual art. If I begin to teach on realistic landscapes, you may have to start questioning my validity.  

A good example of hard-to-trust courses are ones teaching social media strategies. I have seen ads selling social media courses with profiles with 10 posts and not many more followers.

Maybe they know something I don't, but I really don’t trust they can help me.


One way a Creator will show value is through testimonies.

We have all seen those before-and-after weight loss photos. Unfortunately, they have made us skeptical of testimonies.

You are inspired by them, but they are often special cases which mean you may not see the same results.  This doesn’t mean you should disbelieve testimonies, it just could mean you’ll have a different experience. 

Course Creators can also hand pick the best testimonies. It’s great to see testimonies on a website but don’t take them as gold. Legitimate content can be weighed in several different ways.


You’ve concluded the Course Instructor is an expert, but that doesn’t give them a pass to be a good instructor. Teaching is hard. But teachers do get better with practice. So, find out how long they’ve been teaching.

Research how they teach. Experts have a lot of information to share. The ‘lecture’ or talking head is the time when they define, explain, identify, predict the information you need to REMEMBER and UNDERSTAND.

Next, you will need ways to APPLY the skills they spoke about. When learning something new, you immediately face challenges. A great way to learn how to ANALYZE such challenges/problems is to observe the expert solving similar problems.

Next, you’ll want to learn how to EVALUATE the new work. Reviewing and getting feedback helps to keep you on track.

Finally, the process of CREATING helps the student learn to put the elements they have learned together to create the outcome they were looking for by purchasing the course.

Guided practice is the best option for CREATING but is often hard when doing an online course. An instructor who is available for feedback is a great feature but not always possible when a course has a high number of enrolments. Instead, you can look for courses that have opportunities to watch the instructor work. You’ll see their process in action and learn how they problem solve through modelling. 


A course description can often include quick steps to an easy outcome. We all know if it sounds too easy it most likely is. Expect to work hard for something you really want value in.

Know before hand what level you are at in your particular area of learning.

A lot of courses say they are good for both beginners and advanced. My opinion is, this isn’t possible. I’ve been disappointed when taking such classes.

If you’re a beginner, the course may move too quickly for you as it attempts to serve the advanced students. If you are the advanced student, you’ll be bored for the first half and more than likely you’ll never go to the level you were hoping for.

There’s no such thing as a University course that accepts beginner and advanced students. So don’t expect an online course to do that.  

Find a course specifically directed at the level or skill you want to learn.   


Find a course that inspires you.

Motivation is a personal thing. You might be motivated by the project, the instructor's style or something else. Find one that really gets you excited to learn. A good course will put you to work, and you must be motivated in order to fully finish. 

One downfall of online learning is that you physically work alone and have little accountability.

If you are excited by the course, you will most likely be motivated to work through it. Get involved in the online communities offered with the course so you can talk about and share what you’re learning.


We already talked about testimonies being hard to believe. But what if you searched the course hashtag and found other students talking about the course online?

For me, it says just about everything I need to hear when other people are giving shout outs on social media (of course beware of paid influencer shout outs, but even then most legit influencers only talk about things they truly admire).

Why do they matter more than course testimonies? It normally takes a lot of effort for a ‘regular person’, meaning non-influencer, to go and talk about someone they admire online. When they do it, it usually means that person or product made such a profound impact on their life that it’s worth the effort to post about.

And in the reverse of that, when you’ve taken a course that taught you a little or a lot, be sure to talk about it online. You can simply give a shout out with the right hashtags on social media. (example search: #boldcolorbootcamp)

You can give reviews on Google, Amazon, YouTube or anywhere else you can find their stuff.

Comment on their social media platforms and even answer questions that other possible students are asking about the course content. Whenever you find a worthwhile quality product in today's online world, I believe it’s our duty to spread the word so that other’s can know where to spend their time and money.

I hope that helps. If you have questions or thoughts please share them in the comment section below this post.

Thanks for reading and most importantly keep learning,


Creativity awaits!


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