Three tips to find the best courses on Udemy

Matthew Nuzum —  — 1 Comment

The idea of Udemy is great. It’s an online marketplace for instructors to publish and sell their courses. Udemy provides great marketing, and they often have amazing promotional rates. At this point, there are many thousands of classes available for you to take, and often times there are many that cover the same topic.

Udemy’s marketing team helps authors create great graphics, descriptions and intro videos, which makes it even more difficult to tell what’s good. They prominently display how many people have signed up for a class, and you might be tempted to think that more students means the class is good. Well, here are some even better ways to find the good ones.

Tip 1: Know what you’re searching for

There’s an old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I’m a big fan of thinking before acting, so here are a couple questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I want something that is cutting edge, or is it OK to take a course that has withstood the test of time? For example, if you’re learning about public speaking, older classes will probably be fine. If you want to learn about a fast-changing technical topic you may want to consider something new.
  2. How detailed do you want the course to be? Do you want help getting over the beginner’s hurdles, or do you want a comprehensive class? That leads to,
  3. How long do you want to sit and watch the course? Udemy prominently displays how long a course is using wording that implies longer is better. “Over x hours or content!” Often, longer isn’t better, but sometimes it is. Decide how much time you want to spend. If I want an intro-level course, I value an instructor who can be concise and fit their content into 2 hours.

OK, you’ve got some ideas on what you’re looking for, here are how to find the best classes.

Tip 2: How many ratings?

Look beyond the of stars! Of course the stars are important, and I’d steer clear of courses that have low ratings, but look closely at how many people have rated the course and contrast it to the number of students.

After you’ve completed some percentage of a course, Udemy asks you to rate it. You can do so, or delay it, but several times as you take the course Udemy asks for a rating. If you see a class that has 10,000 students but only 10 people have rated it, it means that the students haven’t actually taken the course yet, or the course is bad but the students like the instructor and don’t want to leave a negative rating.

I look for classes that have about 1% of the students leaving a rating. This one metric will weed out a lot of classes.

Let’s see some examples.

Become Better and Funnier at Public Speaking

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 7.54.44 AM

This class is one I highly recommend. I’ve taken it myself and left a five star review on it. He has 6,546 students as I write this and 76 ratings. That means about 1.2% of his students have left feedback, which is a healthy number.

Chinese Made Easy: Understand 65% of Chinese in 10 hours

This course has a great intro video, and I like the idea of learning new languages. The promise that with only 10 hours of work I can learn 2/3rds of the Chinese language is too tempting to pass up. However, I signed up for this class half a year ago and haven’t gotten around to taking it yet. Maybe I never will.

I’m not the only one, he has 7,754 students enrolled but only 57 ratings, which is only a 0.7% response rate. Not horrible, but probably one you want to think on just a little. Ask yourself if the class is being overhyped.

Last one, Python, The Next Level (Intermediate)

This one was heavily promoted with lots of free giveaways. This helps get more students in the class, but few actually take it. We see that 22,537 students signed up but only 57 gave it a rating, for 0.25% response rate.

One note: Read some of the reviews to look for spam or the instructor’s buddies. The first thing everyone does when they publish their course is send a coupon to take the class for free to a few people they trust, hoping to get good reviews. On classes with less than 20 reviews you’ll probably spot some like this. They know the author too well or the description is too vague, i.e. “TAKE THIS CLASS!!!!”

Preview the classes

Another class I’ve enjoyed is Ionic by Example. If you scroll down past the description, you’ll see the course listing. Some of these courses are marked with “Preview”. That means you can watch them before you sign up. You should do this!

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 8.19.18 AM

Signing up for a course that doesn’t work for you has several negative consequences:

  1. It wastes your money
  2. It wastes your time (big deal for me)
  3. It provides positive re-enforcement for substandard material

It’s worth it to take a couple minutes to watch one or more of the videos. Some things to look for are:

  • Accents that are difficult for you to understand
  • Talking too fast – talking too slow isn’t usually an issue because Udemy lets you speed up playback
  • Audio-only teaching – this is an online video course. Instructors should incorporate hands-on activities, downloadable supplements and multi-media
  • Videos that are too long, too short, or have too much fluff

I signed up for one course and after a couple videos I had to give up. The author’s accent was heavy and he spoke too fast. One or the other would have been fine, but the two combined was a deal breaker. I took another class where the author only talked the whole time over a powerpoint. There was no body language and the slides didn’t add anything to the conversation. In this class, it was OK because the subject didn’t need the visuals and the speaker was very concise. I downloaded it to my phone and listened to it while driving. Some classes, that would not work at all.

Bonus money saving tip – patience pays

If you see the class you want but it’s a little too much for you to spend, it pays to be patient! Udemy frequently has sales, sometimes 25-50% off, and a couple times per year they’ll have a lot of classes available for $10-15.

I’m a firm believer in paying for valuable products and services, so if you see the class you want and you can afford it, just go for it. But if you’re on the fence and you’re thinking about taking a sub-standard course because it’s cheaper, patient may pay off.

photo credit: dprotz

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Matthew Nuzum

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Web guy, big thinker, loves to talk and write. Front end web, mobile and UX developer for John Deere ISG. My projects: @dsmwebgeeks @tekrs @squaretap ✝
  • Karen Skuse

    Great article and tips for Udemy students and instructors.
    I’ve done a lot of research on Udemy the past few weeks and I’m just about to publish my first course.
    I’ve come to the same conclusions.
    Thanks, Matthew.