Best Platforms for Online Learning – Q1 2023

Person studying using online learning

Learning skills online has become increasingly popular in the last 10 years.  In fact, many companies such as Google, Tesla, IBM, and Bank of America have removed requirements for a traditional bachelor’s degree from many of their job descriptions.  These same companies are considering skill certificates or job experience as equivalent (or better) experience. Online courses take less time and money to complete than degrees.  So adding certificates for in-demand skills to your resume can be a low-risk way to differentiate yourself from other candidates.

This guide is designed to help you find the best online course websites for your needs.

How do online platforms work?

Online platforms use a variety of business models and teaching methodologies.  All of the major online course platforms are asynchronous and self-paced.  This means that anyone can start the course at any time, learn on any schedule, and work through the material at their own pace. 

Very few online platforms offer a live instructor or feedback from experts.  Instead, they use recorded video lectures, auto-graded quizzes, and exercises for which no official feedback is given.

Are Online Certificates Worth It?

Most of the platforms provide official certificates of completion.  Some of these certificates are underwritten by accredited universities or corporations – the course creators.  To earn the certificates, learners are required to complete all lectures and required work.  When auto-graded quizzes are offered, some platforms require that learners earn a certain grade on quizzes before they are considered complete.

Some platforms – such as Coursera, EdX, and Udemy – provide the learning platform and marketing for partners who provide the content.  In the case of Coursera and EdX, the content partners are often large universities or corporations with good reputations. 

Some platforms curate and create content internally.  In these cases, the content quality and features tend to be more consistent, but the quantity of courses offered is lower.

What Should You Look For In An Online Course?

Given the wide variety of courses in the market, you will want to be careful in considering where you choose to learn and earn certificates.  The major considerations are:

  • Price – courses can range from tens to thousands of dollars.  Some allow you to purchase courses a-la-cart, and some require a monthly or annual subscription.  Paying more doesn’t always mean that you get better quality.  
  • Pricing Options – If you are researching online learning platforms for a team, consider platforms that offer group pricing.  If you plan to take more than one course within a year, consider vendors that provide subscriptions to their entire library.  If you just want to take one course, you will want a platform that offers a-la-cart pricing.
  • Time Required – Beware of courses that claim to teach complex topics in very short (e.g., 2-hour) timeframes.  It’s best to compare similar courses to determine the best time frame required.
  • Reputation – If your intent is to beef up your resume with certificates, the university or company providing the certificate is very important.  Note that a highly respected name does not always equate to high quality.  Try to balance the reputation of the certificate with the quality of the content.
  • Content Quality –  The quality of content across platforms and within platforms varies dramatically.  Most of the platforms in this list report student enrollments for their courses, as well as the ratings that learners have given the course. We recommend choosing courses with high enrollments and high ratings  We also recommend comparing the syllabi of several highly rated courses to determine the topics they have in common.  You might consider reading the reviews from those who have rated the course poorly.  If the course offers a free trial, we recommend you review several lectures and assessments to gauge the quality prior to paying for the course.


BEST FOR

COST

CERTIFICATE QUALITY

CONTENT QUALITY

Coursera

Best certificates for the money

$$$

EdX

Best selection of course topics

$$$$

LinkedIn Learning

Best for consistent quality

$$$

Pluralsight

Best for online labs

$$$$

Udemy

Best low-cost courses

$

Datacamp

Best hands-on learning experience

$$$

Simplilearn

Best for blended learning

$$$$$

Skillshare

Best for creative subjects

$$$


Coursera (Best certificates for the money)

Coursera is an established and well-respected training provider with hundreds of learning products in a variety of modes.  They are an Online Program Manager (OPM).  This means they partner with accredited universities and corporations that develop the content for Coursera to make available on its platform.  Coursera focuses on offering content for technical and business skills.

Price Plans

A-LA-CART PRICING

INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

GROUP SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

ENTERPRISE SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

There is a monthly fee per training.  The monthly fee varies based on the training but is generally below $50.

You can purchase a subscription to Coursera+, which gives you access to all courses, for slightly more than a single course price.

Coursera offers the ability to license a curated version of its entire library for employees.  This is an annual subscription rate per employee.

> 125 users; tiered, volume pricing

Free Trial Offered

Coursera offers a 7-day free trial to most courses.  Some select courses are offered to audit for free, but payment is required if you want to earn a certificate.

Content Quality

Content quality varies dramatically between learning products on Coursera.  While Coursera does partner with some well-known universities and corporations, it does not always translate to content quality.  That said, Coursera’s library is extensive and you can usually find high-quality training for most popular business skills.  Coursera also does a good job of reporting learner reviews of its training, which tends to ensure a certain quality level.

Mobile Apps

Native mobile apps are available for both iOS and Android devices

Types of Learning Programs

Coursera offers training in the following formats:

  • online courses 
  • specializations (groups of courses)
  • professional certificates (groups of courses underwritten by universities or companies)
  • undergraduate certificates
  • graduate certificates
  • guided projects
  • projects

Topics

Coursera offers a wide range of topics related to job-skills, including

  • Data Science
  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Information Technology
  • Language
  • Health
  • Personal Development
  • Physical Science and Engineering
  • Social Sciences
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Math and Logic

PROS

CONS

  • Coursera partners with many accredited universities and companies to create training. Therefore, certificates earned from Coursera can often carry greater weight than certificates from other sources on this list

  • Guided projects and projects are clear stand-out features for Coursera. Both of these offerings provide practical, hands-on experience with concepts, something that is often missing in online courses from other vendors. 

  • The 7-day free trial allows motivated learners to complete shorter courses for free.

  • The quality of course content and features available varies dramatically between courses.  We highly recommend taking advantage of the 7-day free trial to carefully review the syllabus, lectures, and assessments prior to purchasing a course.


EdX (Best for course variety)

EdX is a respected Online Program Manager (OPM) that partners with well-known universities and corporations to offer a wide variety of online training.  EdX’s platform is well-designed and intuitive.  They have a very large catalog of content which they offer in a variety of modes to fit various learning goals and budgets.

A-LA-CART PRICING

INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

GROUP SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

ENTERPRISE SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

Between $50 and $300

Not offered

$349 per learner per year for 30+ users.

Negotiated

Free Trial Offered

EdX offers temporary, free access to “audit” most of its courses.  You will need to purchase the course if you exceed the amount of time allotted or if you wish to earn a certificate of completion.

For universities, a limited version of EdX’s library can be licensed for free.

Content Quality

Like other OPMs, the quality of content and features provided varies based on the university or corporation that provides the content.  While most of EdX’s partners are well-respected universities and corporations, this does not guarantee high-quality or robust training. 

Mobile Apps

EdX offers native mobile apps for iOS and Android platforms

Types of Learning Programs

EdX offers a wide variety of learning programs, including

  • Online courses
  • Programs (a curated group of courses on a specific topic area)
  • Professional Certificates (a curated list of courses underwritten by universities or corporations)
  • Bootcamps (intensive, project-based training)
  • Executive Education (short courses to develop skills in leadership)
  • Fully Online Bachelors Degrees 
  • Fully Online Graduate Degrees.

Topics

EdX has the most extensive catalog of the platforms we’ve included.  Their curriculum is extremely wide-ranging and similar to a college curriculum.

  • Architecture
  • Art
  • Biology
  • Business Administration
  • Chemistry
  • Business Communications
  • Computer Programming
  • Data Analysis
  • Design
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Electronics
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Nutrition
  • Healthcare
  • History
  • Humanities
  • Language
  • Law
  • Literature
  • Math
  • Medicine
  • Physics
  • Science
  • Social Science

PROS

CONS

  • EdX’s audit program allows those on a budget to learn just about any topic for free.

  • EdX has the most extensive catalog of content of all the platforms on this list.

  • For Universities, the free limited library can be an excellent way to offer additional training to students or employees.

  • Most courses are offered by well-respected universities and corporations.  Earning a certificate from one of these organizations will likely make a strong impression on employers.

  • The quality of content and features offered varies dramatically between learning programs.

  • We recommend auditing learning products carefully, reviewing their syllabi, lectures, and assessments before spending much time and money on any given program.


LinkedIn Learning (Best for consistent quality)

LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda), founded in 1995, is one of the most established learning companies in the market. It grew steadily for twenty years before being acquired by LinkedIn in 2015.  LinkedIn Learning focuses on selling its library of videos, courses, and learning paths to organizations.

Price Plans

A-LA-CART PRICING

INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

GROUP SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

ENTERPRISE SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

Typically $39.99 to $59.99 per course.

Annual subscription for $240.


Monthly subscription for $39.99/month

$379.99 per learner per year for up to 20 learners.



Negotiated for over 21 learners

Free Trial Offered

LinkedIn Learning offers a 1-month free trial, which is longer than most of the vendors on our list.

Content Quality

LinkedIn Learning is among the most consistently high-quality providers on our list.  While trainings vary quite a bit in length (which is appropriate), most training consists of well-structured, high-quality video lectures, followed by quizzes.  Most videos have confident and engaging experts providing lectures, augmented by quality conceptual graphics and animations.

Mobile Apps

LinkedIn Learning offers apps for iOS and Android platforms.

Types of Learning Programs

LinkedIn Learning offers training in three modes:

  • Videos (micro-learning)
  • Courses
  • Learning Paths (curated group of courses on a topic area)

Topics

LinkedIn focuses on skills that are in demand by employers, including

  • Training and Education
  • Business Analysis and Strategy
  • Career Development
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Leadership and Management
  • Marketing
  • Project Management
  • Human Resources
  • Small Business and Entrepreneurship
  • Customer Service
  • Sales
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
  • Professional Development
  • Business Software Tools
  • Software

PROS

CONS

  • LinkedIn Learning offers a generous 1-month free trial period.

  • Content is consistently high quality.

  • LinkedIn Learning offers a number of useful features for businesses.

  • Pricing is skewed toward annual subscriptions, which is far more content (and cost) than most learners need within a year.

  • LinkedIn Learning’s courses are not underwritten by credited universities or corporations, so may not impress employers as much as other vendors on this list.


Pluralsight (Best for online labs)

Pluralsight has a focused but relatively small variety of self-published courses.  Pluralsight is one of the more expensive platforms, requiring an annual subscription with no option to purchase individual courses.  Downloadable PDF certificates are made available after viewing all videos in a Pluralsight video course.  However, these certificates are not underwritten by any major university or corporation and cannot be shared on LinkedIn or other sites.

Price Plans

A-LA-CART PRICING

INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

GROUP SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

ENTERPRISE SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

Not offered

For individuals, annual subscriptions are available in two forms:


Standard ($299) - access to core 2,500 courses and basic assessments


Premium ($359) - access to over 7,000 courses and labs.

For businesses, there are three options:


2-10 users at $399 per user per year-  access to core 2,500 courses and basic assessments


2-10 users at $579 per user per year - access to over 7,000 courses, plus labs and sandboxes


11+ users at $799 per user per year - access to over 7,000 courses, plus labs, sandboxes, and kill development plans



Not offered

Free Trial Offered

Pluralsight offers a very limited free trial.  The timeframe for the trial is generally not sufficient enough to fully evaluate a course.

Content Quality

Pluralsight courses are typically high quality.  They are taught by industry experts and use a very consistent format.  Most courses consist of videos with voice-over and animated PowerPoint slides.  The courses are generally well-sequenced and the graphics and animations are well-designed. 

Pluralsight does not offer quizzes or other types of assessment as part of the core content of its courses. There is a Learning Check area of most courses that presents multiple choice questions, but there is no way to navigate these questions. 

Mobile Apps

Pluralsight offers apps for iOS only.

Types of Learning Programs

  • Courses
  • Labs – web-based programming labs

Topics

Pluralsight focuses on technology skills, including

  • Architecture & construction
  • Business professional
  • Creative professional
  • Data professional
  • IT ops
  • Manufacturing & design
  • Information & cyber security
  • Software development
  • Web development

PROS

CONS

  • A rich library of technical courses and labs taught by industry professionals.

  • Pluralsight offers a very consistent learning experience.

  • Labs offer a means of gaining practical experience in technical skills.

  • Pluralsight is one of the most expensive platforms on the market.

  • There are no incremental quizzes or ways to test learners on specific topics.


Udemy (Best low-cost courses)

Udemy is a popular learning platform for individuals, as they have a very large library of courses at affordable prices.  Udemy’s platform offers mostly shorter courses written by individuals or training corporations.  

Udemy is unique in that they don’t govern who can publish courses on its platform.  This results in a very large and varied library of training.  Udemy courses are typically video lectures only with some readings and downloadable resources. 

Price Plans

A-LA-CART PRICING

INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

GROUP SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

ENTERPRISE SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

Varies from course to course, but generally in the thousands.


Volume discounts are likely offered for corporate training.

Not offered


Not offered


Not offered

Free Trial Offered

Udemy does not offer free trials but does offer parts of its courses to be viewed free of charge.

Content Quality

The quality of content and features offered in Udemy courses varies dramatically.  We find that most Udemy courses are a series of video lectures, with little quizzing or practical exercises.

Mobile Apps

Udemy offers a mobile app for iOS and Android platforms.

Types of Learning Programs

Udemy offers only online courses.

Topics

Udemy offers courses in a wide variety of skills, including

  • Application Development
  • Business
  • Finance & Accounting
  • IT & Software
  • Office Productivity
  • Personal Development
  • Design
  • Marketing
  • Lifestyle
  • Photography and Video
  • Health and Fitness
  • Music
  • Teaching & Academics

PROS

CONS

  • Udemy tends to be one of the more affordable options for individuals looking to learn specific technical skills.

  • Because of the sheer volume of training on the Udemy platform, courses that are rated highly by thousands of users tend to be very high quality.

  • No free trial is offered.

  • Highly inconsistent quality between courses.

  • .Most courses do not offer quizzing or other forms of assessment.

  • The certificates offered through Udemy are usually not from well-known sources, so may not impress employers as much as others on this list.


Datacamp (Best hands-on learning experience)

Datacamp has short (2-4 hour) courses on micro-topics.  The courses consist of videos followed by frequent exercises that are application based and do not require downloading or configuring software.

Price Plans

A-LA-CART PRICING

INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

GROUP SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

ENTERPRISE SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

Not offered

$149 per learner per year


For businesses, volume pricing is available for bulk purchasing businesses.


Free Trial Offered

Datacamp enables users to access the first chapter of any course for free.  This is usually not enough of a trial to truly judge the quality of the course.

Content Quality

Datacamp’s course quality tends to be consistently strong.   They combine video lectures with hands-on practice using a web-based lab.  If you value learning by doing, Datacamp is one of the best options on the market.

Mobile Apps

Datacamp offers mobile apps for iOS and Android platforms.

Types of Learning Programs

Datacamp offers the following types of learning programs:

  • Courses
  • Tracks – which are a series of courses organized by career track.
  • Skills assessments – quizzes that assess your knowledge of a specific skill

Topics

Datacamp offers training on skills that are in-demand by employers, including the following:

  • Probability & Statistics
  • Machine Learning
  • Programming
  • Data Manipulation
  • Data Visualization
  • Applied Finance
  • Case Studies
  • Importing & Cleaning Data
  • Data Engineering
  • Other
  • Reporting
  • Management

PROS

CONS

  • Consistent, high-quality micro-content that focuses on practical exercises.

  • One of the lowest-price subscription options.

  • No free trial is offered.

  • Certificates are not underwritten by major universities or corporations, so may not impress employers as much as other vendors on this list.

  • The catalog is somewhat limited compared to other vendors on this list.


Simplilearn (Best for blended learning)

SimpiliLearn markets itself as an online Bootcamp service.  Unlike many of the vendors on this list, they offer a number of different modalities for many of their courses, including online labs, live online classroom training, and experiential learning through case studies.  For many of their trainings, corporate training is offered which enables some level of content customization.

Price Plans

A-LA-CART PRICING

INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

GROUP SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

ENTERPRISE SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

Varies from course to course, but generally in the thousands.


Volume discounts are likely offered for corporate training.

Not offered


Not offered


Not offered

Free Trial Offered

Simplilearn offers a limited portion of the catalog for free.  Learners can take up to three of these courses simultaneously.   The courses are available for 90 days, which is more than enough time for most learners to complete the courses.

Content Quality

While Simplilearn uses a relatively consistent format for its courses, the quality varies quite a bit.  We found that many courses had differing levels of quality for voice-over, video, graphics, and animations.  Some courses had relatively low quality.  The scope and sequence of courses are not always well structured.

Mobile Apps

Simplilearn offers mobile apps for Android and iOS platforms.

Types of Learning Programs

  • Online Courses
  • Masters Programs (partnership with universities)
  • University Programs (in partnership with universities)

Topics

Simplilearn focuses on technical skills, including

  • Data Science and Business Analytics
  • AI and Machine Learning
  • Project Management
  • Cyber Security
  • Cloud Computing
  • DevOps
  • Business and Leadership
  • Quality Management
  • Software Development
  • Agile and Scrum
  • IT Service and Architecture
  • Digital Marketing 
  • Big Data

PROS

CONS

  • Many free courses are offered, though you will need to upgrade to earn a certificate and gain access to other premium features.

  • Live online classroom experiences are offered for some of their courses.

  • Partnerships with some universities and corporations can add value to certificates or online degrees earned.

  • Variable quality of courses, with some courses having relatively low quality.

  • Certificates are not underwritten by major universities or corporations, so may not impress employers as much as other vendors on this list.


Skillshare (Best for Creative Skills)

Skillshare is unique among online learning platforms in that they focus mainly on creative skills related to animation, design, illustration, and creative writing.  If you are looking for courses within these domains, Skillshare is a great place to start.

Price Plans

A-LA-CART PRICING

INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

GROUP SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

ENTERPRISE SUBSCRIPTION PRICING

Not offered

$165 per year


$159 per learner per year


Not offered

Free Trial Offered

Skillshare offers a 7-day free trial.

Content Quality

Skillshare (like Udemy) partners with experts in various fields (“teachers”) to create course content.   However, the level of expertise and the quality of teachers varies quite a bit.  Some courses on Skillshare are poorly made, with few demonstrations, conceptual graphics, and low-quality audio and video.  Some are very well done. 

Skillshare courses consist mainly of short video lectures and do not include any meaningful quizzes or assignments.  There is a project area in most courses, but we found that most of these projects were poorly designed.  

Skillshare learner reviews (“Class Ratings”) are more sophisticated than other platforms.  They provide metrics on whether a course exceeded learner expectations and also show various criteria by which learners liked a course.  Given the wide range of course quality, we recommend reviewing these user ratings.  We also recommend taking advantage of the 7-day free trial to review parts of courses before signing up.

Mobile Apps

Skillshare offers native mobile apps for iOS and Android platforms.

Types of Learning Platforms

  • Courses
  • Learning Paths (curated groups of courses)
  • Student Projects

Topics

  • Animation
  • Business Analytics
  • Creative Writing
  • Film & Video
  • Fine Art
  • Freelance & Entrepreneurship
  • Graphic Design
  • Illustration
  • Leadership & Management
  • Lifestyle
  • Marketing
  • Music
  • Photography
  • Productivity
  • UI/UX Design
  • Web Development

PROS

CONS

  • Skillshare has a large library of courses related to creative skills.

  • User ratings are sophisticated and provide a good indication of the quality of content.

  • Certificates are not underwritten by major universities or corporations, so may not impress employers as much as other vendors on this list.

  • Content quality varies dramatically from course to course.

  • Most courses are just a series of lectures with no interactivity, quizzing, or opportunities to practice concepts.

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