Not only has the Internet given the world more methods of information sharing and networking, it has also created an unfortunate, anonymous environment that allows anyone to claim guru status in his or her chosen field. This does not mean this person actually is a guru but rather he or she plays one on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the blogosphere.
Separating a self-proclaimed guru from a trusted, experienced professional with valuable insight is difficult, but it's a skill that must be learned. This is especially true if you plan to take an online class or workshop. Do you want to learn from someone who really has something valuable to offer or a person who just thinks he or she does?
Research the Expert
The organizer of the online class or workshop is not as important to research as the person whose insights you'll be paying to receive. Find out who is giving the instruction at the online event and research his or her history. Look at his or her education, professional experience and relevant samples of work he or she has done. Sadly, facts can be exaggerated on the Internet, and it's not a good idea to take a person's experience and history at face value. You may also want to do a little research to fact check the claims these so-called experts make on their resumes before spending money to reserve your spot.
Get the Dirt from Past Attendees
As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found when it looked at scams that claimed to help people become their own bosses, not every "valuable" information offer online is what it seems. Much of the Internet is still a buyer-beware landscape with snake oil for sale around every corner. Rather than take sales pitches at face value, you must dig deeper. Look for reviews written by previous attendees before signing up for a class or seminar. Don't just read the quotes on the marketing material provided by the event organizer, as that information will likely be cherry-picked to help sell the event. Instead, search the Internet for discussions and blog posts about the instructor and the class. You may find negative comments that dissuade you from taking it, or you may find that the class holds a lot of great information you'd really like to have. You might even discover that, while the class is helpful, it doesn't expand on anything you don't already know. It does not cost you anything other than your time to do this, but it could save you the money you may have paid if you discover that it is not worth taking.
Analyze What You're Getting
There are some Internet courses designed to impart valuable information to attendees throughout the duration of the event. These courses offer exercises, peer reviews, instructor feedback and lectures. Sadly, not every course is designed this way. Some courses are set up almost like a sales channel to get attendees to buy additional books and materials from the host or organizer. Take a look at the syllabus for the course, and don't be afraid to ask the organizer questions so you walk away with usable training rather than paying to being subjected to one long sales pitch.
The Bottom Line
There are many valuable sources of information all over the Internet. Some of them are available at no cost on websites and others through books or online classes for a fee. Before you decide to part with your hard-earned cash in order to gain an expert's experience, look beyond the pitch and try to determine the value of the session and the information it's relaying.