The Blackford Center for Copywriting
Enrolling on a course is a big step, and a large expense. We know that.
We don’t want you to waste your money. We only want you to register with us if we’re the best for you.
We know we aren’t the only college. There are several organizations offering similar courses.
So you should check out other colleges before making a decision.
But it isn’t always easy to know what the differences are.
Even the jargon we use can be obscure when you see it for the first time.
And words can mean whatever a college wants them to mean, as the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland might say. The definition of an ‘assignment’ or a ‘tutor’ can be different from one college to another.
And when you’ve made a choice, will the college live up to its claims and your expectations? Will the glossy website translate into a great course?
So we’ve listed several factors for you to consider.
We’ve also added a form you can download, personalise and print out. Click here to download the form.
Contact several colleges and use the form to distinguish between them.
Some of these items will be more important to you than others. Focus on the three or four topics that are essential for you.
NOTE: This commentary is from the standpoint of distance learning. Choosing between classroom learning and distance learning is a bigger issue that we can’t easily address here in detail. Studying full time at a college can be an easier way to learn, but many people can’t choose that option, due to work or family commitments. And in some locations, some courses are only available by distance learning.
|Topic||Why this matters||Questions to ask a college|
|Printed or online?||There are big differences between a printed course or an online one.A printed course is easier to use, because you can flick backwards and forwards if you have to do an exercise or check something.
A printed edition may also come with additional items that the digital world can’t provide.
But a printed course is not interactive (unless you also get access to an online edition).
An online course is likely to be cheaper. It gives you access to videos. You may be able to print it out. And some people even prefer to study online.
|Is the course printed, online, or both?|
|Access to a tutor||Ideally you will have a named tutor.Note that contact with a ‘support team’ or advisor’ is different from talking to a tutor who specialises in the subject.
The more expensive the course, the better access you should expect.
Access to your tutor should be at least by email.
The best kind of access to your tutor is by phone, or by personal or group coaching conference call.
|Do I get a named tutor?How can I contact my tutor?|
|Tutor experience||Ideally a tutor will be an expert in their field. It’s even better if they practise their profession rather than just teaching it and marking assignments.||Is my tutor a practising professional? Can I see a biography?|
|Reviews||Reviews are really important when choosing a course.The best reviews comes from a third party review website.
You will always come across a few bad reviews. Every organisation gets some. So pay more attention to the overall comments.
|Do you publish student reviews? Where can I see them?|
|Content||Surprisingly, each college can provide quite different content for the course.
Compare the content for each college.
– How thorough or complete is it?
– Does it cover the information you need?Some courses consist of online videos. Others are only in the form of printed words. Others are a mix. In general, it’s more interesting to have a range of content.
|Can I see a list of course modules or units?
How do I study? Is the course made up of video, audio, printed materials, or a range of items?
|Business modules||Would you like to become a professional and earn money after taking the course? If so, does the course include content on how to set up and run a business?||Does the course include modules on running a business or practice?|
|Quality of the content||All courses are written by a professional. Some are dry and boring. Others are entertaining and engaging.
You are more likely to succeed is the course content is interesting.
|Can I see a sample of the content?|
|Course extras||Do you just get the modules? Or does the course have other useful elements, such as guides?|
|Assignments||There are three types of assignments (also called assessments)
– tutor marked
– computer marked
– self study.A good course will have tutor-marked assignments.
Cheap assignments consist of Yes/No answers. A clerical person can mark these.
More complex assignments (and therefore more costly for the college) are ones where every learner’s work is different. Typically they are essays. They can only be marked by a practitioner. These kind of assignment are more challenging for the learner, more interesting and more educationally useful.
|How many assignments are there?
Are they marked by a tutor, by computer, or not marked by anyone?
For assignments that are marked by the college, are they short essays, long essays, or Yes/No type questions.
|Price||Compare the prices of different colleges. As with any purchase, price usually reflects quality.What is your attitude towards price? Do you want something that is cheap but serviceable? Or are you worried about being disappointed?||You are more expensive/ cheaper than X. Why is that?|
|Hidden extras||You don’t want to be surprised by extra fees and charges.||Do I have to pay anything extra, for example for books, postage or accreditation?|
|Refunds||Refund periods vary from the mean to the generous.
It’s good to have a sufficiently long refund period (at least 30 days) so you can return the course if it doesn’t suit you.
At time of writing, one college has a post-course refund offer (OK, it’s us).
|For how long can I claim a refund ?|
|Time limit||Some colleges restrict the time you can take to study. Usually this is so that the college doesn’t have an open ended commitment to you. Others charge extra if you want to study beyond their time limit.
Some colleges do not limit your time.
|Is there a limit on how long I can take to finish?|
|Accreditation||Accreditation proves that an independent organisation has validated the course, and/or your work.
There are several different types of accreditation.
|What accreditation does this course have?|
|Support||Try ringing the college and see how responsive they are. Does it feel like you’re in a call centre?
Does the person you’re speaking to seem to understand the course?
Their response to your initial enquiry is a good measure of how good the course will be.
It is also good if the college has a way of checking that you are progressing well on your course.
|Ask a technical question, or any of the questions in this column, to check the college’s responsiveness.
Do you have a system for checking on my progress?
|Location||The location of the organisation may or may not affect the course content and the service. To take an extreme example, if the college is thousands of miles away your contact may suffer, and there may be communication problems. Look for local support from the college.||In what country is my tutor based?|
|College history||Being new isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being long established means it’s unlikely to fail.
But sometimes long established colleges can be stuck in old ways.
This is not something you can make much use of.
|In what year were you established?|
|Ethics||It’s nice to know that you’ve chosen a good organisation to study with. Generally they are likely to perform better.
See if there is any evidence of ethical standards?
Is there an ‘About us’ page? What does it tell you, if anything?
|Do you have an ethical statement?
Are you a Living Wage employer?
After the course
|Qualification||Check what qualification you get.||What qualification do I get?
Do you send me a printed qualification?
|Post-course benefits||Check if you get any advantages after the course.||Is there any form of guarantee that I will pass?
Is there a post-course refund if I don’t achieve my goal?
Is there any mentoring or help with my CV after the course?
|Associations you can join||Many learners like to join an association after they complete the course.||What associations can I join?|