Remember how being called the “jack of all trades and master of none” used to be a bad thing? Companies worldwide looked for specialized candidates who were masters of their chosen field. Those of us who had picked up multiple skills but not enough expertise in one was viewed as less satisfactory than our expert counterparts. Well, times are a-changing, my friends. Reskilling and acquisition of new skills has become the need of the hour and unless you’ve dedicated your life to a particular field of study, it is now possible to be a master of all trades. No, you don’t require some Ra’s-al-Ghul-level training; it’s all doable easily and with unbeatable flexibility from the comfort of your own home!
Ever heard of MOOCs? Well, back in the last decade, some super-smart people decided that education should be an option available to all. Cue stage entry for MOOCs or massive open online courses. These courses, provided by various e-learning platforms, made it possible for anyone to study anything they wanted, provided they had access to the internet and in some cases, money. Science graduates could now study the finer details of business writing, whereas writers were now becoming highly paid data analysts, all thanks to the humble MOOC. Where a normal degree-holding college graduate may still struggle to find work in today’s economy, the right MOOC could land you employment with companies such as industry giants like IBM and Nvidia! More and more employers are leaning towards candidates with a diverse range of skills and more and more employees are finding greater security in a diverse set of skills.
Quick Introduction to the Best Online Course Platforms
Though the internet was always a place of learning, several online platforms such as edX, Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, Skillshare and Treehouse captured the market and hearts of learners by being some of the first portals to provide quality education in a wide range of topics. Apart from catering to casual learners, these portals also provide job and skill-specific courses that have helped millions of learners worldwide gain new or better employment, promotions and an increase in pay, making them some of the best online course platforms. Today, we tell you why! Read on to learn more about these online course platforms and also find out which one is the best in our online course platforms comparison.
Yes, we know we told you that MOOCs are massive open courses that can be accessed by anyone with a good internet connection and the desire to learn, but what exactly contributed to the soaring popularity of these online courses? Well, though distance education existed before MOOCs (correspondence degrees, OpenCourseWare and online classes), there was a lack of proper guidance, feedback and interactions between teachers, students and peers. Where online classes are expensive (almost the same as a full-time course) and OCW is free, MOOCs are a middle ground; free of cost unless you want a verified certificate of completion.
Additionally, MOOCs, though they follow a syllabus, are more flexible with deadlines and the pace of learning, usually being self-paced. Lastly, MOOCs are easy to enroll for as opposed to strict admission procedures and rules, as well as non-discriminating against learners, making them open to anyone anywhere in the world.
What Most Good MOOCs Will Offer
Though the ability to learn is itself a privilege, it is also equally important that you’re learning the right thing. It’s crucial that MOOCs provide quality information and instruction, regardless of whether you’re paying for the course or not. Most good MOOCs will have the following components:
- Video lectures and clips (internal and external)
- Reading material
- Various activities such as quizzes, practice assignments, and peer-reviews
- A final examination or project
- A student community supported by course-specific student forums
- A clear syllabus for the duration of the course
Once you’re assured that it’s a good MOOC, enrolling for one is as easy as registering on your chosen platform, deciding what type of MOOC you want to pursue (audited course, certified program or specialization) and starting the course. While some courses may start and end on specific dates, most are self-paced courses, allowing students the flexibility of learning at their own pace.
Now, on to our best online course platforms.
Top 6 Best Online Course Platforms
Let’s take a look at a thorough overview of all the very best online course platforms, ensuring you find the perfect one for your needs. To learn even more about them, you can click the link at the end of each overview to read our in-depth review of each platform.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Coursera is kinda like the godfather of all online course platforms. Started in 2011 by Stanford professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, the platform has grown over the last few years to boast of over 25 million learners, 149 partnering universities and over 2,000 courses, making it the largest provider of MOOCs on the world wide web.
Providing courses in a range of subjects and skills (around 11 categories), most courses on Coursera are free (except for specialization courses), with purchasing a course (anywhere between $40-150) leading to a few additional benefits such as grading of assignments, feedback from mentors and a verified course completion certificate. (It should be noted that verified Coursera certificates can majorly boost your resume, with companies such as LinkedIn, IBM, AWS, and other giants acknowledging them). Currently, prices are decided by the institutes offering the course, with specializations requiring a monthly subscription. However, the platform does provide financial aid and scholarships to students in need.
What sets Coursera apart is that offers proper online master’s degree programs (MasterTrack certificates) from a host of renowned universities such as HEC Paris and the University of Illinois. It also provides certificates and online bachelor’s and masters’ degrees. Coursera is also, as mentioned earlier, the largest MOOC provider in every sense, with the most partners, most language options, and most pathways of learning. Even edX, its closest competitor, only provides around 2,200 courses, while Coursera provides over 3,000 of them! How’s that for large?
To learn even more about this online course platform, be sure to read our in-depth Coursera review.
Coursera’s closest competitor, edX is a not-for-profit online platform that provides over 1,600 free incredible online courses from its 100+ university and industry partners. Founded by a combination of sugar, spice and everything nice at Harvard and MIT, edX boasts a learners’ base of 12 million and is the go-to platform for quality free courses across 20 disciplines.
One of the best parts about edX is that it is an open-source platform, meaning that its partners have the authority to continuously update their courses to better serve their learners. Also, in addition to its various courses (professional certificates programs, online master’s degrees, Global Freshman Academy and the XSeries courses), edX offers a MicroMasters degree program (job and skill-specific graduate-level courses) which are provided by some of its partner universities and recognized by all of its partner industries.
Like Coursera, edX offers students the option of buying the course for a verified certificate. It also offers financial aid up to 90% of the course fee to students in need.
To learn even more about this online course platform, be sure to read our in-depth edX review.
Third on our list is Udacity, another one of the best online learning sites available to students today. Founded in 2012 by the man behind Google’s self-drive car, Udacity offers students the chance to learn from various industry experts and giants such as Amazon and Google. Mainly aimed at working professionals, Udacity offers courses that are more technological and scientific in nature, such as programming, robotics, and data analysis. These offered courses fall under six different schools – data science, artificial intelligence, business, programming, autonomous systems and cloud computing.
Udacity offers around 200 free courses, though like most portals, you’ll have to pay to receive a certificate or take up graded projects. Udacity also offers what is called a “Nanodegree program”, wherein students can study a specific subject by paying a monthly subscription (courses take anywhere between 6-12 months to complete). These programs are skill-oriented programs that are aimed at learners looking for IT-based skill development. Udacity has also partnered with the Georgia Institute of Technology to provide Masters’ degree courses Computer Science.
Udacity has different pricing options for its various programs. Nanodegrees require a monthly subscription (the courses in the degree are free of cost) whereas a Masters’ degree from Georgia Tech will set you back by $6,600 for 6 full terms. It does not offer financial aid, but offers various discounts and offers on various occasions.
With over 80,000 students, 200 partners and 100+ enterprise customers worldwide, Udacity is definitely one of the top guns in the field.
To learn even more about this online course platform, be sure to read our in-depth Udacity review.
Launched in 2010, Udemy is a one-of-a-kind online learning platform. What makes it unique? Well, if you’ve ever wanted to sell knowledge instead of just gaining it, this is the site for you. Where most online platforms provide MOOCs from their partner universities or companies, Udemy lets individuals design and offer their own courses. Of course, these courses are reviewed strictly before they make it to the website, ensuring that quality learning is upheld. Due to this unique feature, Udemy has one of the largest libraries of courses; it has over 55,000 available courses.
Like most online platforms, Udemy offers both free and paid courses in 13 different categories. These courses range from as little as $20 to as much as $200, and range from something as relatively simple as Drawing 101 to something more complicated such as Python 101. Users of Udemy (both students and teachers) have sung its praises for the presence of a strong student and teacher community, ease of uploading a course, income from both referrals and site registrations and the accessibility of courses offline. It also provides strong customer support, which is lacking in most online platforms, and comes with a neat app!
To learn even more about this online course platform, be sure to read our in-depth Udemy review.
Ever wanted to learn macrame as a child? Or how to play the piano, perhaps? Or how a robot works? Think it’s too late now? Well, think again. Founded in 2010 by Michael Karnjanaprakorn and Malcolm Ong, Skillshare is an online learning platform that aims to impart skill-based knowledge to students. Similar to Udemy, Skillshare is a marketplace that lets users buy and sell their skills on its website, whether it’s a course on design, art and craft, business, or fashion, to name a few. These courses (with project-based classes) are grouped under 4 heads — Creative, Technology, Build and Lifestyle.
Skillshare doesn’t offer one-on-one classes to students because it believes in a shared learning experience. This means that most courses come with a start and end date. However, in doing away with one-on-one classes, Skillshare ensures the presence of a strong student community, with a focus on peer learning and networking. Students not only receive feedback for their work but also give feedback on their online classes. The website follows the approach of using video lessons to ease the students’ learning process. It also provides a step-by-step guide to help those who want to design and sell a course, but aren’t sure how. This makes it an extremely user-friendly site.
Like any other online platform, Skillshare also provides free courses (Skillshare Basic that offers 2,100 free classes, project creation, peer learning, engagement in discussions and free mobile app). For courses that aren’t free of cost, Skillshare provides Skillshare Premium with two pricing plans:
- Monthly Premium Plan: This plan includes a monthly $8.73 bill and provides unlimited access to all classes, offline access to courses, no advertisements, and scholarships for students.
- Annual Premium Plan: Students choosing to pay annually receive a monthly discount of around $2 on their plan (meaning an annual one-shot payment of $63) and all the perks of the monthly plan, as well as a few other perks.
Skillshare also provides pricing plans to teams, where each student is billed annually. The portal provides a 30-day free trial before you opt for a pricing plan (if you want to) and a 2-month free trial for its Premium plan, once you sign up for the Basic plan.
User friendly to both course providers and beneficiaries, Skillshare is definitely one of the best online courses websites there is!
To learn even more about this online course platform, be sure to read our in-depth Skillshare review.
The last but definitely not the least in our list, Treehouse is an online school that offers a variety of courses ranging from beginner to advanced level in a range of subjects such as web design, game development, and mobile development, to name a few. These courses, taught by industry experts, include video material, quizzes and challenges on coding. Each course follows a specific syllabus and is aimed at students, businesses, organizations and schools that are focused on technology. Students who are very successful in their course completion may be recruited by companies such as LivingSocial and Simple.
More specifically, Treehouse offers courses in 12 categories; with the exception of the business category, all courses are technology-oriented courses. It offers two pricing options for its regular courses:
- Basic Plan: $25 per month or $250 annually
- Pro Plan: $49 per month or $490 annually (this plan lets students access material such as lectures by industry experts as well as bonus workshops)
With a diverse library of high-quality content that’s crafted by their in-house team of experts, Treehouse provides users the necessary help to kickstart their careers. It follows a project-based approach to impart practical skills to its students, such as creating mobile applications and websites. Apart from this, it has for its partners Amazon Alexa, Microsoft, IBM Watson and Google Developers. All of these features make Treehouse one of the best online learning platforms there is!
To learn even more about this online course platform, be sure to read our in-depth Treehouse Tech Degree review.
Best Online Learning Sites: Pros and Cons
Though we may have painted a pretty picture of all these online platforms, nothing in life comes without cons.
They truly are some of the best online course platforms, but as expected, these portals still have a few drawbacks that can be improved on in the future.
Let’s start with Coursera. Though the platform is the biggest MOOC provider available in the market, it has a narrow offering of courses, offering only 11 categories, which is a major shortcoming, especially when you compare competitors such as edX (20 categories and constantly growing) and Udemy (13 categories) or even Treehouse (12 categories). Additionally, though it’s great that Coursera allows institutes offering the courses to price them, this creates a lack of consistency in the pricing, meaning that’s it not really a non-discriminatory platform that treats everyone equally! Though there is the option of a free 7-day trial, specializations are available only on monthly subscriptions ranging between $39 to $89 per month and some material of certain courses are accessible only on purchasing the course.
Though edX offers 20 different categories of courses, their shortcoming is in the fact that they only offer 8 degrees that are accredited (Coursera offers 12). Users have also complained of its substandard social features, such as the lack of recognition of students who have contributed to the community; this feature can be found in both Coursera and Udacity. The wide variety of programs they offer can also be confusing for first-time users. There have also been complaints that receiving course completion certificates can take a long time; usually because some in some courses, the team performs a manual evaluation before the certificate can be issued. Financial aid is also very opaque and, some users have reported, unfair.
Udacity, on the other hand, can be slightly expensive with regard to its Nanodegree programs. Additionally, it’s more focused on job-relevant studying, which could alienate casual learners. Lastly, the courses on the portal fall on extreme ends of the price spectrum. Monthly subscriptions are around $300 and Nanodegree programs are around $1,000, creating a huge price gap. The website is also known to suddenly increase prices of their courses by huge leaps.
Though it’s great that Udemy is a platform where everyone can sell their courses, it makes it difficult for an average person selling their course to compete with renowned experts or institutes. This is especially hard because sellers have to market themselves with Udemy’s limited branding options; Udemy doesn’t do this for them. Additionally, the pricing of the courses is handled by the Udemy team and boy, do they slash prices like crazy! What’s worse, they seem to do this on various occasions and sellers don’t really have a say in this. They also take a substantial amount of their income from the course, despite a decent revenue share on paper.
Like Udemy, it’s great that Skillshare allows anyone to sell their course on its platform. However, the portal doesn’t seem to set any eligibility criteria for its teachers. Additionally, even qualified teachers may not make a lot of money from their course, as income depends purely on how many students enroll in the course and how many times the teacher’s videos get watched. With free websites like YouTube that provide also provide high-quality educational videos, this could be a serious problem to consider (this also applies to Udemy).
One of the main cons of Treehouse is that it’s still a work in progress, especially its library. Additionally, it’s aimed at beginners, making it unsuitable and unnecessary for anyone who already possesses basic knowledge of the course.
Final Thoughts on the Best Online Course Platforms
Of course, MOOCs come with their own pros and cons. However, the pros outweigh the cons. After all, how much can you hold against an innovation that makes learning accessible to all? MOOCs do away with the problem of increasing admission costs and the strict admission requirements of the conventional education system. The rising amount of student debt is also another problem that MOOCs provide a solution to.
Whether you’re a student looking to develop new skills or a homemaker with additional time on your hands and the will to learn, MOOCs are the answer. It’s never too late and MOOCs are the perfect embodiment and materialization of this concept. What’s more, an increasing number of MOOCs are being recognized by industry giants, paving the way for employment. These courses are also a great option for students who want to decide on a career path or those who can’t afford to go to a full-time college, in terms of both money and time.
We hope that in this review, we’ve given you a lowdown on some of the best online course platforms. Though each platform has its own pros and cons, we had to pick a winner, and trust us when we say it was as hard as a mother choosing her favorite child! However, on comparing the various pros and cons, Coursera emerges the winner, with its huge collection of courses, partners and learning options, with edX coming in a close second.
Regardless of our choice though, choosing the right platform depends on what course you wish to pursue and what objective you intend to achieve through the course. Hopefully, our article has made the job a little easier for you! Rest assured, though, that any platform you pick, you’ll receive some quality education, as these platforms really are some, if not the best online course platforms. May the force be with you on your journey of learning. Or wait. With these guys, you don’t even need the force. So just go ahead, jump right in and enjoy the learning.