5 of the best online learning platforms to kickstart your career – Mashable


In the past few years, technological advancements and high demand for accessible, low-cost education have led to ridiculous growth in the online learning sector. And, while the coronavirus pandemic didn’t launch the online learning boom, it sure didn’t hurt its case. 
Yet an important question lingers: Can an online education truly replace in-person learning? 
It’s not a universal panacea, but for many people, absolutely — especially if you want to kickstart a career, move up in your current field, make the switch to a completely different industry, or pursue a new hobby.
According to a 2020 Online Education Trends report, just over half of students who pursue an online education instead of in-person learning do so for the sheer convenience factor: When you can learn from anywhere at your own pace, you’ve got more flexibility to study around other commitments (be it a job or family responsibilities) and play catchup on evenings and weekends. Online learning programs, even whole degrees, also tend to be significantly cheaper than their in-person counterparts.
Of course, online learning presents its own challenges. Zoom fatigue is very real, as many workers have learned. There are also distractions aplenty — good luck trying to slog through a boring assignment on the same device that could otherwise connect you to social media or run The Sims. It doesn’t help that most programs offer very little oversight from an instructor to keep you on task, either.
Overall, though, the benefits of online learning seem to outweigh any issues it poses: A whopping 94% of the students surveyed for that aforementioned trends report said online learning has (or will have) a positive return on investment, with 95% of them recommending online education to other prospective learners.
Along with traditional online courses and degrees, which are restricted to students at certain universities and typically require an admissions process with prerequisites, you’ll also run into “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, their more affordable and widely available cousins.
MOOCs are virtual classes that are available to anyone with an internet connection; popular online courses can enroll thousands of students at any given time, hence the “massive” part. They’re often free, focus on a single topic, and usually feature pre-recorded, self-paced video lectures, though “synchronous” versions with real-time lessons by course creators are also a thing.
For the purpose of this guide, we’ll be focusing primarily on MOOCs and MOOC providers (or third-party online learning platforms). 
“Accredited” programs have been officially recognised and approved by some sort of institution after meeting a set of standards. Accreditation is basically the mark of a great reputation.
For what it’s worth, the vast majority of MOOCs and MOOC providers are not accredited (though the rare platform like Coursera will work with leading universities and companies to offer some accredited coursework). That doesn’t mean you should avoid them completely: Taking a MOOC online course can help you figure out whether you’re actually interested in a given subject or industry before you pursue it full-time (and spend a good amount of money doing so). Besides, any sort of professional development you do in your free time is a sign to employers that you’re a real go-getter.
Most online learning platforms only dish out certificates of completion once you’re done with a class — sometimes for a fee, and sometimes in the form of an achievement badge/icon that can be displayed on social sites (which is an easy way to showcase your achievements to prospective employers).
Those that do offer professional certificates in select subject areas are few and far between. If you want to go that route, look for platforms like Coursera that officially partner with universities and businesses.
Some good news: Lots of MOOCs are completely, totally free, though you’ll probably have to make an account on their hosting platforms to enroll.
Depending on the site, paid classes are usually either sold à la carte for anywhere from £10 to £150 apiece (see: Udemy) or as a part of an all-access subscription for about £100 a year (hi, MasterClass). Note that most MOOC providers offer a mix of free and paid classes.
Relatedly, keep an eye out for platforms that offer enterprise plans for businesses and teams — you might be able to get your employer to pay for your continuing education.
It’s not ubiquitous, but many MOOCs are created and taught by industry experts, not trained teachers or professors who have put in years at a university. Instructor vetting also varies from platform to platform: Some require a thorough application with essays and video demonstrations of their teaching style, while others let just about anyone publish a class (barring explicit, offensive, or dangerous topic restrictions). 
This means coursework quality and production value can vary greatly from class to class even on the same site, which is one of the biggest drawbacks to this type of learning.
Now that you’re an expert on all things MOOC, you’re probably keen to sign up to some online classes. This is where we can help, because we have checked out everything on offer to highlight a selection of your best options.
These are the best online learning platforms to kickstart your career in 2021.
Udemy is an extremely popular online platform with hundreds of free video classes and tens of thousands of paid ones starting at under £10.
You’ve got plenty to choose from, too. Subject-wise, Udemy’s course “marketplace” covers the broadest range of personal and professional development topics we’ve seen — everything from finance, Python, and digital marketing to soapmaking and watercolour landscape paintings.
Plus, they’re all self-paced and include lifetime access, in case you ever need a refresher; once you buy a class, the course material is yours to learn from and revisit anytime.
More edutainment than anything, MasterClass gives you an up close and personal look at the skills and talents your faves are known for — a peek into their genius, if you will.
One of the platform’s biggest draws is the super high production value on its pre-recorded video lectures and demos — the lighting is great, the audio is crystal-clear, and the course structure is easy to follow. Each one’s divided into about twenty 10-minute lessons and includes in-depth workbooks and notes. 
The other appeal of MasterClass is, of course, its ever-updating lineup of A-list instructors. Who better to teach cooking than Gordon Ramsay?
Your CV may claim that you’re proficient in Excel, but are you really? Enter: LinkedIn Learning.
Members get access to its library of instructional videos and receive personalised class recommendations based on their LinkedIn profiles, though you’re free to go off-script if you’re considering a different career path — dozens of new courses covering in-demand creative, business, and tech skills are added every week. For a deeper dive into specific topics or career tracks, you can also pursue “learning paths” that curate several related classes.
Note that LinkedIn Learning comes free with a LinkedIn Premium subscription, which get you further professional benefits like InMail messaging, application insights, interview prep, and improved search features.
Founded by a pair of Stanford University professors, Coursera is the rare MOOC provider that’s partnered with top universities and companies to offer a solid mix of accredited and non-accredited online learning.
Its website is structured in a way that makes it tough to compare all of its different online course programs and pricing without creating an account, so we reached out to its press team for a detailed breakdown. This is the scoop:
Individual Courses are comprised of video lectures, auto-graded and peer-reviewed assignments, and discussion forums. Some are self-paced, while others have set enrollment periods; either way, they last about four to six weeks each.
Guided Projects are brief assignments that offer real-world experience with different tools and skills. They can be finished in two hours or less, and all necessary learning materials (like software and data) are provided via cloud desktops.
A Specialisation is a curated set of courses and projects that’ll turn you into an expert on a specific topic. They tend to be more involved, and most take three to six months to complete.
Coursera’s Professional Certificates are three- to nine-month training programs run by leading universities and companies (think IBM and Google). They’re designed to prep you for a job in a new field and/or industry certification exams.
A MasterTrack is an online module of an accredited university Master’s degree program with live instruction and hands-on projects. Upon completion, you’ll earn a certificate and credit that can be applied toward the full degree. 
Online Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree programs on Coursera take one to four years to finish and are typically far cheaper than their in-person counterparts. 
Not sure which program’s right for you? A £280/year Coursera Plus subscription unlocks unlimited access to more than 3,000 classes, Guided Projects, Specialisations, and Professional Certificates. For an even more flexible approach, you can also audit most paid classes to unlock all course materials for free.
Learning on Treehouse is done across thousands of hours of on-demand video classes covering all things coding and web design/development (including game and mobile dev), which are geared toward beginner and advanced programmers alike.
Treehouse offers two different membership tiers: £20 a month gets you unlimited access to its community forum along with a collection of individual courses and “tracks,” which are mini-programs comprised of several classes on a particular skillset. For a more intense learning experience that dives deep into a specific topic, you can instead opt to pursue a self-paced, project-based, bootcamp-style “Techdegree” for £140 a month. 
At the time of writing, Treehouse offered Techdegrees in Front End Web Development, Full Stack JavaScript, PHP Development, Python Design, and UX Design.