Yesterday was an exciting day for me because I had a feature published in Vice Magazine for the very first time! Vice has been my favourite website for absolutely years, so it was really satisfying to finally be a part of it myself.
My piece, I Spent £4,000 On Online Courses And I Still Feel Like A Fraud, explored my love for online courses and featured quotes from other women who have a similar obsession to this type of self improvement.
“I’ve taken courses in everything from creative writing to salary negotiation,” I wrote. “The most expensive purchase was a $1,000 course that promised to teach me how to make and sell my own courses. That was more than two years ago. I still haven’t become a course creator. No matter how many books I read, podcasts I listen to, or online courses I take, I don’t feel smart enough to monetise my knowledge.”
When I initially pitched the idea to Zing Tsjeng at Vice, I told her that I’d like to interview an addiction expert called Mark Griffiths. I’d read some of his articles and when I spotted one about an addiction to studying, I figured he’d be the perfect person to speak to.
When Zing agreed to commission my piece, I got in touch with Dr Griffiths to learn more about an addiction to studying and ask him why I am the way I am.
“I don’t know if this ruins the whole point in your article but in terms of how I define addiction, you certainly don’t fit what I’d call an addict,” he said, as the colour presumably drained from my face and I turned my head slowly and stared expressionless into the distance as if looking at the camera crew filming my every move.
Can you be addicted to online courses?
Dr Griffiths went on to explain that while someone could potentially be addicted to online courses, it would only be considered an addiction by his standards if it met some of the following criteria:
- Online courses would be the single most important thing in their life and they’d do it to the neglect of everything else
- They’d use it as a way of modifying their mood, either to get buzzed up, high, aroused or excited, or to do the exact opposite and to tranquilise, relax, escape or destress
- The amount of time that you spend on online courses would likely increase over time
- You’d get withdrawal symptoms if you were unable to engage in online learning
- Your obsession with online courses would cause conflict in your life, compromising your personal relationships, your job and perhaps more formal types of education
“People might spend a lot of money on these courses, they might get into financial trouble because of them, and they might be embarrassed about it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it an addiction,” he added.
“Basically, if someone was genuinely addicted to online learning, what you’d expect is that it’d be the single most important thing in their life and they’d do it to the neglect of everything else.
“That’s not to say it couldn’t cause conflict or be problematic in your life. Say for instance you spend all your time online learning and you’re neglecting your family.”
I spotted a thread on Reddit called ‘I am addicted to online courses – please help’ and this seems to meet a lot of Dr Griffiths’ addiction criteria.
Can you be addicted to learning?
I get the impression people are more likely to be addicted to learning rather than online courses – because the latter is so specific. Though I didn’t run this theory by Dr Griffiths.
I can’t imagine many people would spend all their time on online courses specifically, but I can imagine people spending most of their waking hours taking online courses, reading, listening to educational podcasts, and trying to learn as much as possible.
Dr Griffiths’ piece on studying addiction is worth a read if you’d like to know more, though it’s worth noting that his research focused solely on university students rather than individuals taking online courses, getting hooked on audiobooks, or spending every waking hour listening to educational podcasts.
How can I break the online course cycle?
If you’re trapped in a cycle of taking online courses – but not necessarily addicted – it’s important to think about why you keep turning to these external sources for answers. Also ask yourself whether you’re actually getting the intended result.
Are you completing the online courses you sign up for?
I don’t know about you but when I sign up for an online course, I do get a little buzz over it. I get excited at the idea of spending a night in, curled up on the sofa, and sinking my teeth into the programme. It’s like devouring a hearty meal in front of a blazing fire. It’s wholesome, reassuring and decadent. Look, I might not be addicted to online courses but that doesn’t mean I’m not really into them in a very weird way.
But there’s just one problem. When I actually get started on the online course, I often lose interest. Sometimes it’s because it’s not what I was expecting, but other times I think it’s because I’ve already benefitted from the thrill of signing up and ‘investing’ in something that I believe has the potential to change my life. Once I’ve logged into the course and have had a look around, I think I subconsciously hold myself back, knowing that once I complete it, the only thing left to do is act upon it.
I spoke to business psychologist and women’s leadership coach, Jess Baker, about this phenomenon. She said: “We convince ourselves [the course] will be a really good thing for us to do, but it’s almost paying what I call ‘guilt money’ to the gym. You’re paying upfront almost as if to relieve yourself of the guilt of not having done it yet. You pay the money and think “that’s good enough” but you actually have to implement it.”
Are you actually acting upon the things you learn?
Even when I do complete an online course, it’s rare that I actually go ahead and implement the things I learned. Much of this seems to be the result of imposter syndrome – and it may be the case for you too.
While online courses might teach me a great deal about a particular subject, a lack of confidence along with the belief that I’m not good enough to go ahead and put my findings into action ultimately takes control.
If you’re not actually acting upon the things you learn, reflect on this next time you’re tempted to buy an online course. It might seem like the solution to your problems and exactly the thing you need to succeed, but if you can’t be sure that you’ll implement it, it’s not the the money at all.