Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova
There are a lot of online learning platforms out there - how do you choose the right one for you? In this article, we’ll examine ten of the top online learning platforms and what you need to consider when looking to boost your career.
With the advent of COVID-19, many people found themselves with "extra time" and were looking for ways to spend it. While some found themselves becoming sourdough connoisseurs, many others were taking the time to be a “lifelong learner” and take some online courses, whether it was to update their skills or make a possible career change. And with the bounty of online tools and e-learning platforms out there, it’s never been easier to learn something new in the comfort of your own home and on your own time. The only problem? How do you choose? It can be challenging to find the right fit, or make sure you’re getting the most “bang for your buck.”
In this article, we’ll discuss the 10 top online learning platforms and what they can offer you, including:
10 of the top online learning platforms
Pros and cons of each online learning platform
Things to consider before enrolling in an online learning course
Please note that this list is not meant to be comprehensive, and inclusion on this list is not an endorsement or a sponsorship by Career.io.
With over 213,000 classes and more than 70,000 instructors, Udemy is the largest online learning platform in the world. Udemy offers a wide variety of learning opportunities taught by independent instructors, who set their own pricing for the eLearning programs they create for the platform, although many courses are priced at just $14.
When choosing your course on Udemy, you'll first want to define what your learning goals are in advance and make sure to read the course description thoroughly. Don't skip over the "What You'll Learn" section, and make note of the instructor's credentials and average star rating. Take advantage of the short preview that they offer, so you can get a feel for the content and production quality, so you can get a feel for the instructor's style, and how the information will be presented.
Multimedia lectures that include readings and quizzes
Not an accredited institution — courses won’t transfer to a college or university
They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee
Courses can be published by instructors without reviewing materials
Courses are available in 65 languages
Courses are self-paced
With over 3,000 courses created by universities and professional organizations and more than 87 million people using this service, Coursera is considered by many to be the number one teaching/learning app. Coursera has teamed up with 200+ universities and companies to offer courses to augment your education and help you succeed in your career. Pricing ranges from $10 per course for guided projects, $39+ per month for professional certification courses, and university-issued certificates start at $2,000 per course.
Coursera does offer some free courses, but the more comprehensive courses have either an individual fee or require a subscription. They do offer a “Coursera Plus” program which allows you to access more than 3,000 courses for a $59 flat monthly fee. And Coursera offers courses in a multi-media format that more closely aligns with a “real” college class, with instructors creating their own courses, uploading videos, and personally assigning and grading tests and homework.
Certificates are accredited and generally recognized by most employers
Many courses are not self-directed and have set timelines for completion
Classes available in multiple languages
Degree programs might call for further applications
The website is user-friendly and easy to navigate
Free courses do not result in certifications
A subscription-based online learning platform, Skillshare offers unlimited access to courses in almost 70 creative topics, such as graphic design, writing, photography, illustration, cooking, and more. For $14 a month (no long-term contract required) you can take as many courses as you want where you can develop new creative skills, uncover a new hobby, or strengthen your existing skills, and courses are created and taught by professionals in their field. They also offer courses in marketing, business, entrepreneurship, and leadership that can help enhance your professional value and keep you up to date in today’s ever-changing job market.
Wide range of course topics
A limited number of free courses
Mostly skilled, professional instructors, including some celebrities
Courses are only available in English
Almost every creative field is represented
If you want an ad-free experience, you’ll have to pay for a premium subscription
They offer a free seven-day trial for subscriptions
EdX was founded by Harvard and MIT and offers real college courses in a wide range of subjects and topics, taught by university professors. While they do tend to favor STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), they also offer courses in language, arts, and the humanities. EdX has teamed up with several universities to offer professional degree certificates as well as “micro” degree programs to be used for professional development purposes.
Unlike other online learning platforms that don’t have accredited courses, they also offer a “Global Freshman Academy” in partnership with Arizona State University, in which you can earn undergrad credits for certain courses that will transfer to other colleges or universities. And the classes are comparable to college/university classes, as they offer lectures, reading, discussions, quizzes, and assignments.
EdX does offer free classes, but with one caveat — if you want to earn a "verified certificate" for your job, it will cost about $49 per course. And there is a start date for each class, which cycles on and off throughout the year, but once the session starts, you can work at your own pace.
Courses are partnered with Harvard, Berkeley, and Microsoft
Mostly STEM-focused – not a large range of courses in creative/liberal arts fields
Has bachelor’s and master’s degree programs
Since courses are created by partners who can design them as they wish, there is the possibility of inconsistency in quality
They offer financial assistance for some courses
It can be pricey — courses from the verified track can cost anywhere from $50 to $300, but they do provide certificates and essential materials
There is a 14-day money-back guarantee if you’re not happy
Tech skills are in demand, and Udacity offers courses to meet that need. Udacity offers “nano degrees” which take about four months to complete and offers lessons, projects, discussions, and mentoring from real-life advisors who help you with your resume and work portfolios. They provide a “coding boot camp,” as well as courses focused on programming, cloud computing, data science, and web development. They offer courses for beginners as well as those with experience. All these benefits aren’t cheap, however: about $399 monthly, or around $597 for students who buy the full four-month program at one time.
Offers intensive programs with multiple lessons
Priciest of the online platforms
Has more than 200 free courses
It’s not self-paced and comes with project deadlines
Numerous scholarships available
Requires a longer time commitment
Seven-day refund policy if not happy with courses
The focus is almost exclusively on tech topics
Once all project tasks are completed, students are paired up with other nonprofit organizations to build web apps, which provide real-world development experience. The curriculum is self-paced and includes 1,400 hours of coding challenges and web development, plus 800 hours of assisting with open-source projects (for nonprofits), and this all translates into approximately one year of full-time coding experience, at which time students receive a certificate for each section they’ve completed. It’s a popular platform, used by 350,000 unique visitors a month, from 160+ countries.
Features a searchable database with over 6,000 tutorials
There’s a lot of material on the website, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed
Extensive online community with networking opportunities
Each certification takes about 300 hours of dedicated learning
It’s absolutely free to use
No mobile app is available
Set your own curriculum and learning pace
If you work in a field that is subject to governmental regulations, such as food and beverage, Human Resources, insurance, real estate, or environmental health and safety, you’ll probably have to have required training. 360Training.com is a hub where you can get that training, and any work that you do is saved in the cloud, so you don’t have to complete all training courses in one session. The company offers 6,000+ courses in over 15 industries, and they’re current with the most recent governmental regulations, and you can create any reports or certificates that your employer might require as proof of completion.
Approved and accredited by 450 regulators
Limited amount of free classes
Prices vary but most are affordable
No access to live course instructors
Large selection of customer service options, from online chat to free phone support seven days a week
Strict 72-hour refund policy
Pluralsight offers courses in data science, cyber security, software development, and information technology, and is aimed at working professionals in those fields. You can take individual courses, but the company encourages you to choose a “path,” which is similar to “mini degrees,” a sequence of related courses in a focused subject area, like specific programming languages, software skills, programming languages, etc. This is meant to eliminate any vagaries or confusion about what classes to take, and you can take a pre-test to determine your skill level.
Pluralsight’s library offers 7,000+ classes with hundreds of potential learning paths, so if you’re not ready for a full-length one, you can take shorter, individual courses to see if it’s for you. The cost is about the same no matter how many courses/paths you want to pursue: about $29 a month for a personal plan (or $299 per year). If you want to commit to the “premium” option, that’s about $500 a year, which includes all the standard features/courses, plus extra interactive courses and industry-standard practice tests for several professional certifications.
Offers three levels, which makes course selection easier
They have a strict “no refunds” policy
With one subscription you get unlimited access to classes
More suited to intermediate and advanced learners
Intensive courses tend to be affordable
FutureLearn offers a huge selection of online courses that are taught by professors from first-rate universities as well as industry professionals. You can learn a new career-related skill (and earn a professional certificate) or take an enrichment class to learn more about a personal interest or hobby (aka “boredom busters.”) There’s a moderate time commitment, as most courses are meant to be completed within six to ten weeks. But they have a pretty good selection of shorter classes as well. Some classes are free, and they offer classes that run about $50-$90, along with an Unlimited subscription program, which is $279.99 a year.
Courses are 100% online and offer community support options
The free courses often only offer general information, rather than a “deep dive”
Some courses offer Upgrades where you can join and study the course for free for a limited access period.
Limited software and online marketing courses
Quality, multi-media content
No mobile app
While not strictly a career-focused online learning platform, Masterclass is the place to go for personal growth classes, and they offer courses in business and leadership, cooking, writing, music, sports, photography, acting, and more that are taught by some of the world’s leaders in those fields. They offer more than 180 classes and are subscription-based, with each course providing about 20 short video lessons and a comprehensive workbook. There's an active student community from around the world, and courses are self-paced. Each class is designed to be accessible for beginners, and they're always offering new classes. Their annual membership is $180 and provides unlimited access to all current and future classes, and they have a monthly option of $15.
Courses are taught by celebrities and VIP instructors
Doesn’t offer free trials, but has recently begun offering a few free classes to give you a sample of the platform
The video lessons are engaging and beautifully photographed
No certificates offered
Offers courses in a wide variety of interesting topics
Little to no feedback from instructors
When deciding which online learning platform is right for you, be mindful of finding one whose style works best for you – are you an independent worker or do you require a set deadline? Also keep in mind your budget, schedule, and whether or not you need to earn a certificate, as well as the content of the curriculum, the instructor's qualifications, and how the class is formatted.
In terms of what an online learning platform should have, make sure the platform you choose is clear, easy to navigate, and has a responsive support team.
Other factors to consider are:
Course and instructor reviews
The platform/institution’s credibility
Length of the course and time flexibility
Prerequisites and skill levels
Interaction and engagement
With so many platforms out there, it can be challenging to find the right fit, or make sure you’re getting the most “bang for your buck.”
When deciding which online learning platform is right for you, be mindful of finding one whose style works best for you.
Keep in mind your budget, schedule, and whether or not you need to earn a certificate, as well as the content of the curriculum, the instructor's qualifications, and how the class is formatted.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.