The Complete Guide To Online Learning Platforms - Online Course How
Guide To Online Learning Platforms

e Learning: The Complete Guide To Online Learning Platforms

​These days the​re are many ​options when it comes to ​learning, besides traditional colleges and universities. 

Many people are choosing to ​learn online, and to meet the demands of different types of learning, a whole range of ​​e ​learning ​platforms have ​launched in recent years,

But how ​do you decide which one is the best fit for you?​ There are such a variety of factors to take into consideration:

  • The cost of the course
  • The subject you want to learn about 
  • The time commitment required
  • Who teaches the course
  • How a course will look on your resume or CV (if that's important to you)
  • And more should all be taken into account

​This guide is here to help you navigate your way through it all. ​

You'll learn about what key features to look out for, as well as a review of the 10 best elearning ​platforms available today, and what differences to expect between them.

By the end of this post, you should have enough knowledge to make an informed decision and select the online learning platform that's right for you.

But first, let's look at some of the basics when it comes to these online learning sites.

​An Introduction To eLearning

10-elearning-platforms-you-can-use-for-online-courses

Online education is an industry that is still experiencing rapid year-over-year growth.

To put it simply, Elearning or online learning is any kind of education or training delivered online.

Either through a computer, tablet, mobile phone, or other digital device. This makes it simple and straightforward for students to learn anywhere they want, any time they want.

There aren't the usual restrictions, like needing to be in a classroom at a specific time. If your schedule makes it hard to physically attend classes, or even if you just prefer to study alone at your own pace, then elearning might be a great choice for you.

It's important to distinguish online learning as something that is delivered over the internet though, as opposed to on DVDs or CD-ROMs. Those would not be considered online learning or elearning. 

Elearning typically involves two-way communication where you can interact with your instructors and other students, as well as receiving lectures from them.

This might be accomplished through the use of forums and discussion boards, or lectures may even be held live where you can "virtually" raise your hand to ask a question or participate. 

Graded tests and assignments are also a common way of students interacting and testing their knowledge of the course material.

Elearning enables you to work from home while you study. You can set your own schedule and study on your lunch break, early in the morning before work, or in the evening and night time.

Best of all, some online programs allow you to earn a certificate or degree without ever having to step into a physical classroom, even for final tests.

What Are The Advantages?

Online course websites offer a number of advantages over  more traditional forms of education. That's part of the reason that they're growing so quickly. Here are some reasons why you may choose elearning over university:

1. More Flexible / Saves Time

Regular college or university classes can be a real hassle. You've got to drive or take the bus to the school and potentially pay for parking.

Then walk across a huge campus to get to your class. Some days you may only have a single class and spend nearly as much time getting to class and home than actually learning.

With online learning, you can get into the material in the amount of time it takes your computer to start up.

Plus you can do it anywhere, at any time. So if you have a full-time job or kids to work around, then it's perfect.

Many online courses let you learn at your own pace.

2. More Affordable

Attending a prestigious university in the United States can easily cost you well over $100,000 for your degree. That means you'll likely be paying student loans for the next several decades of your life. 

Even in countries like Canada or the UK where tuition is a bit cheaper, you can still expect to pay around $7,000 per year or more for an undergraduate degree.

Meanwhile, online courses will cost less than $100 each more often than not. In a lot of cases, there is actually tons of completely free material and courses available for you.

4. You Can Repeat Lessons

In a regular classroom, you're limited to whatever notes you happen to jot down during class. But with elearning you can watch lecture videos over and over again to prepare for an exam, or just whenever you want to come back for a refresher.

Many courses also continue to provide updated content for the life of the course. So you can stay up to date with the latest developments in a particular field.

The Industry

Elearning is quite a broad industry, and online courses are used to accomplish a variety of different goals and objectives. 

Employee Training is one popular form of eLearning. Companies or organizations use eLearning as a way to easily onboard and train new hires.

It creates a more efficient and consistent training. Companies can use online quizzes to test for comprehension.

New hires get an overview of the company. As well as compliance training that teaches employees about any regulations or laws that are relevant to their job.

This might include things like health and safety, diversity or anti-harassment training, working at heights or lifting heavy loads, forklift training, and more. 

But for the sake of this article, we are going to focus more on publicly-available online courses and eLearning that is available on more broad topics for the general public to access.

How It Works

Most online course providers don't have any kind of formal admission process. It's typically as easy as signing up and paying your fees to get access to course material.

Some courses may be immediately available, while more academic courses may have a set start date that you need to wait for.

There are a number of different approaches to learning and various types of media that different sites for online education may take.

Videos are the most common and widely-used medium for lectures and lessons by far. Although many sites also use written content to supplement.

In more academic eLearning environments, live instructor-led learning may be used in the form of a webinar. These live sessions are usually interactive and use real-time polling and other features to get information from the class. 

Some instructors may opt to use audio-only or podcast formats for their lectures instead of recording videos.

Most online courses have some form of interactivity. Usually a forum or discussion board that allows you to speak with the other students and your instructors. 

A small number of courses use gamification, awarding you with experience points or badges for completing certain lessons as a way to keep you motivated.

Courses are typically broken down into different subsections or lessons, each of which can typically be completed in a single sitting.

At the completion of a course, most platforms will provide you with a completion certificate.

What Features To Look For

So now you have a little bit of an idea about what an eLearning is. But how do you actually evaluate all of the various platforms out there, and what separates a good one from a bad one? 

Here are some things to look for.

1. Is It Easy To Use?

You want to be able to get straight into the course material. Not have to worry about spending hours learning how to navigate around the platform first. 

Getting around from lesson to lesson should be intuitive and straightforward. If you have to fight with the platform to get the information you need, maybe it's time to look somewhere else.

Luckily most platforms allow you to sign up with a free account, and many even have free courses available. So you can click through and get a feel for how the entire user interface works.

2. Is It Mobile Friendly?

If you don't mind learning in front of a desktop or laptop, then this might not be such a big deal for you.

But for a growing number of people, being able to learn on the go is becoming increasingly important. That means a good course platform needs to have a solid iOS and Android app.

Having a mobile friendly course platform to learn from means that you can learn on the go. Even if you're on your lunch break at work, on the train, or just feel like laying in bed while you learn.

Ideally the platform also offers offline access to your content. That way you can keep learning even if you're outside of WiFi range without racking up extra data charges.

3. Who Are The Instructors?

Some platforms allow anybody to sign up and put a course up for sale. Others are more rigorous and only hire qualified professionals who are experts in their field.

Either can work, but it depends what you're looking for. If you're just looking to learn the basics of Photoshop, then almost anyone will make a good enough instructor.

But if you want to learn about engineering or machine learning, you're going to want an expert in the field.

4. Do They Offer Certifications?

Certifications and degrees

The type of certifications that different online courses can vary dramatically. Some don't give you any kind of proof that you've completed a course at all. While others can provide you with fully accredited degrees from well-known universities.

If you're just looking to pick up a specific useful skill, then how a course looks on your resume or CV might not matter at all to you.

But if you want to leverage your online education for a potential job in the future, then you'll want to look for a reputable platform. 

Ideally one that is partnered up with accredited universities or other educational institutions. 

Online courses are still a fairly recent development, and an interviewer or human resources manager might not exactly know how to evaluate them, especially in comparison to traditional degrees.

5. How Much Do You Have To Spend?

When you're looking to take an online course, you need to take both the time and money investment into account. Some online courses can be completed in only a few hours. Others may take weeks or months to finish. 

For larger courses, the amount of time they will take largely depends on how many hours per week you've got to commit.

Likewise, some online courses are completely free. While others can cost you hundreds of dollars. To complete an online degree program or something similar can cost you thousands of dollars, and potentially years of your time.

6. What Do They Specialize In?

Online Courses Topics

Some online course platforms focus specifically on particular subjects and topics.

For example, there are a few eLearning sites out there that are quite focused on technology-related topics. Others may focus more in creative topics, while others feature a broad selection of thousands of different courses.

It's important to find a platform that seems geared toward the subject that you want to study. Otherwise it can be like attending a business school to try and learn photography.   

Top 10 Best Online Learning Platforms

Here is a roundup of what we believe to be the top 10 options when it comes to learning platforms that are available today.

1) Independently Created Courses  

example of an independent course from surf coach online

There are a bunch of course instructors out there that put out their own programs and courses. 

For any course that an individual is promoting themselves and selling on their own website, it's critical that you do plenty of research and due diligence ahead of time to make sure that they're legitimate and know what they're talking about.

Join their email list or subscribe to their YouTube channel to see what free educational content they put out first. Get to know them and judge for yourself whether you want to learn in more depth.

If you're looking to learn a specific skill, like how to run profitable Facebook advertisements or ​how to surf, or even follow a specific workout or diet plan, then these courses might be a good choice for you. 

​Check out these 50 Online Course Examples of independent course creators to see the sheer diversity of options out there.

These expert courses typically contain valuable information that you aren't able to find online for free. Although some simply take freely available information and package it into a more convenient format. 

Typically these kinds of courses are shorter and can be completed in between a few hours and a few weeks. 

In terms of cost, these courses can often end up on the higher end. Typically you can expect to pay hundreds of dollars for a professionally-created course that has the name associated with a subject matter expert.

Usually it will be someone with a large You​Tube audience or some other online following. 

Some of these programs operate more like membership sites, and charge you a monthly fee to be a part of their group.

In exchange, you're usually paying to be a part of a larger community or mastermind group that you can learn from and bounce ideas off of.

While independently created and hosted courses can be a good place to learn and are often more spcecific and personal than bigger e learning platforms, they​ do tend to be more costly than other​ options as well.

​2) Udemy

Online Course plarform Udemy

Udemy is probably the best example of an introductory online course platform.

It has one of the broadest selections of online courses available, and also one of the highest in terms of the sheer number of courses.

This is largely due to the fact that anyone can sign up and become a Udemy instructor. There is no real quality control, and it's as easy as making an account and uploading your course videos. 

This results in some really great courses that are available on Udemy, but also some low quality ones. You need to really review ratings and reviews for each course before deciding to buy.

Udemy sells individual courses for a one-off price that can vary from around $10 to $200. With courses frequently going on sale at the lower end of that spectrum.

In fact, some of the most popular Udemy courses appear to be permanently discounted by as much as 90%.

Udemy is great for learning all kinds of different subjects like design, business, IT and software, personal development, photography, marketing, and more.

Although its courses tend to be more aimed at beginner and intermediate learners.

So if you already have a significant amount of education in a topic, Udemy may not offer you much more to learn. In which case, read on to the other options below ​or check out my article on Udemy ​Alternatives here.

-> Learn more about pros and cons and compare Udemy vs Udacity here

-> Or compare Udemy vs Coursera here

-> Or my guide to Udemy vs Skillshare here

3) Khan Academy

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a not for profit educational organization which offers free video tutorials and other types of lessons. Their course material is mainly aimed at primary school aged children (from kindergarten to grade 8.) 

Although they have some more advanced material relating to economics, computer programming, science and engineering, plus test prep for exams like the SAT and LSAT.

It provides personalized learning where students can learn at their own pace. They can fill in gaps in the knowledge from their regular school classes, or speed up their learning.

Khan Academy's selection of lessons and practice materials are comprised of trusted content prepared by experts. 

Teachers can also use Khan Academy in the classroom, as well as students using it at home.

If you're ready for a post-secondary education, Khan Academy probably won't be of much use for you, unless you want to brush up on your calculus or trigonometry.

But we decided to include it on this list since it's one of the best online resources available for kids.

4) Skillshare

Skillshare

Skillshare is similar to Udemy. Except instead of charging an individual price per course, you pay a monthly subscription to gain unlimited access to all of their course content.

Their videos tend to also be higher quality than what you'd get on Udemy.

You can start Skillshare with a free 30 day trial, and it's $15 per month after that, or $8.25 per month if you pay for an annual subscription

Skillshare offers a wide array of different courses, similar to Udemy. Although they do have more focus on creative topics. Some subjects include design, illustration, business, technology, film, photo, writing, and entrepreneurship.

Much like Udemy, anyone can become an instructor on Skillshare. Instructors earn money based on how many times their videos are viewed.

The time commitment for this platform is fairly limited. Some videos are as short as ten minutes in length, and the longest typically don't go for more than a few hours. 

Membership also includes offline access, you so can learn even when you don't have an internet connection or phone reception.

->​ Read my in-depth comparison of Skillshare ​Vs Udemy​ here

5) Lynda

Lynda comparison

Lynda is an online course platform that was recently acquired by LinkedIn and rebranded as LinkedIn Learning.

The platform focuses more on career related courses, as you'd expect. Particularly business or technology related topics. They have over 10,000 courses in total. 

Courses are taught by experts such as academic professors, workers from government agencies, as well as individuals who have the academic and work background to qualify.

Lynda costs $29.99 for premium membership. Membership give you full access to course content which includes videos, notes, lectures, assessments, and playlists.

If you're looking to improve on your technical skills, it's a great platform to check out. Topics include IT, business, web development, design, marketing, and more.

Lynda is in a unique position because of its relationship with LinkedIn. When you complete a course, you receive certification.

You have the option to share it directly on your LinkedIn profile in digital format, in addition to being able to print digital copies.

If you're looking to add some credentials to your resume or CV, Lynda is really the first course platform on this list to start considering so far.

-> Learn the difference between Lynda ​vs Udemy, or Lynda vs Skillshare ​or Pluralsight vs Lynda ​by reading my ​in-depth comparison articles.

6) Pluralsight

Pluralsight

We are moving up both in price and in quality a bit with Pluralsight. This platform also uses a membership model

Access costs $35 per month, or $299 per year if you pay the full amount up front. They also offer a $449 premium subscription which unlocks access to certification practice exams, interactive courses, and projects. 

Otherwise, the regular membership still provides you with unlimited access to the course material.

The course selection on Pluralsight has a much stronger focus on IT and technology related topics. Although they also cover things like construction, manufacturing, business, creative skills, and more.

But their offerings outside of these topics tends to be a bit more limited than what other platforms offer on a broader scale. 

Like on Lynda, on Pluralsight you also earn a certificate for completing a course

Pluralsight isn't an accredited academic institution. But their certificates do have an increasingly good reputation with big companies in the tech industry. 

So completing some courses and adding them to your resume or CV isn't a bad idea if that's your area of expertise.

Instructors on Pluralsight are vetted industry experts. The quality of course content is higher than on other platforms we've discussed so far. Both in terms of material covered, and also in terms of video quality.

Pluralsight also has a one on one mentoring program if you're struggling with any issues related to your course.

-> I've reviewed the differences between ​Pluralsight ​vs Udemy ​here

7) Udacity

Udacity Homepage

Now with Udacity, we are getting into what are called MOOC (massive open online course) providers. These platforms typically partner with universities, industry partners, or other institutions to provide a superior level of education.

Udacity offers what are called nanodegrees. These programs are made up of specific sets of courses that are designed to get you proficient in a specific area of study. 

The overall number of courses that Udacity offers are lower than most other online course platforms. However, almost 200 of their courses are available completely for free, which you can work through at your own pace.

Courses include video lectures, discussion forums, and online assignments. Similar to what you'd expect from an online course offered by a university. 

Udacity nanodegrees are a step up in terms of time commitment. Some take three months or more to complete.

With that increased time requirement also comes an increase in cost. Nanodegrees typically cost around $399 per month to stay enrolled. 

Topics covered by Udacity are perhaps even more focused around technology than Pluralsight.

The platform is best known for its courses in programming and development, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, autonomous systems, and data science. 

Some of their courses are taught by instructors from companies like Google, IBM, and AT&T. Other instructors include PhDs, former professors, CEOs of companies, and more.

8) EdX

edX Online Courses

EdX was founded in 2012 as a joint effort between MIT and Harvard. Although they charge for some of their features, they operate on a non-profit basis. All of its courses are also available for free.

Like Udacity, EdX is partnered up with world class universities. In total, they have over 100 partner institutions and more than 14 million students. 

You can even use credit from their courses toward a masters degree at specific universities. 76 of their programs fall into this program, called MicroMasters.

You can expect a wider offering of courses from EdX than Udacity. Especially when it comes to topics like the humanities and natural sciences.

You can audit any course on EdX for free, although you may need to pay as much as $300 if you want some extra features like a completion certificate, and graded exams and assignments. 

EdX professors are tenured professors from some of the top universities, and are among some of the best you'll find on any online course platform.

While EdX is closer to a traditional university than any of the other platforms we've discussed so far, their completion certificates still aren't on-par with traditional degrees or diplomas.

Although they'll likely command the most respect of any platform mentioned so far.

9) Coursera

Coursera _ Online Courses

Coursera was created by a couple of Stanford professors around the same time that EdX started up. 

Today, it's the biggest MOOC platform online.

Coursera has over 150 partner institutions and organizations, including some of the world's most prestigious universities. It covers a wide variety of topics from philosophy to computer science. 

While a large proportion of Coursera's content is free, unlike the non-profit EdX, it operates as a for-profit business.

Almost all of the platform's courses were free initially, but this seems to have been primarily a marketing tactic to get people interested in the site.

Today, more and more courses on the platform have fees associated with them.

Individual courses can cost up to $99. That's normally to cover the cost of a verified certificate to show you've completed the course material.

Coursera also offers specializations. This is courses that are bundled together on a related topic. Typically they cost between $40 and $80 per month, and require four to six months to complete. 

Coursera is also one of the first MOOCs to offer full only degrees from recognized universities. These don't come cheap however, at between $15,000 and $25,000 each.

Currently they offer degrees on a limited number of topics like computer science, data science, and business.

Like other MOOCs, you're getting the best of the best when it comes to instructors. Coursera courses are taught by professors at world-class universities.

​-> Check out my comparison of ​Coursera vs edX 

​-> See how Coursera compares to Udacity here

10) Open University / Traditional Universities Online

Open University / Traditional Universities

There is a growing trend for traditional universities to offer open courseware all by themselves, as opposed to partnering with another site like Coursera or EdX.

Some examples to check out include:

Each of these comes with their own unique pros and cons, which are too much to cover here. But if you're looking to earn a degree online directly from an accredited university, it's worth checking a few of them out.

Conclusion

​​E learning through online course platforms is exploding in popularity, and truly looks like it's the way of the future.

While it may take a few decades or more for online courses to catch up to traditional universities in terms of reputation, it seems like the switch to more flexible online learning seems inevitable.

Already there are plenty of great options available to choose from.

For picking up individual courses at a low cost, there are platforms like Udemy. Others like Skillshare and Lynda offer slightly improved quality, plus they operate on a subscription model so you get unlimited access to all the course material.

Then there are some platforms like Udacity and Pluralsight that specialize in tech and IT based topics with​ career focused courses, but which don't offer official accreditation.

For the closest online learning experience to a traditional university, check out MOOC platforms like Coursera​ and EdX​.

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