Online courses provide an incredibly convenient way to gain new skills and knowledge on your own schedule. But with the multitude of course marketplaces available today, it can be tricky choosing the right platform for your learning needs and style.
This guide examines the most popular online course platforms, key features and strengths of each, typical pricing, and other factors to consider so you can determine the best option for affordable access to quality web-based learning.
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Coursera partners with over 200 leading universities and companies worldwide to offer courses taught by renowned professors on a massive array of topics from data science to history, business to nutrition.
- 5,000+ courses in subjects from computer science to creative writing.
- Content comes from schools like Stanford, Yale, Duke, Google, and IBM.
- Both self-paced prerecorded lectures and cohort-based courses.
- Certificates of completion verify you finished the coursework. Some courses offer full accredited certifications.
- Most courses are free to audit but charge for graded assignments, projects and certificates.
For a quality educational experience from respected institutions and access to highly practical career-focused content, Coursera is hard to beat.
Created by Harvard and MIT, edX also partners with top global universities plus corporations like Microsoft and IBM to deliver affordable online courses on in-demand topics.
- 2,500+ courses ranging from programming to history to engineering. Content comes from schools like Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Berkeley, and more.
- Self-paced courses structured into short video lessons with assignments and quiz assessments.
- Verified Certificates available to showcase course completion for a fee.
- Many courses are free but premium certification options cost between $100-$300 typically.
- MicroBachelors and MicroMasters credential programs offer credit pathways.
The high academic rigor of courses on edX make it a premier destination for learners seeking a university-level education from leading institutions online.
Udemy is a massive open course marketplace with instruction on technical skills, business, creative arts, and more. Anyone can publish courses which leads to an extensive catalog.
- 183,000+ courses on nearly any imaginable topic from Python to tarot reading to accounting.
- Taught by independent experts and companies in addition to some university instructors. Quality varies widely.
- Mostly very affordable, with frequent sales dropping course prices to $10-$15. Many are under $50.
- Beginner to advanced courses available. Focus is practical skills vs academic learning.
- Self-paced with downloadable resources. Options for coaching and mentoring.
Udemy excels based on affordability and extensive niche technical skills training, though course quality control is buyer beware.
4. LinkedIn Learning
LinkedIn Learning offers 7,000+ expert-led video courses focused primarily on in-demand business, technology, and creative skills.
- Wide range of beginner to advanced courses on software, design, marketing, engineering, leadership, etc.
- Expert instructors from industry including prominent business leaders.
- Bite-sized video lessons make learning convenient. Course lengths vary from 1-25+ hours.
- Certificates of completion verify you finished the course.
- Pricing ranges from $20-$40 monthly for an individual subscription. Often free through employers.
For professional development across a variety of careers and roles, LinkedIn Learning provides robust and practically-focused courses conveniently structured into short modules.
MasterClass delivers online learning from celebrity experts across fields like sports, cooking, magic, filmmaking and more. The big names add appeal for hobbyists.
- 95+ courses taught by renowned masters like Gordon Ramsay, Serena Williams, Neil deGrasse Tyson and more. Very niche topics.
- Cinematic visuals with highly produced value add bonus materials like workbooks and Q&As. More entertaining than academic.
- Beginner friendly courses focused on conveying passion of instructors. Light on structured learning objectives.
- All access pass is $15-20 monthly. Individual classes are $90+ one time purchases.
For inspiration from the greats on unique creative or recreational hobbies, MasterClass courses up the entertainment ante of online learning. But the cost is high for casual users.
Skillshare connects students with working creative professionals for affordable video courses focused on the arts, design, and technology.
- 38,000+ courses on topics spanning illustration, photography, writing, marketing, coding, crafts and more. Very creative niche.
- Taught by practitioners looking to share their real-world expertise. Teachers set their own curriculum.
- Self-paced learning. Most classes 1-2 hours broken into short lessons. For hobbyists or professional development.
- Premium annual membership is $168. Often discounted 40-60% for first year.
For creative thinkers looking to quickly gain practical skills in areas like design, writing, social media, and more, Skillshare offers robust and affordable learning.
7. Khan Academy
The non-profit Khan Academy offers free self-paced courses primarily focused on K-12 academic subjects like math, science, history and economics.
- 10,000+ video lessons and exercises from elementary through early college level academics.
- Taught by educators, experts and qualified teachers in an upbeat, engaging style.
- Bite-sized videos with frequent quizzes for knowledge reinforcement make concepts stick.
- 100% free and accessible to all thanks to philanthropic support.
For foundational mastery of core academic subjects from arithmetic to calculus, Khan Academy’s structured curriculum shines thanks to being completely free.
Pluralsight delivers extensive tech-focused learning with expert-led video courses for developers, IT admins, cybersecurity pros, and creatives.
- 1,700+ courses with new content added daily across software development, IT, security, design, etc.
- Taught by vetted industry experts. Content undergoes tech review and editorial oversight.
- Pathways help guide you through gaining specific skills and preparing for certifications.
- Plans range from $29-$45 monthly billed annually for personal use. Often free via employers.
With rigorous and cutting edge training for tech professionals, Pluralsight is a go-to source for keeping skills current and advancing your technology career.
At Treehouse, students learn in-demand web development skills like coding, building websites and mobile apps, WordPress, and more through affordable video tutorials.
- 1,100+ video courses taught by expert teachers on a range of digital literacy topics. New material added monthly.
- Structured “tracks” help guide you through gaining specific skills from beginner to advanced.
- Quizzes and code challenges verify you are retaining key concepts.
- Plans start at $25 monthly. Offers free trials.
For those seeking developer skills that translate to income gains quickly, Treehouse efficiently teaches real-world techniques through quality video instruction.
Sidetrain connects students with expert instructors worldwide for personalized 1-on-1 online lessons in music, academics, fitness, design, and more.
- Live 1-on-1 video lessons provide individual guidance from vetted teachers.
- Lessons scheduled based on your availability – evenings, weekends, etc.
- Intro packages start at $49 for 155 minutes of lessons. Custom packages available.
- 300+ skilled teachers across tons of niche skills – guitar, math, yoga, drawing, and much more.
For accelerated skill building through focused 1-on-1 instruction paced for your exact abilities, Sidetrain delivers a fully personalized alternative to prerecorded courses.
Pricing Comparison of Top Platforms
Cost can be a major factor in choosing a learning platform. Here is an overview of typical pricing for full access:
- Skillshare – $168/year when discounted
- Udemy – $180/year average depending on courses
- Khan Academy – 100% free
- Coursera – $400/year for unlimited access
- LinkedIn Learning – $360/year individual subscription
- MasterClass – $180-240/year membership
- Pluralsight – $299-$579/year subscription
- edX – Free for auditing, $100-300 per certification
- Treehouse – $300/year membership
- Sidetrain – Packages from $49+ per month
Look for platforms offering free trials, discounted first years, and subscription bundles to access premium learning at the best value.
Key Factors in Choosing a Learning Platform
With so many options for online courses, consider these factors when selecting a platform:
- Subjects – Ensure the platform covers topics you want to learn at the depth you need. Avoid limited niche catalogs.
- Instructors – Vet the expertise and teaching ability of the instructors. Are they recognized subject matter experts?
- Course structure – Seek logically organized courses with clear learning objectives, assessments, and certificates where applicable.
- Production quality – Higher quality video production values often yield more engaging learning experiences.
- Pricing – Compare membership rates and fee structures across platforms. Look for free trial offers.
- Credibility – Choose respected platforms connected to major schools, companies, or individual experts at the top of their field.
Prioritizing platforms that meet your needs for affordable access to quality instruction in your desired skills ensures you get the most value from your investment.
Making the Most of Online Courses
Here are some tips to help you get the most value from online learning:
- Take organized notes – Actively synthesize lessons rather than passively watching. Write down key concepts, steps, terms, etc. to retain more.
- Stick to a schedule – Develop a routine for completing a set amount of lessons weekly. Consistency is key for completion and retention.
- Limit distractions – Create an optimal learning environment and avoid multitasking. Stay focused to fully absorb content.
- Engage on forums – Participate in discussion forums and study groups when available to exchange ideas with peers.
- Apply skills practically – Find real-world ways to implement the knowledge so you go beyond theory to ability.
- Revisit reference materials – Bookmark key resources and re-review them as needed to refresh your memory.
With the incredible breadth of affordable learning options available today online, the biggest factors in success are self-discipline and consistency. Invest fully in the courses you purchase, and you can change your skills and opportunities dramatically.
Frequently Asked Questions About Online Learning
Are online courses worth it?
For the right student, online courses provide outstanding value for the money. Benefits include:
- Convenience – Learn anywhere your device goes. Fits education around life.
- Huge selection – Choose from thousands of courses on nearly any topic imaginable.
- Lower cost – Online learning costs far less than traditional in-person instruction.
- Self-paced – Go at your own speed, revisiting lectures as needed.
- Valuable skills – Build abilities that increase career opportunities and income.
- Prestigious instruction – Many platforms partner with instructors from top universities and brands.
- Engaging format – Production quality with videos and discussions keeps learning interesting.
The flexibility, reduced cost, and networking value make quality online courses absolutely worth the investment for motivated learners.
How do I choose an online course?
When selecting an online course, consider:
- Your goals – What skills do you want to gain? How will they be applied?
- Subject match – Find courses narrowly focused on your needed skill rather than general overviews.
- Instructor expertise – Research the teacher’s qualifications and student reviews.
- Course length – Evaluate if the timeframe fits your schedule and learning style.
- Cost – Compare across platforms for the best value.
- Production quality – Seek well-structured courses that engage you. Avoid dry or disorganized.
- Credentials offered – Do you want standardized certificates or accreditation?
Defining your goals then matching those objectives to vetted courses and instructors provides the greatest return on investment.
Are Udemy courses respected?
While Udemy has valuable courses, overall reputation is mixed since there is little oversight of instructor qualifications or content quality. Some considerations:
- Massive catalog with 183,000+ courses has high variability.
- Anyone can publish courses – both experts and hobbyists alike.
- Technical skills courses tend to be more credible than non-technical topics.
- Check instructor background and student ratings/reviews carefully before enrolling.
- Very affordable, often under $15, so not a major risk if disappointed with a course.
For niche technical skills, many Udemy courses excel. But for prestigious credentials, platforms with more oversight like Coursera or edX are ideal. Read student feedback before investing.
What online courses should everyone take?
Some foundational courses that provide value to all include:
- Writing and communications – Improve ability to share ideas and connect through writing.
- Presentation skills – Convey ideas verbally and visually with impact.
- Time management – Work and learn more efficiently through productivity systems.
- Speed reading – Absorb information rapidly. Useful for work and lifelong learning.
- Personal finance – Better manage your money through budgeting, taxes, investing and credit management.
- Cooking – Gain nutrition knowledge and prepare tasty, healthy, affordable meals.
- Excel – Master data analysis using this indispensable workplace software.
- Leadership – Enhance people skills like emotional intelligence, coaching, and conflict resolution.
Investing in expanding these mental, practical, financial, and interpersonal capabilities pays dividends throughout life.
Can I get a job with an online certification?
Yes, certain validated credentials from reputable online platforms can improve job prospects and highlight skills to employers. Examples include:
- Google Career Certificates – Recognized by 130+ employers including Google.
- IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Certificate from Coursera – Prepares you for security analyst roles.
- Salesforce Trailhead certifications – Valued in the Salesforce ecosystem of companies.
- edX XSeries Certificates – Denote deep understanding of subjects from schools like MIT and Harvard.
- LinkedIn Learning Certifications – Showcase professional development in areas like leadership and software.
Seeking courses that provide respected, verified certifications in in-demand fields will maximize career payoff from your learning efforts.
Is LinkedIn Learning worth it?
With robust courses for business professionals taught by industry leaders, LinkedIn Learning provides outstanding ROI. Benefits include:
- 7,000+ expert-led courses – New content added weekly.
- Certificates to showcase completed courses on your LinkedIn profile.
- All learning tracks to in-demand job roles like digital marketer, data analyst, and graphic designer.
- Valuable hard skills across software, leadership, sales, engineering etc.
- Frequently free with corporate LinkedIn accounts.
For $25-$45/month, you gain access to virtual training relevant across industries and roles – often aligning directly with career objectives. For professional development, LinkedIn Learning offers tremendous value.
Final Tips on Getting the Most from Online Learning
Choosing a platform matched to your goals, schedule, and budget is the first step. But applying consistent discipline, removing distractions, taking detailed notes, and practicing skills learned will ensure you fully realize benefits.
Online learning requires high motivation since no professor is looking over your shoulder each day. But self-directed learners can gain practical abilities, deepen passions or even change careers through affordable, comprehensive web-based courses accessible anytime, anywhere. The opportunities are limitless.
Commit to lifelong learning, and continue expanding your knowledge and abilities through dynamic online courses that enable achievement on your own terms. The digital education resources available today provide personalized learning for all interests and schedules. Take advantage!