As an entrepreneur and as a human with an internet connection, I am inundated with online course advertising, and more often than not, I have whipped out my credit card to pay for the latest thing that will jumpstart my business, improve my health or help me to achieve inner peace, finally.

Sound familiar?

My confession is that for many classes, I never got past the introduction lesson. For some, I haven’t even signed in to activate my account.

And I’m not alone. Completion and engagement rates in many online courses are shockingly low. In one study of Massive Open Online Courses, the average completion rate was 15%.

Why is that?

We all want the solution that will bring us tons of money, get us off sugar and keep us meditating and paying for something that we think will do that is very appealing. Gym memberships kind of work the same way. You sign up, buy some new workout clothes, go to a crowded gym in January and then by February, it’s deserted again and you’re on to another fix.

But some people still go to the gym, right? What’s their secret?

You have to put in the work.

Paying for the class doesn’t automatically get you the results. Oh, how I wish that it did.

I’m not against online learning, in fact, I love it, but I have learned over time to be a wiser consumer and to make the most out of my online class experience.

If you want to do the same, ask yourself these questions the next time you see that Register Now button.

Do I have the time for this?

Be realistic about your current schedule and how much time you can devote to taking the course now, not in some future magical time when you are lounging on the beach with your laptop. Now. Discounts and short enrollment windows are tempting, but those are just sales techniques to get you to buy now. If you don’t have time right now to devote to the class, you likely won’t later, or if you do, you may have forgotten about it entirely or have a backlog of other courses you bought. Look at the sales pages for ideas about the time commitment or even contact the teacher to find out how much time is required. If you don’t get a straight answer, then that’s a red flag that they might not have great student interaction or completion rate. At the minimum, do you have 2–4 extra hours in a week to devote to the class?
What skill do I lack that this course will help me to improve?

Be specific about what you want to get out of a class. Do you want to learn how to write better Facebook ads? Are you interested in meditation, but don’t know how to start? Do you have trouble managing your time and you want a structure to help you achieve some of your goals? Is your LinkedIn profile a mess?

If you are specific about what skill you want to learn, scan the course sales page to make sure the topic is covered in depth and that the testimonials mention it specifically (if they mention results, even better.) You may learn some other things too and that’s gravy, but be sure that your specific interest is covered and covered well.

It’s also a good idea to step outside of the ads and sales funnels that are screaming at you on your screen and spend some time thinking about what are the skills that you want to improve and then seek out the teachers, not the other way around.

Can I afford this?

Class prices are all over the map, but even the smallest investment is something you should consider carefully. It doesn’t take long for those classes to add up if you keep buying them.
The main element to consider is your return on investment (ROI). If you learned this skill, how will it improve your business or life in general? What would it take for you to make your money back on the class? How long would it take?
Your return may be a little harder to quantify for personal development courses, but consider your happiness or better health which reaps other financial benefits later in life.
What do others say about this class?

Most good sales pages should have testimonials and you should look at those, especially if someone is similar to you. I would also recommend stalking those people a bit to see if they are truly as successful as they appear. Go to their websites, check their social media pages and even contact them if you have questions about how the class benefited them.

Also, ask your friends or colleagues if they have taken the course and get their reviews. For many of the popular courses out there, you will find more than a couple of friends that can tell you about their experiences.
Ask them about how much time they spent on the class, if they finished it and how they found the overall quality and information in the class. Another big thing to consider, especially for popular classes, is the interaction with the teacher and also the interaction amongst the group, is it lively or crickets? Does the teacher pass you off to an assistant or rely on the group to answer your questions? Another thing to check is the Facebook group page, most if not all online courses have a Facebook group. Many might be private or secret, but the bigger ones tend to have a closed privacy setting where you can see the number of members and the amount of activity in the group which are all good indicators to check for interaction and popularity.

Do I think this teacher will be a good one for me?

If you’ve been through a webinar, 5-day or more free class funnel or read someone’s blogs and other materials, you should have an idea of their teaching style, their experience and the quality of their offerings. If you haven’t done this, do it so you can see if they are a good fit for you.

You might find someone that rubs you the wrong way or the person doesn’t seem to have the qualifications that you aspire to or you want to be president of their fan club. Either way, pay attention to your gut reaction to the teacher. Don’t get sucked in by guilt after you’ve used their free products. Unsubscribe and move on, there are tons of online teachers in the sea.

If all of those questions convince you that this is the class for you, then after you’ve hit “Pay Now” make a plan for success in the very beginning.

Block off time

Mark a date with yourself in your calendar right now to block off time solely devoted to this class. If you are unsure of the time commitment, block off at least four hours for the next two weeks to absorb the course materials, take action and to interact with others in the class. If there are any live calls, mark those down too and make your best effort to be there.

Take action

Many courses will give you homework or action items, but if they don’t, create your own. Practice what you’re learning and implement it in your life or business now when you can get support, not when the course is over.

Interact

Interact with your fellow classmates and the teacher. Ask questions, share your experiences and thoughts on the material. If something isn’t covered in depth enough, ask for more information or examples. Don’t be a passive learner.
Another bonus for most classroom groups or forums are the contacts that you can make. The connections made in class are invaluable and sometimes worth a lot more than the class price in future collaborations and referrals. Introduce yourself and interact with others in the group.

Online learning can be a gamechanger in your life and business, but it doesn’t work sitting in your inbox or when you realize you could have taught the class better than your instructor. My best advice, get what you came for to get the results you want.