Continuing Education isn’t a new phenomenon. In the US alone vocational schools date back to the 19th century, as a means for enabling people to get an education outside of formal channels. What started as an experiment (sometimes called “vacation schooling”) quickly found its footing for a few types of people:
- Those looking to supplement their formal education or catch up on coursework they might have missed
- Those looking to break water into a new career (e.g. programming)
- Those returning to the workforce or looking for ways to keep their skillset relevant
- Those interested in picking up a new hobby or interest (e.g. everything from flower arrangements to romantic literature)
With the advent of the internet, continuing education really started to pick up steam. Initially it was through “distance education”, allowing peoples in relatively marginalized or remote locations to maintain an education through online coursework.
As more and more mainstream institutions also went online, “continuing education” started to become less supplementary, and much more on the cutting edge.
The Current State of Online Continuing Education
Formal college education is getting more expensive. In the U.S, the cost of attending a public university for a four-year degree has gone up by 4% and student debt recently topped a staggering $1.3 trillion dollars.
When you compare this to the cost of taking a certified continuing education course offered online, the cost difference is staggering. For example, when Georgia Tech did a study in 2016 on their online course offerings vs. on-campus degree programs, they found Georgia residents paid roughly $20,000 per year to attend their on-campus degree programs, while tuition costs for their online classes were just $7,000 per year.
This is just a comparison on the cost of tuition. There are also the intangible benefits of accessing online education courses from anywhere in the world, and participating in recorded classes at your own leisure (in some cases).
According to a study done by Class Central, around 23 million new learners signed up for their first online course in 2017, taking the total number of learners to 81 million. Furthermore, this same study showed there are over 800 universities around the world that offer continuing studies online with new course additions every year.
On the flip-side, while continuing education online has made massive cross-roads in coverage and continues to be a very affordable alternative to formal education, it still has ways to go. One of the biggest flaws is the lack of a standard certification body, which means the coursework is really at the mercy of the instructor and the program — it’s important to do a lot of due diligence into the program before investing. In addition, the lack of certification means that employers don’t necessarily see them as a particularly strong signal (although that’s slowly starting to change).
This flexible learning method isn’t going to slow down any time soon and online platforms allow anyone with access to the internet and a computer (or smartphone) to keep growing and engaging with education.
Here are ten of the most unique online study schools and their highlights.
Udemy is the household name and can’t be beaten on variety as it boasts well over 80,000 courses. Its unique model allows anyone to create a course, and you don’t have to be an expert to publish. This has Udemy positioning itself as the world’s largest destination for online courses.
Courses are typically delivered in what is known as ‘talking-head’ style lectures. These are course instructors delivering pre-recorded video lectures of them talking to you face to face with supporting diagram/slides interlaced as they go through the content.
Their courses span key categories such as Programming (Development), Business, IT and Software, Design, Marketing, Personal Development, Photography, Music, Language, Health and Fitness, Office Productivity, and Lifestyle.
Within each of these categories, Udemy ranks course visibility to users based on the volume of enrollments in the past as well as ratings from student reviews. This provides a certain quality assurance that’s hard to beat. Similarly, you can also use their search bar to find specific topics you’d like to learn about and here Udemy eases the decision making by filtering to the top relevant courses that were highly rated by many students.
Most of the courses are ‘self-paced learning’, this means you don’t follow a set schedule of lectures hosted live but rather can access all course lectures and exercises at your own leisure, choosing to complete the course over a few weeks or even a few days. Others may have more structure to them with designated assignments with due dates, a weekly lecture schedule with new videos posted, and mandatory exercises that require completion. Though all of these will be remotely accessible, the courses take on a more standard schedule to completion — to help pace out the learning for students.
Udemy also offers courses in various auto-generated languages, this means any English-speaking course will have captions (subtitles) students that are non-English speakers can select to follow along the course in their own preferred language. This makes Udemy the ideal fit for a global audience.
Pricing is typically very affordable and Udemy charges per course. Most courses are priced between USD$10 to USD$20 and commonly heavily discounted from their regular prices. It’s also relatively easy to track down discount coupons online to further reduce the price. You can use discount/coupon sites such as Honey or Groupon, as well as dedicated Udemy discount sites such as this one.
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Udacity is famous for pioneering the concept of “nanodegrees” — small, tightly-encapsulated learning programs that can act as credible degrees with a verified certificate in different fields. They are designed to provide ‘practical skill application’ that boosts your chance of employability, and are approved by Udacity’s corporate partners such as Google, Facebook, AT&T, etc.
In these nanodegrees, you are taught by industry experts, participate with other students in community discussions, engage in real-world projects provided by Udacity’s corporate partners, and have personal coaches/TAs providing feedback and guidance throughout your enrollment.
Typically, nanodegrees are offered for programming and computer science courses, and are designed to help you graduate into a professional job.
Although Udacity claims to be open to all levels of learning, given their popularity in technical courses means many are typically not categorized at a ‘beginner’ level and do require some prerequisite knowledge.
Within the course however, Udacity does indicate at the bottom other related nanodegree programs that are introductory in nature (‘beginner’ level) and can be enrolled in to fulfill this prerequisite knowledge. Keep in mind, their prerequisites are suggested and do not stop you from enrolling in their more advanced courses, they are mentioned to help ensure you can succeed in the course by coming in with the right knowledge to follow along.
Udacity brings in world-renowned speakers provide engaging lectures and interactive content. Students are expected to create real-world projects that will ultimately provide them with practical skills from the course. Courses also come with a community forum where they can interact with mentors and other students, the degree of participation is optional if students are looking for a self-study experience but the option to learn with others is available.
They also have over 170 courses that fall under very specialized subheadings including AI, Data Science, Programming and Development, Autonomous Systems, Business and Career.
Their unique interactive learning programs with other students and real-world experts mean you will learn algorithms from people like Peter Norvig, co-author of a highly used AI textbook, and you can explore pattern recognition with Sebastian Thrun who brings experience from Google’s self-driving car team.
You’ll find free courses though these are very introductory in nature and short. Beyond this they offer self-study courses for USD$599 and nanodegree programs for around USD$999. Some more specialized, in-depth courses are available for USD$1299.
The International Open Academy is best known for being an all levels education hub that offers casual learning and qualifications in various topics ranging from TESOL/TEFL English language qualifications, animal science, and life skills. With over 450,000 students and 120 courses, IOA is a one-stop-shop for various personal and professional development needs.
What’s really appealing about The IOA is that its courses are accessible to just about anyone with any interest. All courses come with no prerequisite requirements and anyone can enroll. Each course follows a set structure of structured course videos with quizzes at the end of each module, and if you successfully pass all the quizzes and final exam — you’ll receive a certification issued by the IOA, and many courses are accredited by organizations such as the ICOES and CPD/CE. For any modules you may fail, IOA also offers one free re-sit.
Each course is presented clearly, covering the benefits of the course, and how it can further your interests. Visual aids are offered to help students with different learning styles. Presented mainly in written slides and sometimes with video, this method allows for students to easily go over and over the content again and again. It’s, in many ways, more “traditional” in terms of learning style and focuses on the content instead of practical projects or discussions with other students.
IOA covers various fields like; Life skills, Animal Science, Beauty, Business, Computing, Criminology, Event Management, Health, Hobbies, Languages, Photography, Special Needs, Teaching and many, many more. Difficulties range from beginner to advance, courses range from 30 hours to 160 hours in duration with 60 consecutive days to complete a course, and each course comes with 24/7 support.
What’s more is that prospective students can actually request which courses they want and the IOA will find the best ones for you. It’s easily the most flexible and accommodating of different learning techniques.
Courses range in pricing from USD$59 to USD$119. They regularly offer discounts welcome pricing offers of USD$19 for your first-course purchase after registering an account.
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Future Learn is unique for their program set up as it allows you to see which courses you need to complete to have the career outcome you desire — it’s extremely data-driven and career oriented. Future Learn was launched by 12 partner universities in the UK in a move to provide greater access to students in obtaining UK accreditations online through their MOOC platform.
Future Learn offers three types of learning options, there’s courses that are one-off modules focused on a specific topic such as ‘Understanding Anxiety, Depression, and CBT’. These are shorter in duration, typically five weeks, and require a recommended 3 hours of studying each week.
The second option are Programs, designed to be longer and provide a deeper understanding of a subject and help develop relevant practical job skills related to it. Programs are typically 12 weeks in duration and consist of a subset of courses. These Programs are formally accredited by a university and come with a certificate if a student chooses to upgrade at the end for a fee (usually in the USD$200 to USD$300 range), and successfully completes a final exam for the program.
Finally, Future Learn also enables students to obtain Degrees, these are equivalent post-graduate degrees you would obtain from a traditional University and consist of completing a series of Programs on Future Learn related to a domain such as ‘Cybersecurity’. Tuition for these degrees vary depending on the University and can range from USD$13,000 to $30,000.
All offerings by Future Learn are very flexible to individual lifestyles and can be altered to suit. You can complete all courses, programs, or degrees, following a schedule to suit your lifestyle.
Learners don’t need any formal prerequisite qualifications in order to enroll in courses, and if any specific requirements (e.g. technology requirements) are needed — this is listed in each course outline page.
The format is in articles, videos, peer reviews and quizzes. Future Learn offers 242 courses in business, languages, environment, politics and more. Although they cover a lot of bases, they’re known particularly well for Psychology and Health courses.
Because of their unique set up with career-focused programs, the student can complete all of their study and sit for just one straightforward assessment at the end. That’s perfect for people who have busy schedules because they won’t have to struggle through exam time each semester.
Future Learn is a free study platform where you pay to upgrade to qualifications in order to obtain a formal accredited certificate. This applies to even degrees where you can choose to audit the course materials within a degree for free. Prices vary when it comes to certifications, they can cost anywhere between USD$75 for individual courses to USD$13,000 for entire degrees.
EdX, founded by MIT and Harvard University, offers over 1,800 courses online to over 1.4 million students worldwide. Many courses offered for free and EdX exclusively hosts university-level courses through its online platform. If you are looking for coursework in the sciences, particularly in computer science or data and statistics, EdX might be ideal for you.
This education hub is unique for having five different levels of qualifications to suit all students. You can take non-qualified courses, high school courses to be college ready, and also gain qualifications to further your employability. They have lectures from real classes, and current professors in the top universities around the world, like Harvard and Berkeley.
They offer flexible learning schedules along with 1:1 social learning tools with other students, videos and animated labs. There are five unique levels of courses:
MicroMasters Program: Graduate-level courses from top universities that provide deep learning in a specific career field. It offers an accelerated and less expensive equivalent to a Master’s degree. A typical program lasts 56 weeks, with 7 weeks per course.
Professional Certificate: A series of courses designed to enhance professional skills for the workplace. A certificate involves 7–9 courses with a final project with each course requiring 8–16 hours of effort per course.
Online Master’s Degree: Affordable online degrees from top universities, composed of a series of courses. Degrees typically last 32 weeks with 10–15 hours of effort required per week.
Global Freshman Academy: Offers online learners the opportunity to participate in on-campus lectures online offered by Arizona State University. Through this program, you can earn transferable credits from ASU and only pay for courses if you pass. Courses are self-paced but can only be enrolled in during ASU semester schedules.
XSeries: Created by industry leaders, XSeries are in-depth courses to provide a deep understanding or specialization in various fields. Series are typically 16 weeks in length with 2–4 hours per week of effort.
Non-Verified EdX courses are free but you will be asked to donate through advertisements throughout the course. Verified certificates begin at $50 and come with a two-week refund policy. Tuition increases as you participate in online Master’s degrees or Programs such as MicroMasters cost roughly USD$1,000.
What started as a passion project of an academic to help high school students learn calculus, is now inarguably the most iconic hallmark of the online education movement. Completely free and a non-profit, Khan Academy is dedicated to one thing: simple, wonderful teaching techniques for any and all subjects.
Each course contains text and recorded videos of lecturers, the video being the primary medium. Covering the following categories of Math, Science & Engineering, Computing, Arts & Humanities, Economics & Finance, Test Preparation, and Career Development. Khan Academy has a huge focus on math and school age study; they have over 30 courses with over 20,000 educational videos in a YouTube format with voice-over narration, and texts/diagrams illustrating topics during each lesson — similar to what a student would see on a whiteboard in class.
While the focus is definitely primarily on younger students, there’s enough content there (particularly in economics & finance) for anyone to learn and expand their professional (and soft) skills. Example courses include Algebra, Physics, Computer Programming, World History, and Personal Finance. All designed to help bolster fundamental concepts needed to succeed in today’s schools and professional world. Khan Academy is also unique for categorizing its courses by school grades (from K-2nd to 8th), and also offering courses for major testing bodies such as LSAT, MCAT, and SATs.
Khan Academy was launched in 2006 and runs from donations and volunteers. It’s completely free to students.
If you studied something in the Sciences in University, MIT Open Courseware probably played some role in helping you pass. Even if you didn’t study science you’ve probably seen them around. Arguably the most prestigious technical university on the planet, MIT has opened up much of their coursework to the public — you don’t need to be a genius to get a genius’s education anymore.
They repurpose material from over 2400 courses and emphasize written coursework as well as community learning that encourages discussion with other students. MIT Open Courseware offers everything from the fundamentals of differential calculus to advanced econometrics or quantum engineering. Moreover, they offer certain courses in other languages such as Chinese, Spanish, Turkish, and Korean. If you’re looking for in-depth, world-class learning, this is your best bet.
Positioned as an online version of MITs offerings, courses come in various formats such as video lectures, audio lectures or online textbooks, and almost all come with any downloadable lecture notes, assessments with solutions, and instructor insights.
Courses are typically categorized by discipline such as Business, Energy, Fine Arts, etc. and grouped according to whether they are Undergraduate or Graduate level courses.
Students can also search the same courses offered at MIT by searching using a course code to help and follow certain programs offered at the university online.
Much like Khan Academy, the MIT Open Courseware is completely free.
If you’ve ever thought, “I want to work in tech”, you’ve probably wandered into Coursera. Coursera offers over 2,400 courses to more than 33 million registered users and provides a variety of degrees in subjects such as Engineering, Humanities, Medicine, Business, Computer Science, and even Learning just to name a few.
Primarily focused on building in-demand (mostly technical) skills, it’s the perfect place to build a basic competence in many of the world’s most burgeoning fields — programming, design, data science, etc. In 2017 the most popular course was Machine Learning (through Stanford University).
Coursera offers self-paced learning where there is no set beginning or end date, or flexible learning with session-based courses to be completed within a set time period. Courses come with video lectures, downloadable notes, practice quizzes, and formal assessments at the end of each course. Completing these assessments successfully earns you a ‘Coursera’ certificate, and if you’d like one from an accredited university you can acquire one by paying a small fee.
Coursera is also popular for its active course forums where students can interact with one another, and for having dedicated Teaching Assistants and virtual TA sessions where students can obtain help and support. All the courses range between 4–12 weeks and offer students the ability to apply for financial aid.
Beyond offering courses, Coursera also has Degrees and Specializations. Degrees are university-recognized and involve a formal admissions process, one to three years of study, and cost between USD$15,000 to USD$25,000. Specializations allow students to master a specific skill and involve tackling hands-on projects based on real-world challenges. Specializations typically take four to six months to complete and cost between USD$39 to $79 per month.
Most courses are free to complete, while university-accredited certifications start at $49. While specializations and degrees are more expensive as mentioned earlier.
The OUA is an organization that’s collectively owned by 7 of the best Australian universities. The courses are all provided by the host Universities and initially designed to help supplement the education of Australian students. Today, it’s regarded as one of the world’s hallmark “Open Universities”. They have 170 degrees available in the arts, business, education and health, among others that cover over 1380 subjects.
Open Universities Australia is unique because they offer single subjects that actually allow you to complete courses in-person, on-campus if you so choose (who says online education has to be online?). You can also choose to complete fully accredited degrees online that are comprised of a series of subjects you’d complete learning.
Most degrees come with prerequisite requirements typical to enrolling in University such as successful completion of a high school diploma. With individual subject enrollments, anyone can enroll in without any prerequisites. OUA also provides financial aid if needed for their paid degree or subjects you’d like to enroll in.
Coursework is brought to you through recordings of talking-head lectures, chat rooms, text, slides and forums. You have a constant platform of communication with the OUA and they make sure their lecturers are accessible and easy to gain help from. Each subject or degree program you enroll in comes with a mandatory assessment at the end. Subjects are degree follow a fixed schedule mirroring the same offerings on-campus by OUA’s partner universities.
Subjects can start from AUD$300 and degrees are offered from AUD$28,000 depending on the course.
Classpert provides over 150,000 online courses. These courses are aggregated from over 30 e-learning platforms that span more than 15 languages. It lets you browse through all the available popular MOOC platforms without having to individually go to each provider's site. Supporting this is Classpert's own community generated reviews on each course.
Classpert also provides the latest pricing, syllabus, and even lecture previews so you can get a sense if the course is right for you. The platform will also allow you to search by education category such as Data Science, Marketing, Personal Development, and many more.
If you're looking for college credits, each listed course will indicate whether certificates or completion credits are available.
Find the best courses across the top providers such as Udemy, Coursera, Skillshare, and Edx all from Classpert's platform. This one makes the list for being the perfect aggregator of all these learning platforms we've mentioned above.
For better or for worse, the days of relying exclusively on higher education to pave your way are long gone. It’s important to take time and self-reflect on your skillset and the demands of the industry you’re in (or the one you want to be in!).
Lifelong learning goes beyond just your professional life and can enrich your personal life as well. Hopefully, these 10 open education platforms give you a great place to start as you take the leap on continuing education.