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Online Course Certificates

Updated 2nd July, 2020 by The School Bell

Online course certificates are a relatively new addition to the elearning family. Are they a gimmick or the real deal? We are going to explore why some courses offer certificates and some don't.

There is an important distinction between the different types of certificates offered online

  • Some courses are accredited by universities & higher education academies ​

  • Other providers will give you a certificate as proof you completed a course​

  • Some only give you a certificate if you pass a test of some kind

  • The final category do not offer any kind of certificate

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Why get a certificate from an online course?

There are several reasons why you might want to get a certificate when complete an online course.

If you are being to complete a course by your company then they will often want some proof that you have actually learned your new skill. 

This often happens with "hard skills" like learning to code or with machine learning courses. ​

These courses often come with practical projects such as code exams. You will have to apply the skills you learnt by creating some functionality in your chosen language. Like a Python Project or using your new-found machine learning skills on a dummy data set to see if it can learn to understand faces.

Another popular reason is that University-sponsored or developed courses often offer certificates and sometimes even course projects upon completion of all their classes. 

Coursera & edX certificates​

This is an extremely common option with providers like Coursera & Edx. Check out our full reviews of each for more info.

However, as discussed further in our review of Coursera there are several different types of certificate that you can obtain. Coursera & edX both offer free courses those who want to learn at their own pace by watching the videos and trying out their new-found skills outside the platform. 

Online degrees

Nowadays if you want to you can get a whole degree online. At Bachelors and even Masters level. Currently, this seems like a strange notion. People generally associate going to university with more than just getting an education. 

In fact for people who are at university, it can often seem like gaining skills and an education are very much of secondary concern. The added extras with a university should not be lightly ignored. It is a great place to meet new people, you are free to dedicate as much of your time to learning as you would like.


There are very educated professors and researchers everywhere willing to help you learn. For many people, university is the first place that they live away from home and thus an impact step on their way to adulthood. 

It should be noted that all this lovely education, educators, ancient libraries, hats with tassels, free time and housing come at a cost. This cost is growing as governments around the world are removing subsidies and universities are starting to become more and more business-like in their approach to profit.


A modern education will often leave you saddled with a lot of debt to go with your new-found knowledge. This is a growing problem. 

Continuous learning

Most of what you learn during your time in "formal" education either in school, college or university will be forgotten or of very little use during your working years. 


The problem began with the move to the information technology age. As fewer people move through the traditional Apprenticeship system universities and classroom-based education had to take up the slack. 


The obvious issue with this being that large organisations take a long time to keep up. Large institutions with little to no competition taker even longer. 


There are very few direct jobs open to an expert in History, Geography, Art, Literature. However, they still form the backbone of our education system. 

Which providers give a certificate​?

Enter the online course. Many of the traditional subjects can be converted with little effort. The online course is more available to anyone. They cost little to distribute. The students can have a much greater impact on the material as their sheer numbers and diversity of options means they can make or break an online course provider and their various MOOC's. 


Online courses and degrees are often more targetted towards the world of business. Therefore they are a lot more valuable to the "mature" student who is already in the workplace but has come to realise that the rote learning and blind recall style of universities and colleges has let them down.

On balance I would say that unless you are ​going to get a certificate because your work has sponsored it or you are doing a long programme of classes and course than an online course certificate is not worth the money.

It is the same principle as an offline degree. Unless you are a doctor or a lawyer who seem to feel the need to hang their certificates on the wall to reassure nervous clients, it is unlikely you will need to provide proof of your education after your first job.


Most employers will take it on faith that you have successfully completed whichever course you put on your C.V. ​


Most online degrees do not come with grades. They are simply pass or fail. This reduces their value as most online courses are fairly easy to pass. You take the course your own speed and can keep redoing tests until you pass.


Few online courses have gained widespread notoriety as the undisputed champion of their field. So when you take one of their courses you have to just hope that your prospective employers and peers see the value in it. 

Do online course certificates help with getting hired?

This should not put you off online courses. They are based on helping you learn new skills as well as the fundamentals of a discipline. This is a lot more in-tune with the modern age.


Taking an online course or class will almost certainly give you something employers and your peers care more about than a piece of paper. 


It will give you experience and achievements that you can demonstrate and show to them. You will have learnt how to overcome real-world obstacles, achieved practical milestones in your journey towards becoming an expert. 


If you are thinking about committing to a long term online course programme. Be it an e-degree or MicroMasters. Then I highly recommend signing up for a couple of free online classes before taking the plunge with a paid longer-term online course or online degree.

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