Alpha and Beta releases are stages in software release life cycle. Could these terms be used to denote the stages of ripeness of an online course?

The background for this question is that I have created a website to sell and teach online courses of my own making. The courses are about preparation for a technical interview for software engineering positions, so that most potential students should be aware of the mentioned terms in their original context.

I would say that a freshly developed course is in Alpha release (and charge less for it) to account for the fact that some errors and glitches are to be anticipated. I would then improve the course based on student feedback and advance it to the Beta release. In other words, I would rather say straight that the course might need improvement based on the students' feedback and offer a significant discount to people who are willing to struggle a little bit to save money, than to lose my reputation for producing top-notch courses.

  • 1
    It might sound cool but I wonder if it is necessary. I would call that material / course something like Name of the course - Academical year / semester - Name of the teacher / instructor
    – Alchimista
    Nov 14, 2021 at 14:42
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    The question of what to write on a commercial website selling courses developed by a single individual sounds like it’s in the realm of marketing and business strategy. So I’m not sure the question is about academia, and deleted my earlier answer posted before the current edit to the question.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 16, 2021 at 15:43

3 Answers 3


I wouldn't do this. You can of course anticipate errors in the material, but that is obvious and also happens in real-life courses. Those aren't alpha-courses either.

If I'd see a course that was labeled 'alpha-course', I wouldn't know directly what it means for a course to be 'alpha'. If I then read it is an alpha-release, I wouldn't want to be a test-student for some course. To you it says 'beware: there may be some small errors', but to me it says 'this course isn't useful yet'.

  • I would read the "alpha version" as "not ready for prime time". Alpha versions of software are only released for wide testing, not for actual use. Subjecting real students to something like this is probably unethical.
    – Buffy
    Nov 15, 2021 at 14:27

The problem with this denomination is that in other contexts, 'alpha' has a completely different meaning as e.g. in 'alpha-male', where 'alpha', 'beta' and so on indicate a type of hierarchy with 'alpha' being on top.

Students unfamiliar with this type of labelling might mistake an 'alpha' course as being superior compared to a 'beta' course for that reason, while the opposite is true.

Also, to underline Jeroen's answer, no-one really likes to be an educational guinea-pig (at least not knowingly), especially in places where you have to pay for college courses. So advertising this kind of "unripeness" of the course might not be beneficial in general.

  • I have modified the question to make it clear who the potential audience is. Nov 16, 2021 at 9:24

I have written several textbooks that started with drafts I wrote while teaching a course (in person, not online). I always informed the class that I was developing the material, sometimes learning it myself on the fly, and that their feedback was part of the process. I think the stronger students liked the idea. Some of the weaker ones thought they should have an instructor who "knew the subject matter".

I never explicitly labeled work as an alpha or beta release, and could not (nor would I have) charged less tuition. I distributed the notes for free when the department had funds, at copy cost (much less than a text) when necessary. I credited students as a group and sometimes by name in the acknowledgements when the book was published.

  • Would you have done the same for your private school, where the students pay money directly to you, not to the university? Nov 16, 2021 at 9:27
  • Whether school were public or private is irrelevant. My financial support is my salary; I wouldn't collect directly from students. If I were developing an on line course independently I might well want to offer it free for a while to get feedback. Then I might charge for the finished product. I would probably not offer a reduced prince "beta". Nov 16, 2021 at 15:45

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