The Most Popular Non-Graduate Writing Programs, ReviewedBy Yael Grauer December 18th, 2014
Looking to sharpen your reporting chops or pick up a new skill in your beat? Online writing courses allow you to do so from the comfort of your own home, so long as you pick one that properly matches your goals and skill level. Here’s a breakdown of five of the best options.
The Reynolds Center has provided free training to journalists since 2003 and exists primarily to address the lack of quality business journalism. The Center offers regional courses and competitive four-day fellowships in addition to online courses.
— You can’t beat the price.
— Topics are incredibly timely and specific. Business journalists can brush up on topics like SEC filings and mergers and acquisitions. Freelancers can hone their interviewing skills. And health reporters can learn how to better cover the Affordable Care Act.
— There are supplemental PDF handouts.
— Classes are led by experienced, award-winning instructors from The New York Times, ProPublica, and the University of North Carolina.
— Because courses are very specific, they may not be applicable to most writers.
— Although there is a large archive of past classes, live online courses are only offered around once a month.
— Courses include videos, handouts, and PowerPoint presentation, but there’s a lack of homework that teachers respond to and grade.
— There is very little interaction among students. It’s limited to a chat pod on AdobeConnect.
Gotham Writers Workshop may be best known for running creative writing workshops in the heart of New York City, but its online division has been going strong since it launched in 1997. GWW offers courses in literary arts—novel writing, poetry, and fiction—but also includes nonfiction options such as essay writing, travel writing, and memoir writing.
Cost: Ranges from $150 to $425 (plus a $25 registration fee each term). Four-week blogging courses cost $165 and six-week courses run $315.
— Class size is limited to just 18 students, allowing for a high level of attention and instructor feedback. To get an idea of a typical class, check out this tour video.
— Most instructors are published writers with teaching experience.
— Many classes include the chance to submit work that is critiqued by other students and the instructor.
— Students sometimes drop off partway through the course, leading to less engagement.
— Since multiple people teach the same courses, it’s hard to know who your instructor will be just by looking on the website.
— Although it’s possible to download all the lectures, articles, and work (along with comments) at the end of the course, it must all be saved as a giant file instead of one file for each section.
As a freelancer, you may be familiar with Mediabistro because of their daily newsfeed, which keeps you informed on what’s happening in the worlds of writing, creativity, and freelancing. Or maybe you use their “How to Pitch” guides, available to AvantGuild members. What you may not realize is MediaBistro also offers a variety of online courses.
Cost: Classes range in price from $29 to $129, with $29 classes getting you one video lesson, and $129 classes supplying sixteen video lessons.
— Course instructors include veteran professionals who are leaders in their respective fields.
— All of the courses are self-paced, perfect for writers with already busy schedules.
— There aren’t any strict deadlines or participation requirements, meaning you get out of the class what you put into it.
— Mediabistro used to offer live classes, but now the courses are entirely digital video downloads. For those looking for peer and instructor feedback, this isn’t the model for you.
— The time commitment for some classes may be prohibitive. Some sample syllabuses request a total of five hours a week for reading, video lessons, and homework.
NewsU is an online training program run by Poynter Institute, offering more than 250 courses.
Cost: Free to $449 for a four-week course. Webinars typically cost $29.95 or $34.95.
More than 65 courses or webinars are available for free, due to support from the Knight Foundation and sponsorships from the American Press Institute and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
— Topics, like ethics and diversity, go beyond the typical journalism options.
— Many courses include industry partners, adding credibility and perspective to each topic.
— With the exception of broadcasts of multi-day events, courses are reasonably priced.
— A majority of the classes are downloadable webinars, which is not ideal for someone that wants personalized feedback.
— Even courses that appear to be geared towards print journalism often focus on radio and television.
— A few courses are outdated—some as old as 2015.
Writer’s Digest University, the online training arm of Writer’s Digest, has courses on fiction, short stories, essays, copywriting, freelancing, and more.
Cost: Ranges from $169 to $799. A 14-week freelancing course is $499, while a four-week marketing course is only $169.99.
— Classes include assignments, a message board, a critique area, and handouts to supplement the lectures.
— You have the option of submitting work for group critique, though it’s not required.
— Many classes are limited to just 20 students.
— Writing is a significant component of many of the courses, with one or more revisions worked into the syllabus.
— Although the website states courses are available for every skill level, the freelancing/copywriting selections are pretty basic.
— Courses are centered on very broad topics.
— Some courses offer critiques, but professional critiques available on the site may be more time and cost-effective.
While many of us talk about learning new skills or trying to improve our craft, it’s often hard to know what education programs provide the most value. Hopefully, we’ve taken some of the guesswork out of the decision-making process. And now, when you’re ready to channel your inner Rodney Dangerfield and go back to school, you’ll know how your options stack up against each other.Image by Christina Moblech