Online training: 5 questions to ask yourself before you start

May 07, 2020

6 mins

Online training: 5 questions to ask yourself before you start
Núria López

Periodista freelance

Have you decided not to give in to worry during this coronavirus pandemic, but to make the best use of your time? If you have lost your job, signing up for some online training could help you to boost your skills and keep your mind busy, thus making this situation feel a lot more bearable.

It could be a great decision—so long as you don’t make the mistake of turning it into a frantic race to feel productive. That could work against you and end up draining your energy.

If you have been thinking about getting some fresh training, take a moment to reflect on the type of learning that really interests you and how it would fit your personal situation. Is this the right time to consider this type of training? How do you know if you are choosing the one that best suits your needs? To help you to decide, here are five questions you should ask yourself before starting any online training:

1. Why are you considering online training?

Perhaps your desire to take up some online training is related to the current situation, whether you are stuck working from home, have been furloughed, or have put your job search on hold. If so, it’s worth remembering that courses that offer a flexible schedule will allow you to adapt the pace of training to your situation. This means that when you return to work or find a new job, you can continue to learn.

You should also consider how any online training could benefit your career. This could mark the beginning of a whole new direction, or your newfound knowledge could help you to add value at work and develop your career. It’s best not to simply choose a subject related to a hobby, however. Ideally, you will pick something that really interests you and that can help you to achieve your professional goals. That way, you will have something more meaningful than simply a new certificate to hang on your wall.

2. What competencies and skills would you like to acquire?

Once you have decided why you want to do some online training, then you are ready to look at what you want to do.

To start, make a list of any skills that you have wanted to have for a long time. The first ones to come to mind will probably be the hard skills, which are those directly related to your area of work. This could mean learning a specific web programming language, mastering a design program, or learning a new language. If so, include all those topics in your list so you can consider converting them into targets.

The other general category to consider is soft skills. Have you thought about skills that are not so closely linked to your professional field? Soft skills, which include such areas as communication or negotiation, can be worth brushing up. If this seems like a good prospect, but you are unsure which topics might be the best fit for your professional development, here are some ideas:

  • Assertive communication: Knowing how to express your ideas in the best possible way during your meetings or presentations.
  • Creativity: From the most creative minds, the most innovative ideas tend to be born. So why not give free rein to your creative side?
  • Organisation and planning: These skills are key to optimizing your time and avoiding feeling like you don’t get around to everything. Good planning is usually reflected in results.
  • Change management: This is an especially valuable skill in these “Liquid Times”, described by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in his book of the same name. His works look at changes in society and their effects on individuals. The ability to manage change and to deal with uncertainty can prove to be a great advantage.
  • Proactivity: Regardless of context, taking the initiative to get ahead and make decisions that make a difference is also a skill you can work on.

3. What do you need to learn to achieve your goals?

Knowing the competencies and skills you would like to acquire is essential for you to answer the third question: What do I really need to learn to acquire those skills? To avoid losing yourself in long lists of training courses, set yourself the goal of finding the training that covers what you really need to learn. We recommend you avoid choosing courses that will simply beef up your CV without adding real value. Also, ignore any training that does not build on the qualifications or experience that you have already. There is no point wasting time learning about something that will not be useful to you, unless you are doing it just for fun.

What you need is training that provides you with knowledge you can apply directly or indirectly in your work, either in your current job or in a position that you hope to get in the future. To get your choice right, it is essential to do some research and look at:

  • The content of the course: The syllabus and approach taken to the training modules can give you the first clue. Is it a comprehensive, interesting course? Do you think it will cover the learning area you have identified? If possible, look at the type of resources and formats that are included during the training. This includes audio-visuals, discussion forums, or webinars, for example. Activities will also be key in keeping you motivated and stopping you from losing interest.
  • The facilitators who give the training: Knowing who your trainers will be and their backgrounds can also guide you in your choice.
  • The center that provides the training: Research the institution giving the course too. Do you have friends who have attended any training there and can give you feedback? What kind of reputation does it have? Find out if there is an active community of alumni. Such groups often hold events for former students after the course has wrapped up.

4. How much time and resources can you dedicate to this?

How much time would you like to dedicate to learning something new? More importantly, how many hours do you have? This is a fundamental factor to consider if you do not want to find at a later date that you have to drop out. So before signing up, find out how the course is organized. Check out when the training is delivered, what time, and for how long. Find out if there are group activities or individual exercises too. Knowing the structure of the course and how it is evaluated is key since it will let you know if you have enough time to complete the course.

Another factor to consider is how much you can afford. What price range do you have in mind? Depending on the type of training you choose, its duration, and the center that offers it, the price can vary dramatically. Keep this in mind when starting your search.

5. What course format works for you?

It is easy to get lost searching through long lists of online training options. But if you know your interests beforehand, real training needs, and what resources you have to invest, it will be much easier for you to identify the type, of course, that best fits your needs. Among the main training formats that you could choose, listed here from the shortest to the longest, are:

  • Webinars: These require less dedication. Usually, online seminars are delivered in real-time and recorded for viewing later too. Choose one of these to get a taste of a new topic or as an update on a subject that interests you.
  • Video tutorials: These are helpful if you are happy being self-taught. Platforms such as YouTube have educational channels, such as Tech Insider, with content that may cover your needs.
  • Online courses on e-learning platforms: These are usually divided by subject. When you access the one you are interested in, you will be able to see a detailed syllabus and all the modules. It is often the students who set the pace for themselves, within certain boundaries. This can be the case with the free MOOC courses offered by universities or platforms such as Coursera and FutureLearn.
  • Educational institutions specializing in postgraduate courses: Depending on your professional interests, you will be able to find specialized schools for postgraduate courses that you can do from wherever you want.
  • Distance learning: These courses are getting more popular, especially if you want to continue working while studying for an undergraduate or master’s degree. You can study at your own pace, within certain limits. The Open University, for example, says that most of its students are working full-time and take six years to complete a degree. Keep in mind that this option requires greater dedication and commitment on your part.

In difficult times, training is seen as a safe haven. Beyond what has been learned, it can give you a fresh approach to facing new situations. Or it can even give you an idea what the next step in your professional career should be, especially if you are not sure which way to go. It is a small lifeline that can help you to stay afloat, to remind you that, despite the vagaries of work, learning should always be a constant, both professionally and personally.

Translated by Sunita Maharaj

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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