Online education is on its rise today. Indeed, almost five in ten people say they spend time and money on courses or hold it their duty to organize online training themselves.

Sure enough, authoritative courses attainment certificates can help your career: added to your resume, they allow an employer to see your set of professional and character skills and differentiate you in the marketplace. With that in mind, you do your best to find relevant and professional classes, sign up to different training programs, pay for them, and hope to learn some useful information there.

In reality, there’s so much more to it than that.

Far from all online courses are worth spending money on them. To avoid wasted effort, answer the below questions: they will help to understand if a given course fits your educational or professional needs and if the game is worth the candle.

The questions are as follows:

1) Who is the audience for the course?

Before signing up and paying for online training, check who is their target audience. Do they train newbies in the sphere or are going to teach anything new to advanced specialists? Make sure this course is relevant to your level of knowledge: if you are an expert, you will hardly need the course aimed at the non-specialist audience; if you are a newbie, it will be challenging to get the course idea if it’s aimed at experts.

Also, check if it’s relevant to your niche. For instance, if you write essays and academic papers like Bid4Papers, you won’t need courses on writing sales copies or blog posts because you work with the alternative content type.

But even if you still want to learn a new niche, make sure you have enough time and energy to complete all chosen courses rather than giving them up halfway. Rob Cubbon, an instructor at Udemy, tells that many customers buy courses because of massive discounts, not because they are truly interested in the topic. As a result, students don’t complete those courses but simply spend money in chase of (almost) free stuff. He recommends picking a course “on a subject you are truly inspired by.”

So, here goes a tip: take one course at a time.

2) Will it give any value to your resume?

With tons of courses and training programs available today, it’s easy to give in to the temptation of trying them all. One has a juicy program, another one is not that expensive, and a third one brags of cool speakers. That’s all well and fine, but what’s in there for you?

Make sure the course is authoritative and highly regarded on the market. Will your potential employers value the certificate of this course? Also, check who are trainers there. Are they experts? Can they share the professional experience with you? No one wants to pay for courses where speakers give nothing but tell about how awesome they (and their services) are, right?

3) Are there any cheaper alternatives?

Don’t hurry up to take the first available course. Search for free or at least cheaper training on the same topic. Depending on your niche, knowledge, and skills you want to get, be open to all options. What are they?

Try free courses first to understand if the topic is actually interesting for you. The websites like Coursera or Udacity can help here. Participate in social or volunteer programs that would help to practice and, at the same time, get new projects for your portfolio. Or, you can ask HR managers of your company if there are any training programs for employees.

4) Is there any discounts for “early birds?”

You know that: some event planners organize everything as a means to drive extra sales to their courses, seminars, conferences, training programs, etc. They offer a feature like “early birds” when a customer pays less money if registers long before the course itself.

So if you are sure you need this particular online course and it’s worth your time and money, do your best to register and pay up in advance. The “early birds” option will help to save money on online education, too.

5) What about the return of investments?

Before signing up and paying for the course, make sure it will bring some practical usefulness. What information will you use in practice? How? How long will it take to return the money you’ve invested into this online course?

Compare the overall costs of all courses you bought and completed with the revenue you’ve got. Make a list of pros and cons every time you decide to take a course. Also, it would come in handy to talk to people who’ve completed it already: ask for their feedback or read their reviews to see if the game is worth the candle.

Focus on why you need a particular online course, how you will use the learned material, how it will help your professional growth, and how much time it will take to return the invested money. In other words, you need to understand how online classes can boost your career. If you can’t give clear answers to these questions, then don’t spend money on that course. Simple as that.