Our verdict: In this Brilliant.org review you’ll learn why we think Brilliant is one of the best ways to learn difficult math and science topics online. Brilliant offers a truly unique, engaging learning experience that sets it apart from video-based lecture courses.
Pros: What we like about Brilliant
Cons: Potential reasons to avoid Brilliant
Table of Contents
Brilliant.org is an online learning platform that focuses on math, science, and computer science courses (STEM) . The platform is backed by Social+Capital, a venture capital fund that aims to advance humanity by solving the world’s most difficult problems.
Brilliant’s stated principles emphasize the importance of inquiry, curiosity and openness to failure. Their courses focus on interactive learning by asking students to solve a series of increasingly more difficult problems.
There are over 9 million learners on the platform today, and Brilliant has inspired and identified many promising young academics by giving broad access to top-tier math and science education.
Brilliant operates through a freemium model: with a free account, you get access to daily puzzles and the introduction to all of Brilliant’s paid courses. Users who upgrade to premium get access to the full experience, including the entire course catalog, the full daily puzzle archives, and more.
Brilliant’s platform targets students, professionals and lifelong learners. In our opinion, the platform offers the strongest value for students and lifelong learners, but we’ll go into each of these in more detail below.
We see two main reasons why Brilliant is an excellent platform for students.
Firstly, Brilliant allows students to move at their own pace, whether that is faster or slower than the curriculum at their own schools. Many promising young mathematicians have used Brilliant to seek out a challenge at a young age, because they felt their own schools were moving too slowly. On the flip side, many students feel that lectures move too fast, and Brilliant gives them a chance to revise material at a pace more suited to their understanding.
Secondly, Brilliant’s courses are designed to teach difficult math and science topics in a more accessible way. Lectures often don’t work for STEM students. Brilliant’s courses don’t use lectures, but instead emphasize problem solving and active learning.
We see one reason why Brilliant is a good platform for lifelong learners, and one area where it could be improved.
On the positive side, Brilliant’s theoretical courses and active approach to education are a great way to add powerful mental models to your mental toolbox. Learn topics such as Newton’s laws, problem solving, and the laws of thermodynamics, all of which have implications far beyond STEM applications.
On the negative side, Brilliant’s courses are limited to STEM topics. Many lifelong learners would prefer to pull in mental models from other disciplines as well.
In our view, Brilliant is not the best option for career-focused learners for two reasons.
Firstly, courses tend to be a bit more theoretical or academic as opposed to applied practical learning. While we think this is a great way to learn how to think, recruiters are often looking for proof of hard skills or applied knowledge/experience.
Secondly, Brilliant does not offer certifications and courses are unaccredited.
In summary, we gave Brilliant.org’s platform a grade of B+.
We can’t emphasize enough how much we enjoyed the learning experience on Brilliant.org, it’s one of the best we’ve seen on the internet.
We summarize our grade in the table below, but we’d encourage you to read on for our full thoughts on the platform.
|Quality||A||Strong visuals. Easy to follow. Engaging & Interactive.|
|Selection||B||STEM courses only|
|Experience||A||Engaging & Interactive. Cross-device compatibility|
|Career Advancement||C+||No certificates. Not career focused|
|OCH Review Grade||B+||Great for lifelong learners & students|
|Brilliant.org Pricing||$$||Starts at $12.49/month (billed annually)|
In our view, Brilliant really shines when it comes to the design and quality of its learning experience.
Brilliant was designed around the idea that lecture-style courses don’t work for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) topics, and research from the National Science Foundation supports their point.
To combat this problem, Brilliant uses active and engaging courses, unlike many competitors who focus on video-based, lecture-style teaching. The result is one of the most engrossing learning experiences that we’ve come across online.
In this section of our Brilliant.org review, we’ll highlight some positives and negatives of Brilliant’s platform with respect to the quality and format of courses.
Unlike other platforms – where you watch hours of video lectures interspersed with an occasional quiz – Brilliant requires constant engagement from the learner.
Learners are asked to solve a series of problems, which are typically easier at the start of the course and get more difficult as the course goes on.
Here’s an example of a Brilliant question from its Statics course:
You will not answer every question correctly, but that’s okay. Don’t think of these as tests, the learning is in challenging yourself to solve difficult problems. And you’re not meant to be able to solve every problem on your first try.
When you get a problem wrong, Brilliant includes a nice explanation of the principles involved so you can learn from your mistakes, and use that knowledge to solve future problems.
Brilliant’s courses are structured as a series of easily-digestible modules.
Modules typically consist of 5-10 problems and take about 15 minutes to work through.
We really enjoyed the module structure, which makes it easy to progress through a course at your own pace, own your own schedule.
For example, Brilliant’s course called “Math for Quantitative Finance” has 26 interactive modules, ranging from basic introductory content, to more complicated topics like Markov Chains.
Before you dive into a course, Brilliant will recommend pre-requisite courses. For example, before you take the Quantitative Finance course shown above, Brilliant recommends that you have first mastered Applied Probability.
If you have a strong background in a subject, you can skip pre-requisite courses, but this feature is still very helpful for anyone who is new to a subject.
Brilliant.org makes excellent use of visual aids to illustrate complex topics, which we view as one of the strongest features of the platform.
For example, in Brilliant’s computer science fundamentals course, a color-coded step-through graphic helps to illustrate the logical flow of a recursive sorting process:
These visuals are also very useful in courses that make use of spatial reasoning, like geometry or physics:
Brilliant’s courses are designed to be difficult, which can be discouraging for some users. We’ve also heard that the problem-based structure of the courses doesn’t resonate well with students who have a fear of test taking.
However, the platform does a good job of reminding users that the struggle is a valuable part of the learning process:
In our experience, the difficulty factor was a positive. When we got problems wrong on our first try, it really made us think and take time to process Brilliant’s thoughtful explanations.
Below is an example of Brilliant’s explanations, which is where you’ll find a lot of the good information on the platform (especially when you’ve been stumped):
If you want to meet the full list of instructors on Brilliant, you can head over to their educator bios page. When you get there you’ll see a bunch of faces, including math Olympians and graduates from the most prestigious STEM universities like MIT, Stanford, and Cal Tech.
So then what do we mean when we say instructors are faceless?
Well the instructors on Brilliant are more like silent partners; they design the courses and create the problems/visuals. However, there is no way to interact with the instructors if you get stumped on a problem, or if a concept just isn’t making sense.
We find problem solving to be very engaging, but different types of learners may find the lack of face-to-face interaction (even with a virtual “face”) to be somewhat isolating or less engaging than video-based platforms.
In this section of our Brilliant.org review, we’ll highlight some positives and negatives of Brilliant’s platform with respect to the selection of courses available and the particularly strong areas of Brilliant’s curriculum.
Brilliant’s course catalog is entirely STEM focused, meaning courses cover topics from Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
Brilliant offers courses in three main verticals: Math, Science, and Computer Science.
Verticals are further divided into sub-topics, for example:
Math: Brilliant’s math courses are divided into 8 sub-topics: logic and deduction, mathematical thinking, algebra, geometry, statistics & probability, contest math, road to calculus, and advanced mathematics.
Science: Brilliant’s science curriculum covers 4 sub-topics: scientific thinking, classical physics, quantum mechanics, and applied science.
Computer Science: Brilliant’s computer science curriculum covers two sub-topics: foundational computer science and applied computer science.
Each sub-topic consists of two to five courses, starting with fundamentals and working towards more advanced material.
Brilliant.org is constantly adding new courses to each of its verticals and is also working expand its existing courses. For example, the programming with Python course has 4 new modules coming soon, which will double the length of the existing course.
One of the potential drawbacks of Brilliant.org is that the course catalog is limited to STEM topics. The coverage of subjects within STEM fields is fairly solid, but for learners with a more broad interest set, you may need to subscribe to an additional platform.
However, the focus on STEM topics can also be viewed as one of Brilliant’s biggest strengths. While the platform doesn’t cover as many topics, the entire learning experience was built around effectively teaching complex courses from math and science.
In our view the mathematics curriculum is a particular strength at Brilliant.org.
The Math curriculum has the most sub-topics, courses, and modules, and covers the entire learning journey from pre-Algebra through to advanced calculus. This journey would likely take 5+ years to complete in a classroom setting.
Our experience on the platform suggested that the computer science curriculum is the most underdeveloped to date.
Brilliant has a lot of new courses in development, which will help to further build out the computer science vertical.
In it’s current state, the education is very theoretical. This is great for learning how to think, but lacks some of the hands-on, project-based application that we’ve seen from other coding courses.
We really enjoyed Brilliant’s technology and user experience, although the one negative is that you don’t own course materials forever.
In this section of our Brilliant.org review, we’ll highlight some positives and negatives of the platform with respect to the tech & user experience.
Brilliant.org courses are very flexible, making it easy to learn around a busy schedule.
The courses are also self-paced. There is no deadline to finish and you can view content at your own speed. Because the courses aren’t video-based, you can spend 10 minutes on a single question if you need to.
Each course will consist of roughly 20-30 lessons, and lessons take about 15 minutes to complete. Users will understand material at a different pace, but at 15 minutes per lesson, we’d expect a course to take five to eight hours to complete.
Part of Brilliant’s ethos is that you need to practice a skill to maintain it. As such, Brilliant’s platform is constantly updated with new courses, new modules, and new problems to solve.
However, in order to continue to access a course (and any future updates to that course), you need to continue paying for a subscription. Certain other platforms will allow you to download course material for life, but that is not the case with Brilliant.
A really nice feature of Brilliant is that it is a multi-device platform. Brilliant has apps on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, as well as a browser-based experience for desktop.
As you progress through a course, you can switch between devices and seamlessly pick up where you left off. This is great for late-night learning on your tablet in bed, for example.
Brilliant’s UX includes a nice dashboard where you can track all of your activity on the platform.
The dashboard displays total quizzes taken, problems solved, and your current learning streak.
It also shows days of the week where you are more active, and keeps track of your progress across multiple courses.
As we’ve mentioned previously, we think Brilliant is a great platform for those who want to learn for the joy of learning. Brilliant is less successful when it comes to career advancement opportunities.
In this section of our Brilliant.org review, we’ll highlight some positives and negatives of the platform with respect to career advancement.
In our opinion, everything about the Brilliant platform is designed with academics and lifelong learners in mind.
Courses are organized around academic topics (like beautiful geometry) instead of career-oriented skills (like applied architectural design).
Content also tends to be more theoretical vs. practical. For example, Brilliant’s computer science education spends more time on programmatic thinking, whereas other coding courses emphasize real-world projects, written in actual coding languages.
That being said, the mental models you’ll learn in a Brilliant course are very applicable to many different careers in that they’ll make you a sharper thinker.
Brilliant’s courses do not result in an accredited certificate that you could share with an employer.
Brilliant uses a freemium pricing model. You can get access to certain experiences for free, but will need to pay for a premium subscription to unlock the full platform.
Brilliant’s premium subscription offers two different pricing plans for individual learners, as well as a group plan for teams, classrooms, or families of 3+.
For individuals, plans start at $12.29 per month when billed annually.
Additionally, new users typically receive an offer of 20% off the annual plan, bringing the price to just $9.99 per month for full access to all courses on the platform.
There is also the option to pay monthly, though that plan is much more expensive at $24.99 per month.
If you sign up for a free account on Brilliant.org, you’ll get access to daily challenge problems, as well as the introductory lessons for each of Brilliant’s 60+ courses.
The daily challenge problems are great for staying sharp on skills you already have, and may help to pick up some occasional new knowledge.
Below is picture of what you’ll see if you try to view a course on Brilliant’s free program. You have access to the first introductory lessons of a particular course, but the meatier lessons will be locked.
In our experience, introductory lessons are just enough to pique your curiosity, but for the real meaningful learning, you’ll need to pay for premium and unlock the full course.
Below we show a comparison of Brilliant’s free plan vs. the premium subscription. The biggest difference we’d highlight is that premium includes access to Brilliant’s courses and the entire daily challenges archive, which includes nearly 10 years worth of daily challenge problems.
The premium subscription also gives learners access to the offline learning experience on mobile apps, which is great for those who like to squeeze in some learning on the subway, for example.
In our opinion, the free membership to Brilliant doesn’t offer much value.
If the pros and cons we described above sound like what you’re looking for (e.g., excellent learning experience and course design, engaging problem solving, seamless cross-platform experience, etc.), then upgrading to premium is very much worth the price.
An annual subscription will end up costing you about $150 in total, or closer to $120 if you buy during one of Brilliant’s 20%-off sales.
We recommend the annual plan over the monthly subscription, which costs $25/month (that would add up to $300 for a full year).
If you want to experience the courses before signing up for a full membership, Brilliant also offers a 7-day free trial.
Brilliant’s course catalog is entirely STEM focused, meaning courses cover topics from Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
We touched on Brilliant’s selection of courses above, so we won’t go through that all again here. But we do want to highlight three of the best Brilliant.org courses for you below:
Probability Fundamentals & Algebra 1
We are not gamblers here at Online Course How, and yet we found Brilliant’s Casino Probability course to be absolutely fascinating.
The course has 4 main modules: Introduction, Blackjack, Craps, and Poker. Each module has 3 or 4 lessons, covering rules, odds, and basic strategy.
Brilliant’s casino probability course will give you the knowledge you need to keep your wits about you in a casino. It explains when a player has a statistical edge vs. the house, and which games will always be tilted in the house’s favor.
We particularly loved the module on Poker, which covers the rules of Texas Hold’em, and goes into advanced strategies.
Applied Probability & Perplexing Probability
Scientific Thinking & Mathematical Fundamentals
In our opinion, Physics of the everyday is a perfect example of the type of course where Brilliant shines. It is a fun and engaging topic, with real world examples, and great visuals that make it easy to forget you’re learning complex topics.
The course uses everyday objects and activities, like refrigerators or riding a bike, to explain fundamental topics in physics.
Brilliant also uses physics to explain natural phenomena (like the changing of the seasons), crime scene investigation (like blood splatter analysis), and sources of energy (like fossil fuels and solar power).
We were pleasantly surprised at how engaging the course was while also explaining the introductory concepts from classical mechanical physics.
Classical Mechanics & Astrophysics
Algebra Fundamentals & Geometry Fundamentals
The joy of problem solving is another fun course, where Brilliant tricks users into learning invaluable problem solving skills.
The introductory lessons walk through typical problem solving strategies. The course then immediately asks the learner to put those lessons into practice with a series of thought-provoking, fun, beautifully-designed logical puzzles.
If you’re the type of person who loves a crossword puzzle or sudoku, then you’ll love this course. And you’ll likely pick up some useful problem-solving skills along the way.
Logic 2 & Contest Math 2
We see three main reasons why a learner may want to explore alternatives to Brilliant.org: 1). limited selection, 2). lack of career advancement opportunities, and 3). cost.
Luckily, there are many alternative online learning platforms available today. We’ve picked three of our favorites below to help learners who are looking for something a little different.
We view Brilliant.org as a great option for the intellectually curious learner who finds joy in learning for the sake of learning. However, as we’ve mentioned above, Brilliant’s course catalog is somewhat limited.
While Brilliant is constantly adding new courses to its site, it was founded with the goal of providing educational resources for STEM-related fields. This means learners looking for knowledge outside of Science, Tech, Engineering or Mathematics will need to look elsewhere.
If you are the type to find joy in learning, but your interests go beyond the scope of Brilliant’s STEM-focused catalog, then we’d highly recommend you take a look at Masterclass.
Masterclass offers video-centric courses taught by some of the world’s most successful athletes, actors, entrepreneurs, and writers.
Similar to what we see on Brilliant, Masterclass’s courses are not always career focused. Instead, many of their courses focus on soft skills (like mental strength or creativity).
Where Masterclass differs from Brilliant is in the breadth of its course catalog. Masterclass offers courses on everything from health & wellness or arts & entertainment, to business strategy & scientific thinking.
Brilliant goes deeper on topics than Masterclass, but doesn’t cover as many topics. For example, Brilliant’s learning path on scientific foundations consists of 4 sub-courses, each of which has 15-20 individual lessons. Masterclass’s scientific thinking course with Neil DeGrasse Tyson is about 2 hours in total (much shorter).
Therefore, if you’re the type of person who prefers to dabble in a lot of things (especially outside of STEM fields), vs. going deep on one topic, Masterclass may be a better choice for you.
We surveyed over 250 recruitment managers in the United States and we learned that Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning look best on your resume.
So if you’re looking for career credentials, take a look at LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare.
LinkedIn learning offers more classes for business, finance, and accounting career paths, while Skillshare is great for careers in arts, entertainment, and digital media.
If you’re hesitant to join Brilliant because of the cost, then we’d suggest taking a look at Udemy.
Udemy is great because you can buy individual courses as opposed to signing up for a monthly subscription. This can be very cost effective if you’re just looking to learn a specific skill vs. looking for a lifelong learning solution.
Courses have a wide range in prices, but can almost always be bought on sale, and often start at around $12.99.
Our one word of caution on Udemy is that courses vary in quality somewhat. It’s worth doing your research ahead of time to read course reviews. See our list of the best courses on Udemy to get started.
To wrap up our Brilliant.org review, we’ll run through some of our key takeaways from above:
Brilliant is listed for ages 10+. There are many documented stories of advanced students using Brilliant to get ahead in their coursework at a young age. The platform is equally well-suited for older learners as well though. In our opinion, anyone with a joy for learning, regardless of age, will enjoy the Brilliant platform.
Yes. Brilliant.org is a venture-backed, for-profit learning platform focused on STEM courses. The quality of education is very good; courses use an active approach to learning, based around solving increasingly more difficult problems.
Yes, Brilliant.org offers a 7-day free trial that grants users full access to all of the courses on the site. This is different from Brilliant’s free membership, which only grants limited access to coursework.
Brilliant does not typically offer refunds for paid subscriptions; however, in rare cases they will consider refund requests. You can reach out to their support team to make a refund request. While the company doesn’t typically offer refunds, they do allow users to cancel their auto-renewing subscriptions at any time.
In our opinion, yes, Brilliant.org’s premium subscription is worth it for students or lifelong learners who have an interest in math, science, or computer science.
Jacob has a background in finance and engineering. Outside of his day job, he is a lifelong learner, who enjoys reading, taking online courses, and writing about what he's learned.
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