Online vs. In-Person Private Investigator Courses: Which is Right for You?

There is a raging debate in the PI community about whether online or in-person is the best way to learn private investigations.  Well, maybe it’s not “raging”.  But lots of new PI’s (aka “Rookies”) do ask this question.  In fact, they ask a few questions:

  1. Which is better, online or in-person for private investigator training?

  2. Can you learn to become a private investigator via online courses?

  3. Which learning method is best for long-term success?

I think there are two much more important questions:

  1. What is the best way for you to learn?  

Some people learn best by doing, others by reading or watching, some by listening.  So you’re own learning style is an important part of this decision.

  1. What specific skill are you hoping to learn?  

WHAT you want to learn is also relevant.  Experienced private investigators who want to learn a new OSINT technique or maybe a new law, can easily learn that online.  In fact, the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators has an online class almost weekly.  But other skills are difficult to learn except in-person with an instructor nearby.  

So let’s answer them all!  But first full disclosure, at StriderPI, we provide the only in-person private investigator training in Texas.  We do this because we believe that anyone who wants to become a PI needs to learn the foundational skills first.  Anyone who is new to the PI world is going to have lots of questions and they are best addressed in person with an instructor that has experience. 




The first foundational skill is surveillance.  There are several PI roles that require becoming competent at surveillance.  These include fidelity investigations, workmen’s comp investigations, bounty hunting, missing person’s investigations, criminal defense investigations, and many more.  But whether you pursue one of these PI niches or not, it is important to at least understand how surveillance works and that is only possible by actually doing it.  So surveillance is a skill that demands in-person learning.

  1. OSINT

The second foundational skill is OSINT aka “Investigation by Computer”.  The majority of what OSINT agents need to learn they can learn online.  In fact, most OSINT agents spend all their time in front of a computer.  They tend to be introverts who love being online.  At StriderPI we take the view that new PI’s should be in a classroom for their first OSINT training. 

There are three reasons for this:

  1. So they can ask as many questions as they want.
  2. So they can learn from the questions of others
  3. So they can get to know other new PI’s and begin building their network

From our side, as trainers, we want to meet you in-person so we will all know if we want to work together in the future.  Private investigators are often helping each other on cases.  So it’s good to get know a few of the older crowd as well as the new crowd.


The third foundational skill is criminal investigations.  Again, this is PI training that is best done in-person.  For example, in our criminal investigation class, we do a mock crime scene.  That can’t be done on online.  Criminal investigation is not strictly required for new PI’s or for PI’s in general.  But we believe that everyone who wants to become a PI should know the basics.  

Let’s say you are called to a client’s home and then they tell you there has been a burglary.  They show you a broken window and a safe that has been opened.  This is an investigation for the police and the right move is to withdraw and not affect the scene.  It’s important to know the many ways one can negatively affect a crime scene or even an investigation.  

There are cases, such as cold cases,  or criminal defense where a private investigator may investigate.  These are best handled by a PI with substantial prior experience in criminal investigations.  But they can be learned.  For example many great criminal defense investigators were not cops beforehand.


The fourth foundational skill is undercover operations.  While this is not necessary for all PI’s, it is another skill that is best to understand.  By understanding it, you will be able to use it when necessary, to hire or request others to do it, or to understand when the “other side” is doing it.  

Some undercover operations are extremely simple, such as calling a business to gather information without revealing that one is part of an investigation.  Some are more complex such as putting an agent in a strip mall to pretend to do a survey while watching a particular business.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons, as well as the full range of possibilities of undercover operations is important to those becoming private investigators.


Some say that private investigations are a “contact sport”.  While that may not be true for OSINT-only agents, it is a profession where we are looking into other people’s lives and that takes some toughness.  One way or another, it’s important to spend personal time with other PI’s and to practice interacting with real live human beings.  

If you’re going to consider taking an in-person private investigator course, consider the following:


  • Get to know other rookie PI’s 
  • Get to know your instructors
  • Ask questions in person
  • Get better answers since you can see the body language of the speaker
  • See how things are actually done such as where to park during surveillance or how to make a sock puppet in OSINT or how to approach a crime scene
  • Enjoy being part of a surveillance, OSINT, or undercover team – live
  • Work a real case (sometimes possible)


  • You have to travel to the school’s location
  • You may have to pay for a hotel or bring a camper
  • If you have social anxiety, in-person may be difficult
  • You can’t turn off your cam and eat a hotdog

In summary, it’s important to decide what is best for you.  What are the kinds of skills you seek?  Are you a new PI or an old one seeking pieces of information?  Do you want the best start possible to become a new private investigator?  It’s up to you.

Click here for a FREE online PI Training video.

Or for more information about upcoming training opportunities, click here.

If you want to jump right in, click here for a PI Training Application.

Posted in