Have you been seeing lots of ads on your Facebook feed lately for online courses about digital marketing, blogging and social media? These e-courses promise 'guaranteed success' for small business owners, led by well established influencers and marketing gurus. I've felt suspicious about these for a while, knowing as a digital marketer how much hard work it takes to build an audience online, so vows to go viral practically overnight can feel particularly unnerving. So I decided to investigate; are e-courses a scam, or a worthwhile investment for you and your business?
First up, to be clear, when I mention 'ecourses', I am not talking about official qualifications gained through distance learning from the likes of Open University; instead I am referring to the internet phenomena of online-only learning programmes on topics such as how to grow your Instagram (eg. Me and Orla) or how to build a successful blog (eg. Helene In Between) by influencers, or how to sell products and services (eg. eCommerce Training Academy) or how to improve your SEO (eg. Next Steph).
What inspired me to start looking into this was not just the numerous Facebook ads I am fed on a daily basis that promise me internet stardom, but a recent episode of the podcast 'Reply All' about drop shipping- which is an e-commerce model based on sourcing and sending direct from manufacturer. The podcast explores the murky world of drop-shipping business that are not only ripping off customers (with poor quality goods and untraceable origins), but ripping off other e-commerce entrepreneurs by making their millions through on and off-line courses teaching others how to rip people off in this way, which inevitably never paid off.
Listen to the episode named 'The World's Most Expensive Free Watch' here:
This led me on to thinking more and more about the trend of what I call 'blogging about blogging'. Increasing numbers of influencers who began writing about fashion, beauty, travel or lifestyle, have switched their focus toward how-to posts about how to succeed as a blogger or content creator, which shows that there is more demand from blog readers about how to replicate the success of others rather than find their own niche and succeed through original content.
In my continued search for some clarity on ecourse 'scams', I sought out a couple of success and failure stories from the Twitterati about their experiences:
"I did an online course which was all about creative writing and I loved it, it was amazing. There were videos every week so it was practically a video lecture, proper homework exercises that were marked and commented on, the chance to collaborate with others on the course... It was just a really positive experience that felt like a proper course - not just access to a Teachable programme - and I learnt so much. It was great to look back at the end and see my progress!"
"I felt I did kind of know a lot of it already...it’s definitely not as immersive and I don’t think you learn much. It just felt like I was reading a collection of blog posts rather than a lesson."
There are several warning signs to look out for if you are looking at enrolling in an e-course, which this video explains really well:
In 2013, an investigation by Forbes reported on the Federal Trade Commission's crackdown on ‘Operation Empty Promises’ and 'be your own boss' scammers' after on online learning firm took $100 million from unsuspecting entrepreneurs who “got very little in return and found it difficult to get their money back if they canceled.”.
On the other hand, an article by EscapeYourDayJob.com claims that the only 'scam' in this world of online learning is when the entrepreneurs behind them have made it look "too easy" and customers have not been able to commit enough time and energy to achieve the same results.
I also found an interesting post on Soloprenaut about how to avoid 'scamming' people when you are creating an online course, which notes that there are plenty of marketers who will readily call anything a course, including blog posts, eBooks and videos, as long as they can put a price tag on it and design a pretty landing page for it, without implementing a proper teaching structure and one-to-one support and feedback to give customers proper value for money. In other words, as disputed by Create and Thrive, “Why would I pay for an e-course when I can just use Google to find the information I need for free?”
To end on a positive note, there does exist some amazing resources for online learning out there if you are thinking of expanding your marketing, creative and business knowledge without 'going back to school'. Examples include Skillshare, which for less than £1 a month allows users to take part in thousands of short courses from experts in their field via video, including masterclasses in Photoshop, Mailchimp, DSLR photography, coding, branding and social media strategy. Another great platform is Future Learn, which partners with major universities to provide intensive online courses and qualifications in everything from fashion to languages, business management to screenwriting, STEM to history, all 100% free.
I'm enrolling in a few e-courses next month, both free and paid for, on topics including email marketing, social media ads, online PR and copywriting, all run by influencers, so I will be sure to write an update to this post in the next few weeks to review them! In the meantime, tweet us @fashionfixdaily to let us know what you think!