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Online Courses May Not Be as Valuable as You Hope Sometimes it's just best to get in there and get your feet wet. You don't have to be a master before starting your business.

By Alex Barker Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Too many aspiring entrepreneurs waste their precious time and money on online courses. I want to share a personal story, and explain what I believe a new entrepreneur should do instead of buying courses.

My friend Mark had told me he wanted to start a side hustle business, but had not made significant progress. Recently, I asked him how his business was coming along and what he told me was discouraging. Mark said he was very distracted. He wasn't able to make a profit from his idea. After diving deeper about his lack of focus, I discovered he bought 32 online courses in 2015. Yes, I said 32. The most expensive one was $1,200, but the majority were priced around $50. His yearly "education" cost around $2,000.

The sad truth is Mark failed to complete 30 out of 32 courses. Mark isn't alone. Only around 10 percent of course buyers end up finishing a course, according to one study by Infinia.

Related: 5 Reasons Not to Waste Your Money on Internet Marketing Courses

Here are three misguided reasons aspiring entrepreneurs convince themselves to buy a course:

  1. I believe *this* course will make me successful.
  2. I don't know enough about [insert subject here], so I need to learn more before I take action. (Also called imposter syndrome.)
  3. I need to add this skill to my business, plus there's a 90 percent off deal, so I better buy it now.

One of these beliefs will blind the aspiring entrepreneur, like Mark, to believe that a course will provide the ultimate roadmap towards success. Rather than educate yourself with a passive learning model -- like watching videos of an instructor talking -- I suggest a different approach to your education.

In his book Mastery, Robert Greene describes the way every renown creator -- from Albert Einstein and Henry Ford to Leonardo Da Vinci -- grows into a master of a craft. Mastery involves an apprenticeship, which means thousands of hours honing the craft. In his book, Greene says the best way to grow is by practicing the craft as the master does, but by reading textbooks or passively learning in the lecture hall.

Never believe you must master a subject with a course before taking action. Every master starts as an apprentice, and their first creation never looks perfect. But by mimicking a master over time, the creations begin to look more like the master's. If you don't take that first step, you will bog yourself down with unnecessary information and waste valuable time.

Related: 4 Ways to Keep Learning Beyond the Classroom

Learning is vital for the continued success of every entrepreneur. But how can one manage the need for self-development and simultaneously hustle her way to success? I propose this way of learning:

Action-Based Learning (ABL).

I define ABL as educating oneself with necessary information to complete an active task or improve a required skill. The key to ABL is identifying a task or skill as "active" or "required" for a project you currently work on.

Rather than learning things you believe you'll use one day, ABL ensures you only learn things that are absolutely necessary in order to complete a task. Let's use our aspiring entrepreneur Mark to explain how to use ABL.

Mark wants his website visitors to become customers. He heard on a podcast that the best way to do that is to create an email list. He proceeds to create an email opt-in form on the website, complete with an ethical bribe. However, Mark becomes discouraged because after three months his autoresponder email series has not made a single customer.

He begins to research online how to create an autoresponder series that converts subscribers into customers. He finds no shortage of websites that offer free info, along with pitches to costly courses. He's wary of the courses (some cheap and some expensive).

Mark has three choices -- buy a course, learn as much as he can from the free info, or hire a consultant or coach to improve his skill or do the work themselves. Mark decides to implement the free suggestions into his email autoresponder. After another three months, he'll decide what he needs to change and if he needs more education.

Related: Stop Learning About Entrepreneurship and Start Doing The Work

Mark put ABL into action. Before using ABL, when Mark realized he needed an email list, he would have immediately searched for cheap courses to teach him how to create an autoresponder email series. Mark used ABL by understanding that he first must take action, rather than learn material first.

When you buy a course before taking action, you submit to imposter syndrome. You believe that the course will make you less of an imposter and more of professional. Take action and learn as you go. You'll save yourself time and money.

Alex Barker

Chief Life Experimenter at

Alex Barker is an online business coach that loves to experiment on his life and business. That's why he trials 66-day experiments such as reading a book a day, having sex daily and exercising his chicken legs every day. His mission is to help men and women find a disciplined approach to success in life and business at

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