Free vs Paid Online Courses – Which is better?

Which Course Should You Choose?

With everyone and everything going digital because of the pandemic, students are perhaps the worst hit. Even as schools and colleges scramble to set up online learning processes and modules ed-tech apps and software tout both free and paid courses. This leaves students – particularly those who are at important junctures like SSC, HSC, or graduation – confused to say the least. BYN therefore decided to clarify the scenario for you.


Academic decisions in India, as with many developing countries, are driven by budget constraints among other factors. When a student for instance wants to take up graphic design as a profession he may simply sign up for an online course rather than complete the three-year degree or even a 1-year diploma. Even when making this decision he would struggle with defining the ROI of a paid course – which is difficult to ascertain.

What is the ROI of your degree?

On the other hand, the internet is flooded – even saturated – with both free and paid options. Amid this chaos, you should not forget that the ultimate goal of learning is to boost your career, build your confidence, and eventually make you a good citizen and human being. That said, you do need to complete your education and create an impressive resume – and in order to do that you need certificates, diplomas, and degrees. So apart from the payment factor what is the difference between free and paid courses?

Free courses may seem like a good alternative to formal education, but they sometimes provide too much information – a good deal of which may turn out to be superficial or irrelevant –depending of course on the model and the institution. Paid courses are far more likely to be structured with clearly defined goals or learning outcome; if only because the providers hope to make a profit and hence have invested time, effort, and capital in developing the course.

Free online courses are seldom tutor led – again because they lack the budget to pay the tutor. Paid courses can have different formats from regular tutor led sessions to a bunch of videos released for viewing backed by weekly or fortnightly PCP (Personal Contact Program) with the tutor right up to simply offloading video and written content in exchange for a one-time upfront fee.

If you opt for a paid course, you can choose the delivery model that suits you best but if you decide to go the freebie way, you’ll definitely be relying on yourself. Among other things you’ll have to be highly self-disciplined and self-motivated. You’ll also have to discover books you need to refer and then source these books. And lastly, free courses may not carry as much weight as formal paid courses when it comes to higher education or employment.

How to get the best out of e-learning?



There are also what are frequently referred to as Freemium (Free + PreMium) courses that offer some content for free and encourage you to sign up for more. The free content may be a teaser or an initial lesson or two. Assessments are usually paid as is certification. This is a popular format for several reasons. First it gives the student a taste of what to expect in the course – thus helping you make the right choice. Moreover, it ensures that only students who seriously want to pursue the field, subject, or stream will enroll – keeping the casual surfers out. The free content attracts almost every prospective student yet only those seriously considering the course will enroll. This naturally means an eco-system wherein both the learners as well as the tutors are committed. Assessments and certification are guarded by a paywall so if you’ll get a certificate only if you opt for the paid version. How much that certificate is worth is up to you to discover.

Key Benefits of Freemium courses –

  • You can take a trial before you pay.
  • Instructors are often retired industry veterans
  • The study material is yours forever unlike subscription courses which may limit access to validity of subscription.
  • Subscription courses have a wider spectrum of courses and hence may be costlier than Freemium courses.
  • Freemium courses usually have an element of personal contact – if only virtually – though the frequency varies.


Subscription courses grant access to a library of resources in exchange for a monthly or annual subscription. Once you have paid the subscription these resources – which include a spectrum of basic and advanced courses – are available for you to access – usually for the duration of subscription and sometimes unlimited. The advantage of this delivery model is that you can unsubscribe at any time and there’s usually a free trial available so you can test the waters before you pay.

Key Benefits of Subscription Model

  • They offer much more flexibility as compared to the other two models which are structured.
  • It gives you a chance to explore various options.
  • You can opt out at any time and sign up for a paid course.
  • Being unstructured, subscription courses allow you to progress at your own pace.

Case Study

A student taking a management course realizes that he needs a brush-up on MS-Word and Power Point. He can pause his subscription for the management course and jump into an MS-Office subscription. Having completed that he can resume the original course. Or he can do both side by side – on the same platform.

Freemium courses are bound by structure and cannot offer the flexibility subscription courses can.

Series or Graded Module

These are courses that are offered as sets of graded courses. So you might take a basic course with an option of discount for the next levels. Discounts may also be offered for taking the entire course upfront. While there is no restriction on the number of graded levels, it is customary to maintain 2 or 3 levels generally named XXX-Basic, XXX-Semi Advanced (Intermediate) and XXX-Advanced (Masters) or similar terminology. Duration varies from course to course and module to module but a course can usually be completed within a year or 18 months. The fees for the modules are also graded with the basic module being the cheapest.

Key Advantages of Series Model Courses

  • You can quit after one or two levels.
  • You pay only for the modules you choose to take.
  • You can sign up for advanced modules after a break while you complete another course.

Case Study

Taking once again the example of the MBA undergrad who wishes to brush up his technology skills – or needs a break for a personal reason – can do so after completing one level and sign up for the next level when he is ready.

Supplement your school learning with these apps

An ed-tech platform like ByJu’s or Eduonix may be based on any one of these three delivery models. How much is free or paid differs from one platform to another. They may also differ in terms of flexibility of learning, frequency of F2F sessions, and of course quality – of both software as well as teaching methodology.

Check out available course discounts here.

We’d love to hear from you so do share your opinion and requests in the comments or on our Facebook Community. You can also join us on Quora and don’t forget to stay tuned.

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