So you’ve decided to take an online course. You have some free time to learn something new, you’re exploring whether online education is for you, or maybe you’d like to build upon an existing skill.
You have an abundance of choices between all of the online course platforms that have sprung up all over the internet in recent years. Some platforms serve a purpose for specific skills and courses, but many cover a vast array of interests. How do you know which platform to use? Before you fall down a black hole of internet browsing, consider these things first:
Are you looking for free courses only, or willing to pay for a quality course?
Paying for a course often gives you the extra incentive you need to actually do it. Paid courses also provide you with certifications and sometimes college credit. But if you’re looking to get your feet wet or test out a new area of interest, then free might be the way to go!
What does your time commitment look like?
If you’re balancing other classes and/or work, you probably don’t want to jump into a super-intensive course. Check the course outline to see how much work is required before you sign up, and check how flexible it is. If you already have a lot of firm commitments you might want to choose a course that is self-paced rather than deadline and date driven.
What are you hoping to gain from this course?
A new skill to change your career? Picking up a new hobby? Boosting your education with related areas of study? Earning college credit?
All of the above can be accomplished with online courses, just make sure your goals are clearly defined. If you’re window shopping for ideas of courses to take, ask those same questions when you come across a course that looks interesting to you.
I’ll breakdown each platform to give you an idea of how they typically operate and you can head to their site to start digging into all of the categorized courses.
First up, Class Central is a search engine and reviews site for free online courses. This means that several all of the other online course platforms listed below are actually searchable in one place on Class Central. This will be a great starting point to see what your options are across all platforms for a specific subject. You can browse courses by Universities, Institutions, Subjects, Careers, and even by Language.
These course platforms are generalized in order to appeal to the vast majority of online learners and they all operate in a similar manner. The course offerings span multiple areas of study and truly have something for everyone.
Every course on Coursera is taught by top instructors from world-class universities and companies. There are hundreds of free courses available to earn you a course certificate. There are also Specialization tracks to master a skill in 4-6 months, Professional Certificates to become job-ready in a new career path, MasterTrack Certificates that include portions of Master’s degrees through accredited universities, as well as full Online Degrees that are flexible to fit your life.
“We envision a world where anyone, anywhere can transform their life by accessing the world’s best learning experience.”
edX was founded by Harvard and MIT, and educates more than 20 millions learners from the most prestigious universities and industry-leading companies in the world. And you can skip the rigorous admissions process these Ivy League schools are known for - these courses are for anyone!
They are the only leading MOOC provider that is both nonprofit and open source, meaning the educators and technologists can continuously modify courses, build learning tools and contribute new features to the platform, creating innovative solutions to benefit students everywhere.
Udemy has more than 30 million students around the globe mastering new skills and achieving their goals by learning from an extensive library of over 130,000 courses taught by expert instructors, with new courses publishing every month. If you’re unsure where to start, you can answer a few questions to get personal learning recommendations.
“Talent is universal, but opportunities are not. With access to online learning resources and instruction, anyone, anywhere, can gain skills and transform their lives in meaningful ways.”
If you already have a LinkedIn account, then this learning platform is an added bonus! LinkedIn understands that its users are constantly trying to level up their skills as they network and look for new job opportunities. You will be recommended courses based on your profile information, plus lists of courses that are trending now or popular on LinkedIn Learning - a lot like the Netflix algorithm.
There are subjects, software, and learning paths laid out for the industry sectors of Business, Technology, and Creative for your personal course selection. The certifications you earn and skills you learn can be instantly added to your LinkedIn profile!
*LinkedIn members receive a free month of access to courses, whether you already have an account or set one up now, followed by $29.99/month for complete access.
Because technology is a complex subject that encompasses an array of career paths and skill sets, there are entire platforms devoted solely to tech courses and certifications.
Udacity is focused on the subjects and skills that top tech companies are looking for. The course programs are 100% online, part-time & self-paced. Each class has been created in collaboration with corporations related to that field, ensuring that content is relevant to the real world.
“Our mission is to power careers through tech education. We partner with leading technology companies to learn how technology is transforming industries, and teach the critical tech skills that companies are looking for in their workforce. With our powerful and flexible digital education platform, even the busiest learners can prepare themselves to take on the most in-demand tech roles.”
First and foremost a coding academy, General Assembly offers programs in web development, data science and analysis, user experience design, digital marketing, product management, and more, to serve the global tech economy. They also provide financial assistance options to ensure that students have the support system to learn these critical and innovative skills.
With an extensive network of alumni and hiring partners, job placement is highly successful after course completion, and you’ll be able to access mentors and coaches to guide you as you start your career.
Whether you’re trying to level up your career, build your side project, or simply play around with programming, Codecademy is the place to start. You can search by Career Paths that will outline the foundation of skills you’ll need to build a career in tech, or search by Skill Paths that will provide you with a roadmap to master a specific skill for your job. General courses will also teach you a specific language or technology through interactive lessons. A little something for everyone at every skill level!
This platform offers training and skill building courses across Technology, Design, Management, Science and Humanities. There is a huge emphasis on Web and Mobile development, AI and Machine Learning, and Programming Languages - perfect for those who are interested in computer science careers.
If you're looking for a little more inspiration and a little less structure, there are plenty of platforms focused on the arts to stimulate your creative inclinations.
Not all online course platforms are designed around obtaining online degrees. And several in the creatives category are all about providing the highest quality training from the most A-list experts. Master Class is one of those, focused on helping to fulfill passion and curiosity from the best in class - even if the end result doesn’t include college credit.
Get inspired by the behind-the-scenes process of Steve Martin’s comedy, Armin Van Buuren’s dance music, Gordon Ramsay’s cooking, Annie Leibovitz’s photography, and Malcolm Gladwell’s writing. There is something for everyone who’d like to learn the best kept secrets from all types of creative minds.
Explore your creativity with the course offerings on Skillshare. Their curated collection of classes are predominantly for creative and curious people, on topics including illustration, design, photography, video, freelancing, and more.
You can use this platform to exercise your creative passions for fun, or develop those skills into a realistic career. Your teachers will be “icons, experts, and industry rock stars excited to share their experience, wisdom, and trusted tools with you.”
This is the go-to source for more than 10 million creators. You can drop-in and stream classes 24/7, take a class at your own pace, and even access the entire suite of more than 1500+ classes on demand with The Creator Pass. There are also daily challenges and live events to keep the community engaged with their content and with each other.
Think of this as a space for hustlers, the ones who pull all-nighters to work on side projects and hone their creative talents. The instructors are world-renowned photographers, Best Sellers, and even Grammy winners who champion creatives to live their dream.
“We’re a community of innovators, doers, and hustlers made stronger by our diversity. We welcome you to be who you are, share, create, and belong. When it comes down to it, we’re more alike than we are different. We’re all in this together and together we can be a force for good.”
These 12 online course platforms will give you the best introduction to the highest quality of online education courses, in our opinion. But this is only the tip of the iceberg - there are countless educational platforms that are tailored to specific interests and career paths, individual universities for complete online degrees, and so much more.
Compare your options before investing your time and money in your online education, and answer the questions I mentioned in the beginning in order to define your time commitment, financial expectations, and educational end-goals. Let us know which platforms you prefer!