If you're interested in learning more about the world of investing through an online course, this article will give you a lot to think about before you begin.
Do a Google search for “online investment courses,” and you can quickly lose yourself in a sea of choices. Click on a few, and you'll realize this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Your choices range from free materials that you work your way through at your own pace to more structured lectures that charge around $40–80 and have classwork, to “boot camps” and workshops that can cost a few thousand dollars.
What's Your Goal?
Probably the most important thing to consider before choosing from the various possibilities is this: What do you want to get out of it?
It's like deciding you want to learn to cook. What does that mean to you? Is your goal to make a decent dinner (not mac and cheese) without burning something? Or do you want to take it further, learning different cooking techniques, maybe making fancy sauces and desserts? Or are you thinking of becoming a professional chef someday?
The level of expertise you want to develop determines the amount of time and money you'll want to spend.
Following are just some of the reasons you may want to take an investment course online.
- You hear people talking about investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and think it's something you should know more about.
- You've built up enough in your savings account to start investing and you want to be smart about building and managing your portfolio.
- You lost money from bad investments based on “hot” tips in the past and want to make sure you don't fall into that trap again.
- You're interested in a job in the investment industry and want to show potential employers you're taking classes to learn more about the field.
- You're thinking about becoming an active trader and want to learn techniques and strategies before you jump in and put your money at risk.
Further Reading: What is Investment Portfolio Analysis?
Cost Depends on Your “Learning Goal”
Let's imagine you know very little about stocks and bonds or what a mutual fund or ETF is. Your goal is to move from “I don't know anything” to “I now understand the basics.”
Free Online Investment Courses
There are many great, free online resources. There's no need to get out your credit card. For example, the U.S. government has a terrific website with information about investing. It offers a clear, well-written overview of different types of investments and why people buy them. It also has guidance about saving for retirement and other goals. You can also find a lot of free educational information on websites from big brokerage firms such as Charles Schwab and Fidelity.
If you want something more structured but still free, Morningstar's Investing Basics are mini-courses on various investment topics. TD Ameritrade's Education Center offers a curriculum covering stocks, bonds, options, building a portfolio and more. It uses videos, tutorials, and webcasts. (Some are available only to those who have an account with TD Ameritrade, but there is no cost for that.)
Getting into more details in a classroom-like setting may require you to dust off some of your basic math skills, but you can still keep costs at a minimum (possibly zero).
Some online instructional courses provide a series of videos and “homework” assignments that you work through at your own pace. Others start and end on specific dates. EdX's Introduction to Investments and Coursera's Finance for Everyone are good examples of structured online courses.
These providers usually offer a certificate of completion for a modest fee (typically $40–60). And some allow you to get feedback on homework assignments from an instructor. If you want to show prospective employers that you have completed this type of education, it is probably worth paying the modest fee.
Entities that teach trading strategies tend to cost significantly more, as much as a few thousand dollars. If this is what you want to pursue, look for one that has a large following. Before you sign up, do a Google search on the name of the course with the word “reviews” tacked on. For example: “Joe Smith's stock trading course reviews.”
Important Differences Besides the Cost
Taking an online course requires commitment and self-discipline. Will you be tempted to switch from a video of an instructor explaining mutual funds to an episode of your favorite Netflix show? Probably. So here are things to consider when deciding whether or not the course will be worth your time and effort:
- What does the course cover? The subjects can range from investment basics to stock-picking techniques and technical analysis, to trading strategies involving stocks, options, and futures, to retirement planning. Before you dive in, make sure you understand what you can expect to learn.
- Entry level or advanced? Most online courses say they are “for everyone,” but some (usually part of a university's online course offerings) have prerequisites. If you are a novice, start at the beginning. However, if you already know the basics and want to get into more advanced topics, you may be frustrated by a course that is designed for a wider audience.
- What type of learning works best for you? Do you learn from reading short articles and watching instructional videos? (Try a few if you're not sure.) Or is it better for you to have a classroom instructor and work your way through assignments?
- For a classroom-style course, who is the teacher? You don't need a professor from Well-known University. But you do need someone who truly knows the subject matter and can explain it well. Experienced practitioners from the investment industry can be great teachers. Warning: There are courses out there offered by people who may be passionate about the subject but are relying solely on their personal investing experience. Be wary of this, even if the course is free. If what you learn is wrong and you make investment decisions based on that misinformation, it can cost you dearly.
Watch Out for Get-Rich-Quick Claims
Don't allow yourself to be sucked in by statements like “Learn the secrets guaranteed to make you money in the market” or “Taking this course will make you rich.” Sorry, but there are no guarantees. Avoid courses that suggest their techniques are a “sure thing.” If it sounds too good to be true, it isn't true.
As examples, here are some actual promises from an investment course on a well-known online education “marketplace”: You Will Learn How to Build a $1,000,000 Net Worth (Proven Strategy), and How to Make a Risk-Free 10% Annual Return From the Stock Market by Just Using a Simple Strategy. One of the course requirements is “Strong Desire of Getting Rich Quickly” (the bad grammar is another red flag).
The course is available for “only $9.99,” discounted from $199.99 for a one-day sale (the sale was still going on three days later). This doesn't mean you'd be getting a great deal by signing up at the $9.99 price. The “original” $199.99 price is a sham, designed to make you feel like you'd better act now.
Is an online investment course worth your time and maybe some of your money? If you choose one that is appropriate for your goals and learning style, it can be. Knowing something about the world of investing can make you feel more secure about your finances, will help you to understand (and be less worried about) the stock market and can be fun. And while you should truly commit to the online class that fits your needs, it's okay to take a break now and then to watch a YouTube video about how to make a soufflé.