Should You Pay for a UX Design Course?

should-you-pay-for-ux-course-free-vs-paid-user-experience-training

Relevant: here’s a curated list of the best free and paid UX courses.

Prospective UX designers often wonder whether they should spend money on UX classes.

Get an informed decision by considering the 2 dimensions of free vs paid courses and in-person vs online training:

  1. Free Online UX Courses (skip to section)
  2. Paid Online UX Courses (skip to section)
  3. Free In-person UX Training (skip to section)
  4. Paid In-person UX Training (skip to section)

Let’s jump right in.

The “Should you pay for a UX course?” Diagram

Give this matrix a quick overview to determine your learning preference. Don’t worry, I’ll follow up quickly with detailed explanations behind each quadrant.

should-you-pay-for-a-ux-course-diagram

You’ll notice there’s a tradeoff in each “quadrant” of the diagram.

  • Generally, online UX programs trade completion rates for flexibility in time & location.
  • Generally, offline UX training trades that flexibility for deeper learning & high completion rates.

Across the board, paid UX courses correlate with increased completion rates because of the Endowment Effect; the more students invest in their training, the more they value their training.

Quadrant 1: Free Online UX Courses

The best option for UX students who need maximum flexibility at minimum cost.

free-online-ux-course-evaluate

Pros of free online UX courses:

  • Location and time flexibility. These are self-paced programs fit for busy schedules.
  • Though free, many of these courses are high quality.

Cons of free online UX courses:

  • Because they require such low commitment, student completion rates and motivation are low.
  • Typically lack personalized attention & community due to large class sizes.

Extra things to consider when taking free online UX courses: 

  • Free online UX courses work best for independent learners who are DIY (do-it-yourself) in nature and are comfortable with focused solo work.
  • Sign up for just 1 course at a time to maintain your focus.
  • Consider signing up with friends or colleagues to motivate each other to stick with the course.

Most free online UX courses only cover the basics.

These fundamentals are important, but not the best fit if you’re looking for quality training on specific topics.

Quadrant 2: Paid Online UX Courses

My personal opinion is that paid online UX courses are the most valuable for learning specific topics, such as putting together your portfolio, technical software programs or learning how to do UX interviews.

should-you-pay-for-a-ux-course-paid-online

Pros of paid online UX courses:

  • Flexible, self-paced courses that experience a bit higher completion rate than free UX courses.
  • More specific design training on niche topics & specialties.

Cons of paid online UX courses:

  • They cost money, but many are low-cost.
  • Their completion rates are still lower than in-person classes.
  • The quality of paid courses are hard to gauge. That’s why I put together a curated list of the best free & paid UX courses here.

Extra things to consider when taking paid online UX courses: 

Paid online UX courses work best “just in time” – when you have a specific topic you want to learn, or a problem you want to fix.

For example you find that a new project may require user testing and you haven’t done that before, so you pick up a course on that topic.

Paid programs are a a quick way to learn + apply specific skills in a short amount of time.

Quadrant 3: Free In-person UX training

There are not many free offline courses per-se. Instead, these are usually one-time events like UX meetups, conferences and hackathons.

should-you-pay-for-ux-course-in-person-free

Pros of free in-person UX training:

  • A variety of topics are available, ranging from VR to resume workshops
  • Great way to network and build relationships in the design world

Cons of free in-person UX training:

  • Most topics will be introductory-level, as the time doesn’t allow for deep-learning. There’s no homework or accountability, but you will get insights. A lot of times events are promotional in nature, e.g. for a designer’s new book, or to sign up with a UX recruiting firm.
  • The cost of traveling to and from events.

Extra things to consider when taking free in-person UX training:

  • Half the value of going to in-person events is for the networking. You can potentially find a UX mentor here.
  • New designers: to prevent burning out, stick to something manageable like going to 1-2 events per month.

This is a no-brainer to take advantage of. Go to free events for networking, learning and free food. Pretty low commitment here.

Quadrant 4: Paid In-person UX Training

Now we enter the realm of UX bootcamps and degree/certificate programs that all require significant investment, often in the thousands of dollars.

should-you-pay-for-ux-course-in-person-paid

Pros of paid in-person UX programs:

  • Highest completion rate. Because of the monetary investment and consistent schedule, most in-person programs have high completion rates of 80% or more.
  • Deepest learning – instead of doing it solo, you have access to instructors and peers to ask questions, collaborate with, and learn at a faster pace than just on your own.

Cons of paid in-person UX programs:

  • Requires significant investment in money, time and energy.
  • How the class is run will largely determine your experience. The quality of the instructors, the caliber of your peers, and the projects you get to do (or not do).

Extra things to consider when taking paid in-person UX programs:

Make sure to talk to the course instructors and administrators to get a sense of the teaching style and format of the class. If you have a chance to meet other prospective students, do it.

After all, if you invest in the program you’re going to be stuck with these other students for 8-12 weeks, for better of worse. If not, ask if there are past students they can connect you with so you can ask questions.

Also, ensure your paid in-person UX training includes hands-on projects. You want to walk out of the class with at least a couple solid UX case studies so that you can start applying to UX jobs.

Just tell me what to do, Oz.

So know you have a good sense of the pros & cons of these 4 training options. Let me simplify for you on what to do next…

  • New to UX and just exploring? Take advantage of all the free UX resources you can, from free workshops and meetups and courses.
  • Learning specific UX skills? Pay for a niche course (most are low cost) and increase likelihood of completing a course.
  • Looking to upgrade specific skills? Invest in a UX bootcamp or get a UX coach to help you navigate your career.

One of the dangers of staying in the “free zone” too long is that it makes procrastination – and avoiding commitment – much too easy. If you have a pile of free ebooks of courses to go through, you know what I mean.

A study of MOOC completion rates found that the average completion rate of MOOCs was a low 7.6%.

Not all paid training options are perfect, but investing in one has the effect of making a casual UX learner into a serious UX student.

Social pressure is one of the most valuable learning tools. Showing up to class, and showing your work + getting feedback from other humans can be invaluable.

This is especially true if you’re a collaborative, experiential learner. Some people do fine with just because they have a very independent, solo-focused learning style, but I’d venture to guess these people are in the minority.


I hope the above analysis helps you navigate the plethora of options in UX learning options, whether they’re online, offline, free or paid.


Also published on Medium.

24 Comments on “Should You Pay for a UX Design Course?”

  1. Thank you! I found this post really helpful in deciding what I need to do. For me, the obvious choice is an online- flexible course because I am a stay-at-home mom preparing for a career in UX. The biggest take-away from the article though is to pick a project-based course!

  2. Can you suggest a good resource for free online course? I am mainly interested in design and also want to learn by 1-2 months.

    1. Hi Nikita,

      Are you looking for an software independent study or what exacctly u r looking forward to learn into design ?

  3. How would you compare the Nielsen Norman Group and General Assembly programs.
    Are the certificates worth anything? Or is it all about portfolio projects

    1. I can’t speak to the NNGroup because I haven’t been to their events. This is what I know from people who have: NNGroup does intense, days-long workshops around certain learning topics like UX Basics, UX Research, etc. It’s on a module-by-module basis. General Assembly programs are structured programs that run from 10-12 weeks in which students build up at least 2 portfolio pieces – from what I know NNGroup does not have a portfolio focus (it’s more lecture-based).

      At the end of the day it’s all about meaningful projects that you do, whether it’s a certificate, full on course, or self study.

  4. Nice post!
    Online courses, paid or not are always a good option to learn, but you have to compromise and not get into the comfort zone, I think this is the problem that people most have.

  5. Hi,

    Maybe this a little off topic but somehow really beneficial foreverone. I have really a good question. I have pretty good knowledge about UX and Digital Marketing. I am shifting my career and struggling for having real practice and practical experience that will get my foot in the door to find jobs. Where can I start ? do you recommend Lynda.com ? IS IT A PLACE WHERE I CAN GET PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE THAT I CAN ADD IT MY RESUME ?

    Note: I have zero experience in UX and Digital Marketing. I really just want to know how to apply these knowledge I have.

    I have already paid for online training from other sites.

    Your answers and help is very much appreciated.

    1. To my knowledge, Lynda.com offers great courses on specific UX topics, but for practical (project-oriented) experience I’d recommend a program where you have access to a mentor or interaction with other students. DesignLab, CareerFoundry and Springboard are just 3 examples of programs that offer live mentoring.

  6. I’m looking for a UI designing course.I’m totally new to this concept.I have not much knowledge about it but would like to learn it. Can you please suggest me where can I get good online courses for it? What is the duration of these courses? Thanks

  7. Wow! Nicely explained, very informative. Thank you for digging into details with insightful article. I would love to see how the free online course goes for me, I am looking fwd to take coursera or MIT’s course.
    – Moin

  8. Thanks for the article, it was great, and it helped me to understand what i can do next. Unfortunately, i’m torn…I want to build my portfolio, I want interaction with others, and i would like a mentor, but the money situation at the moment is tight, and i can’t put 250.00 right away to start a class.

    I like the paid, because i feel they can prepare you to get your foot in the door. I want to make a career out of it. I guess i don’t really need a mentor live, or interaction with others, as this requires money to do it, but it seems as if that comes along when paying for classes and creating a portfolio….plus, a certificate saying you have completed the courses is nice too. I guess what i really want is a portfolio to get my foot in the Door,and it seems that the paid ones only do that. Is this correct? Thank you.

    1. Typically the more hands-on the course (including personal and group projects), the more likely the course is, and should be, paid. For self-motivated learners, it’s possible to learn from free resources and come up with a portfolio project on your own. I think one of the best features of live, paid in-class training is meeting other future UXers and collaborating with them in teams.

  9. I hold seminars and speeches for UX beginners and I found this event really interesting, feel free to contact me on linkedin.

    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/designing-ux-with-willy-lai-recent-apple-ux-director-2-day-user-experience-design-workshop-in-los-tickets-32075726361?aff=silviosanginetouxbeginner

    Learn how to design great UX with Willy Lai, a recent Apple UX Design Director who has led UX designs for over two decades at top tech companies in Silicon Valley. He is teaching a 2-day UX design workshop in Los Angeles on May 10th and 11th at DoubleTree by Hilton in Santa Monica.

  10. Great article! I get $1,000 from my employer to take classes every year. I’m interested in learning UX and only have a print design background, what class or classes would you recommend?

  11. Wait, can I hire you to help me make all my decisions? Seriously, you have crossed ever t and dotted ever i, in the matrix of my mind when ruminating over “this or that”… Thank you. I love you.

  12. This blog itself is a very good example of UX :) . You have done a really good research of human tendency and pointed out those factors which make them drop the ball in between. The true bitter part is most cases of not getting the UX course or study done is any kind of specific pressure on us. Same applies to me.

  13. Very well written and well thought out. You covered the options thoroughly. The one element that wasn’t discussed in the paid section is Certified vs Bootcamps. I suppose the bottom line is so your homework. Some paid bootcamps offer good information while others are not great. Thanks for taking the time to research and write this article. I really enjoyed it.

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