What is the most important thing when taking an Online Course?

In 2024, I see that online courses have transitioned from being trendy to becoming a fundamental part of the learning ecosystem for most professionals, much like specialization workshops used to be. Although many only take these courses to achieve a higher salary, due to the extensive requirements set by companies, I believe their main function can extend beyond this.

Online Course

Anecdote

A few days ago, I received a message from one of the platforms I use for online courses, informing me that my annual subscription was about to end. Upon accessing my profile, I realized that I had completed many courses but had not taken the final exam for all of them. Despite the time that had passed since I took these courses, I completed some of these exams and obtained their certification.

Initially, I thought that would be the end of it, but perhaps due to the years I feel have passed, doing this prompted the following questions: How many of these certificates have I accumulated in my life? Should I collect them? Are they important?

In an earlier stage of my life, perhaps typical of the foolish pride of my youth (“I don’t need to prove what I know”) and the fortune of not needing this documentation to get a job (specifically in the context of short courses or workshops), it never crossed my mind to keep them.

I still don’t believe a certificate is the most important thing in this learning format, but out of mere nostalgia, I began to collect them and save them on my LinkedIn, at least the ones from recent years, and if I find anything else, maybe I’ll add it.

If Certification Isn’t Important, What Is?

I know the answer is very simple: learning is the most important thing, but I’d like to further develop this idea and its context.

Universities, Institutes, and Courses

Universities have always been criticized for being too general on some topics, some justify this with the need to first understand the general landscape well before diving into specifics, others dare to say that the specifics are learned on the job, contradicting the fact that most companies require you to know these topics before you start working.

It is for this need that technical education and its reductionism, the short specialization courses, were born. Law of supply and demand, capitalism, you know.

How to Take an Online Course?

According to my hypothesis, courses do not replace complete knowledge of a subject but rather help you delve into a specific topic.

I don’t want to frame it in terms of whether or not university is necessary; more than anything, I consider that for proper learning, context, foundation, and depth are necessary, which you can achieve independently or with the help of a study center.

To achieve this in my case, every time I want to learn something new, I try to perform the following exercise: I look for information that gives me context about the topic I want to learn, take the course to get the basics of this topic, and then individually try to deepen it according to my needs.

Understanding the Context

Personally, I can’t start learning something without knowing why it exists or what it contributes. For example, in the field of programming, I couldn’t start learning React without understanding what it is and what it solves.

To explain, I’ll develop these ideas with React:

What is it?

I continue like this until I know (and in some cases understand) all the terms related to the topic I’m going to learn.

What does it solve?

And based on all this, you can get a general idea of what value it provides.

So, Why Take a Course?

You might wonder, can’t I learn this within the course?

From my point of view, I consider that courses should target specific topics and provide you with all the necessary foundations to understand that topic, for example, the points I just outlined precede the topic of using React and if you are in a course on how to use React, it’s unlikely to be well developed, although it will surely be mentioned.

And it’s often that I’ve come across comments like “why don’t you explain this or that,” and almost always the answer is “you should already know this.”

Advanced Topics Are Not Learned in a Course

Just like the previous comments, there are remarks like “the course is good but it doesn’t go into advanced topics,” “when will the advanced part come?”

That’s why I want to explain this point as follows: It’s not that advanced topics can’t be taught or explained, it’s that the granularity at this level can be simply huge.

Continuing with the topic of React, reaching an intermediate point for me is knowing how to use all the hooks, state management, and everything related to using this library.

What would be advanced then? In my personal opinion, it’s when it’s applied to specific contexts, like React for web design + SEO, React as part of a product, React within a SPA, React in Dashboards, etc.

While what I’ve listed isn’t much, there are countless use cases within each of these columns. Can you imagine a course that tries to cover all these use cases in one? It would be really huge and probably not very valuable because many use cases you won’t see.

So, How Do You Reach Advanced Level?

For me, this is achieved with years of experience and the combination of knowledge in various tools. But beware, you will become advanced in a specific topic or area; if you move to another, it’s a restart.

The Learning Process is Long

In an era where a 5-minute video is long, it’s hard to express that learning takes time; one course is not enough, nor is a degree. Learning is constant, although today learning is more accessible, when I started learning PHP, the knowledge I found was in PDFs and discussion forums, I was still a child, I don’t know how I kept wanting to learn honestly.

But I want to end this piece by explaining that the shortcut often becomes longer, I say this because I’ve lived it and am still experiencing it. It’s very tempting to take the quickest path, but the times I’ve had to review my steps have taught me that it’s not always the best option.

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