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Online learning, also referred to as e-learning, is education that takes place over the internet. It is often also referred to as elearning. Online learning is the latest iteration of ‘distance learning’ – the umbrella term for any learning that takes place across distance and not in a traditional classroom (a form of learning that began decades ago with Correspondence Courses that were conducted through regular mail with little interaction between student and teacher.
Today’s online learning platforms facilitate anytime/anywhere access to education in almost any imaginable learning topic. It also allows experts and practitioners in their fields to pass on their knowledge and experience uncoupled from a traditional teacher role. The offerings include MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), which have become a standard model for delivering learning content online to any person who wants to take a course, from anywhere, with no limit on attendance. They also include self-paced course offerings based on prerecorded video tutorials combined with online forums, discussion boards and downloadable course materials.
Online learning is catalyzing a pedagogical shift in how we teach and learn. Assisted by modern communication tools, there has been a shift away from top-down lecturing and passive students to a more interactive, collaborative approach in which students and instructor co-create the learning process. The instructor’s role is changing from the ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘the guide on the side’.
It can get pretty confusing with all the available online learning platforms out there, with their wide range of course topics, different pricing plans and features. So we checked dozens of them out and compiled the – what we believe – 15 best of them.
Here is an overview (detailed descriptions are below the table; sorted alphabetically):
List of the 15 Best Online Learning Platforms
|Name||Description||No. of Courses||Free Classes||Fees||Free Trial|
|Brilliant||Focusing on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics||60+||no||$15/month or $120/year||free course previews|
|Codeacademy||Coding classes in web development, programming, computer science, and data science||yes||1,800+||from $150/year||7 days|
|Coursera||Focus on creativity with topics including illustration, design, photography, video, music, creative writing||27,000+||2,000+||$168/year||30 days|
|CreativeLive||Online curated classes on creative skills for career, hobby and life||2,000+||free online events||from $15/month||7-day refund policy|
|DataCamp||Data skills from non-coding essentials to data science and machine learning||350+||free access to fist course chapter||from $25/month||no|
|edX||Founded by Harvard and MIT, a platform for college-level online courses||3,600+||free course audit option||$50-300 per track and up||14-day refund policy|
|FutureLearn||Higher education platform with courses from the world’s leading universities||1,500+||no||$75-400/course||free limited access|
|LinkedIn Learning||Self-paced online courses in business, creative and technology subjects||17,000+||no||$33/month or $297/year||1 month|
|MasterClass||A streaming platform with celebrity and VIP instructors||150+||no||From $180/year||30-day refund policy|
|Mindvalley||Online learning platform for personal growth and transformation||50 ‘quests’||free weekly masterclasses||$99/month or $499/year||7 days|
|PluralSight||Online learning platform for technology skills||7,000+||5 free courses a month||from $399/year||10 days or 200 minutes|
|Skillshare||Offers university-level courses and certification programs||5,000+||2,500+||varies||7 days|
|Treehouse||E-learning platform for coding and web development skills||200+||no||$25/month||7 days|
|Udacity||Nanodegree® programs designed to bridge the gap between learning and career goals||59 degree programs||∼200||$399/month||No|
|Udemy||Huge library of online video courses||196,000+||500+||$10-200||No|
Reviews of the best online learning platforms (in alphabetical order)
Brilliant’s mission is to inspire and develop people to achieve their goals in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) – one person, one question, and one small commitment to learning at a time.
Brilliant’s declared goal is to offer ‘the very best math and science education on earth’.
The teaching method is based on three steps: 1)Start with simple questions and stories that build your foundation and intuition; 2)Ramp up to solving problems that seemed beyond your ability; and 3) Study different ways of solving the problems that are out of your grasp.
All courses are self-paced, allowing you to complete its guided exercises in a time that suits you.
The monthly and annual subscriptions include full access to all courses on the platform and thousands of practice quizzes across all topics.
Codeacademy offers flexible content depending if you want to build a career in coding (e.g. computer scientist, data scientist, full-stack engineer or front-end engineer), gain a specific skill, learn a programming language or explore a subject such as web development, data and computer science, or cybersecurity.
Codecademy Pro Student is priced at $150/year and with Pro at $40/month (or $240/year) you get complete access to their interactive curriculum including exclusive courses, features, and content work.
Community forums on Codeacademy are organized as Chapters that function as a virtual meetup. Each chapter has a leader, whose job it is to determine the mission and topic for the chapter, as well as to communicate to everyone what, when, and why they’re meeting. When Chapters meet, they connect over the topic that defines the chapter.
Coursera partners with more than 250 leading universities and companies to bring flexible, affordable, job-relevant online learning to individuals and organizations worldwide. They offer a range of learning opportunities—from hands-on projects and courses to job-ready certificates and degree programs.
Earn recognized credentials from leading universities and companies to achieve your goals. Earn a university degree and enjoy high-quality curriculum, affordable pricing, and flexible scheduling.
There are courses available in many languages: English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, Arabic, French, German, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and more.
Course topics include Arts and Humanities, Business, Computer Science, Data Science, Information Technology, Health, Math and Logic, Personal Development. Each course takes 4-6 weeks to complete.
If you want to master a specific skill, you can enroll in a Specialization – a series of online courses, each takes 4-6 months to complete. Once you complete the Specialization, you will earn a Certificate to add on your resume.
With online degree courses, you can earn Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and do postgraduate studies from top universities.
Explore hundreds of free courses or get started with a free trial.
Online classes in photography, art, design, craft & DIY, marketing, business, and entrepreneurship. Available on-demand 24/7. Motto: ‘Do what you love’.
Over 700 experienced instructors from their respective fields including bestselling authors, Grammy and Oscar winners and successful entrepreneurs.
CreativeLive’s subscriptions are called Creator Pass, starting at $15/month. They allow you to take about 98% of the 2,000+ classes and 60,000+ individual lessons. A small number of instructors and classes are excluded from the Creator Pass and you have to buy them individually.
All content can be viewed online and offline (downloadable only with iOS apps).
With DataCamp you can gain domain-specific expertise with skill tracks, a collection of courses curated by industry experts to help you grow your data skills and take your next big step. If you want to advance your career, you can instead get on career tracks, a collection of courses curated by industry experts to help you grow your data skills.
Courses are self-paced with numerous videos and engaging exercises, taught by more than 270 instructors from the data science and analytics community.
Monthly subscription fees are $25 (billed annually) and give you access to the entire course library, with all certificates and projects, including DataCamp’s top Python, SQL, Tableau, Power BI and R programs.
A free ‘Basic’ option lets you see every first chapter of all courses (you may select up to 6 courses) and access the job board.
Technology courses include R, Python, Sql, Power Bi, Theory, Spreadsheets, Tableau, Shell, Excel, Git, Scala. Topics include Probability & Statistics, Machine Learning, Programming, Data Manipulation, Data Visualization, Applied Finance, Importing & Cleaning Data, Case Studies, Data Engineering,Reporting, Management.
DataCamp’s certification programs are industry recognized.
edX is creating a network of the world’s top schools and institutions to offer the world’s best educational experience.
edX offers more than 3,600 courses across 30 subjects, all taught by some of the most respected visionaries and industry-leading professionals in the world. Tailored to the needs of learners who seek to learn something new, advance their career, or earn a degree with a variety of program options in addition to single courses.
The offerings include MicroBachelors Programs built for adult learners with some or no college experience looking to progress their career. MicroMasters Programs build towards a master’s degree. Professional Certificate Programs are a series of courses available on-demand. Online Master’s Degree Programs are prestigious programs that offer the same first-rate curriculum and faculty
found on campus, but they’re delivered in a flexible 100% online format to fit your busy
schedule. While these programs partner with edX, the degree you earn is from the university,
just like the on-campus programs.
Except for Professional Education, Boot Camps, and Executive Education courses, there is no cost for taking edX courses when you enroll in the free audit track, which does not offer certificates or provide graded assignments. However, if you want to be able to earn a certificate for a course and complete assignments, there is a fee that will vary depending on the course.
edX’s 3,600+ online courses and 300+ programs are created by its 160 partners – leading educational institutions like Harvard, MIT and Berkeley University.
FutureLearn partners with over 260 universities, brands and government departments, to offer access to education through online, on-demand courses in a wide range of subjects.
Choose from hundreds of online courses from top universities and specialist organizations across 13 subjects: Business & Management, Creative Arts & Media, Nature & Environment, Politics & Society, Literature, Healthcare & Medicine, Science, Engineering & Maths, History, IT & Computer Science, Teaching, Language, Study Skills, Psychology & Mental Health
You can book hundreds of classes from top universities and specialist organizations to learn new skills with a flexible online course or up-skill with a series of specialist courses. These ExpertTracks will help you master new skills in a specialist area through a series of in-depth courses and build practical expertise alongside top universities and industry leaders.
FutureLearn’s online microcredentials courses are designed to up-skill you for work in rapidly-growing industries, without the time and cost commitment of a full degree. They can be used as an independent certification, and some even offer academic credit to use towards a degree. Each microcredential also includes a formal online assessment.
Learn flexibly with online degree courses created by leading universities. From undergraduate to postgraduate, make degree-level learning work for you.
LinkedIn Learning offers online courses in Business, Creative and Technology subjects. All its courses are self-paced which gives you the flexibility to learn anytime, anywhere.
Business topics include: Business Analysis and Strategy, Business Software and Tools, Career Development, Customer Service, Finance and Accounting, Human Resources, Leadership and Management, Marketing, Professional Development, Project Management, Sales, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Training and Education, as well as a wide range of software training.
Creative topics include: AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction), Animation and Illustration, Audio and Music, Graphic Design, Motion Graphics and VFX, Photography, Product and Manufacturing, User Experience, Video, Visualization and Real-Time, Web Design.
Technology topics include: Cloud Computing, Data Science, Database Management, DevOps, IT Help Desk, Mobile Development, Network and System Administration, Security, Software Development, Web Development.
You can purchase an individual course or subscribe to a monthly or annual plan that includes a 1-month free trial. Its instructors are subject-matter experts who collaborate with LinkedIn Learning to create high-quality content.
LinkedIn Learning is not accredited, but most courses offer a Certificate of Completion that you can later add to your LinkedIn profile.
All courses are self-paced, allowing you to complete its guided exercises in a time that suits you.
The monthly and annual subscriptions include full access to all 17,000+ courses on the platform.
MasterClass stands out from the other online learning platforms due to many of the famous faces teaching its online classes – like learning photography from Annie Leibovitz, design and architecture from Frank Gehry, songwriting from Alicia Keys, learning about inclusive leadership from Bill Clinton, or how to cook from Gordon Ramsay.
There are 11 course categories: Arts & Entertainment, Home & Lifestyle, Business, Food, Music, Writing, Design & Style, Sports & Gaming, Community & Government, Wellness, Science & Tech.
Each class includes around 20 video lessons that are 10 minutes long on average, along with an in-depth workbook. You also get access to the MasterClass smartphone and TV apps, offline lessons, a members-only newsletter, and a community of members around the world.
There are no deadlines, so you can learn at your own pace. All the videos can be downloaded for offline viewing using a mobile app.
Mindvalley is a personal growth and transformation platform with the goal of helping students succeed at work while also unlocking the full potential of their body, mind, and spirit.
Mindvalley has a mission of offering an alternative to traditional education. It is the modern pioneer of the so-called transformational education. Transformative Learning Theory postulates that transformative learning concerns useful, deep, and constructive learning. This method of studying is known for bringing about shifts in consciousness, or even fundamental changes in one’s worldview. So, instead of only learning a certain fixed skill-set, you will also be advancing yourself spiritually. Or, developing your brain plasticity, if you prefer more scientific terms.
Mindvalley ‘quests, as they call their courses, offer online courses, live seminars, mentorship programs, and ‘spirituality’ apps.
There are over 50 courses (or quests) in Mindvalley’s library, taught by top experts in the fields of expertise: CEOs of large companies, best-selling authors, celebrity coaches, famous therapists and entrepreneurs, and international speakers. The quests are divided into different categories: Mind, Body, Soul, Career, Entrepreneurship, Relationships, Kids, Teens and Parenting, and Performance.
Pluralsight offers high-quality elearning for an effective path to build business-critical skills in areas such as software development, IT operations, info & cyber security, cloud computing, machine learning / AI, data professionals.
The core library features 2,500+ of their most-popular courses on in-demand topics like cloud, data, security, software development, infrastructure and more. and is available in the starter plan.
The expanded library gives you access to the full 7,000+ courses that includes more advanced topics if you need to build deep expertise and niche topics for those tackling special projects. It is available in the professional and enterprise pricing plans.
Please note: None of the many courses on Skillshare is accredited by any institution and Skillshare does not offer certificates of completion. It’s a place to learn new skills and expand your knowledge, not get a degree.
Skillshare courses are are divided into three categories: Create (Animation,Creative Writing, Film & Video, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, Music, Photography, UI/UX Design, Web Development), Build (Business Analytics, Freelance & Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Management, Marketing), and Thrive (Lifestyle, Productivity).
All courses consist of two parts: a video presentation (which usually lasts around 20-60 minutes) and a class project.
Skillshare gives its members unlimited access to classes for a monthly subscription fee (currently $14 with an annual subscription), plus they also offer a lot of free classes. They also offer team plans.
The Treehouse catalog contains 200+ courses with 1000s of hours of materials. Classes are self-paced and you can view them online or offline.
After a free 7-day trial, a $25/month subscription allows access to all courses and materials.
The Techdegree program at $199/month is a bootcamp-style program that guides you through a full curriculum of Treehouse learning. To earn your Techdegree, you’ll complete a series of projects for your professional portfolio. Techdegree learning includes courses, workshops, quizzes, and access to the exclusive Treehouse Slack community for live support.
For its Nanodegree Programs, Udacity partners with industry leaders and experts who understand what skills are in demand in the applicable job market. Students enroll in a specific course offering (e.g. Intro to Programming) and will be prompted to view the online course as well as complete a series of projects and support courses designed to help them develop job-relevant skills and build a portfolio to show prospective employers. Services related to the Nanodegree program may include classroom mentorship, moderated forums, and project reviews to ensure a personalized experience.
Given its $399/month fee, the average cost for a Nanodegree program is between $1200 and $2400.
Udacity courses are highly interactive with activities such as quizzes and exercises interspersed between short videos and interviews with instructors and industry experts. The quizzes are a tool to help you learn, and an ongoing resource, so you can watch the videos and try the quizzes as many times as you like.
Udacity is a private online education provider that is not accredited and does not confer any degrees.
Udemy provides access to a huge library of online video training courses across 13 categories such as business, IT, design, marketing, lifestyle, photography and health, and dozens of sub-categories to help you develop new skills.
Courses aren’t officially accredited though you’ll be given a certificate of completion for paid courses.
Huge library with 196,000+ courses in 75 languages from 68,000+ instructors.
Udemy Business is geared towards organizations to train teams and drive digital transformation and innovation.