The Age of E-learning: Which Educational Platform to Choose?

Today, the e-learning market is worth over $30 billion, with millions of students pursuing degrees either fully online or at least in part. This figure shot up in Spring 2020, with the majority of universities making their classes digital. Outside of the educational system, job-seekers, existing employees, and enthusiasts take internet-based courses for professional training and personal development.

There are dozens of online learning platforms that contain millions of courses, which hold countless opportunities for those who take them. They allow one to shape their future and open doors to new horizons, giving hope and freedom to thousands of people.

So what are these platforms? They are essentially websites that collect tools and resources and provide support to learners all over the world. On a platform like that, you can expand your knowledge on practically any subject, be it astrophysics or creative writing. How do you access one of them? Let’s look into this topic a bit more in the following sections.

Why Take Online Courses?

An average middle school student would be confused about why you would ever want to take extra classes online if you already go to school. The truth is, many of us are willing to walk that extra mile for a better job, a promotion, a scholarship, or an exciting internship opportunity.

If you go to school or university and take online courses on the side, it demonstrates dedication and an active approach to your own education, making you more attractive to universities and potential employers. Same way, undergoing additional training at work will make you more employable and adaptable; you always have a second choice of a career path.

However, transferring the bulk of your learning online is a serious commitment and requires a lot of consideration. Moving away from traditional education is a scary process. Facing the fears of missing out, of lacking the discipline, or not seeing it pay off is exhausting. Taking an in-real-life course or going off to college seems like a much more trustworthy, solid option.

Regardless, don’t be put off and think about the benefits of internet learning platforms first:

  1. Cost efficiency. On average, a student pays $37,000 a year to go to a standard 4-year college. In contrast, a distant learning degree will cost $10,000-12,000 yearly in the US, or £2,500-£9,000 in the UK. Not only are you avoiding crippling debt, but you’re also saving money on accommodation - you won’t have to pay rent or expensive dorm fees, buy public transport tickets or gas.
  2. Flexibility and time efficiency. Taking an online course or attending the Open University opens a window for freedom. You can take as much time as you want with lecture material, listening to recordings at any convenient point. You can combine your course with a full-time job, a busy family life, personal development and hobbies, and even study while traveling.
    Pick your own study space - under a cozy blanket in bed, in the kitchen with lo-fi music playing loudly in your headphones, in a cafe while having a tasty treat, or in a local library. You don’t have to waste time commuting, which creates more space for out-of-class activities and increases productivity.
    Suit it to your individual learning style - some of us like to space out the workload and study for an hour every morning, while others prefer to pull an all-nighter a day before the deadline. It’s all up to you.
  3. Versatility. You can learn practically anything online without the need to travel to a far-off university that has the perfect course. Colleges only provide so many specializations, most of which are quite standardized. In comparison with e-learning, where you can pick a selection of courses and lessons to suit your interests - for instance, you can study music production and microbiology at the same time! In addition, there are programs that are not represented in the classical academic world, such as nail art, various crafts, game design, and others.
  4. Discipline. Taking charge of your life and making a decision to take an extra course online takes a lot, but actually doing it is a challenge of its own. While acquiring a specialization on the internet, you will learn to discipline yourself and manage your personal time as there will be no fixed schedule to stick to and no one to push you around. Being your own boss takes a certain amount of willpower and the ability to follow the rules that you set for yourself. These are some skills and qualities that you will find useful throughout your entire life.

Picking the Ideal Platform

Learning platforms are a major investment of time as well as financial and emotional resources. Even the most responsible and energetic person knows how much commitment it takes to undertake an online course - the majority of us will have their work cut out for them. Therefore, choosing a platform and, subsequently, a course, must be approached with caution.

These are the things you should take into consideration when picking an e-learning website:

  • Price. The majority of courses on online learning platforms charge a fee. On sites such as Coursera it will typically range from $22 to $50 per course. Some websites work on a subscription-only basis - you can purchase a monthly, quarterly or yearly membership to access all courses. This has a far wider range from less than a hundred dollars up to two or three hundred per year. Another option is a yet more expensive lifetime subscription.
    In this case, you need to think about how long you will take to complete a course or how much time you would like to invest in using an e-learning platform. If you’re only buying the services to access a particular program, it’s unlikely that you’ll take more than a month to get the most out of it - then just get the monthly subscription. However, if you have a vast array of interests and you’re quite open-minded, a yearly or quarterly subscription might be more suitable so you get to take your time to explore.
  • Course duration. Some programs take place over the course of several weeks with set milestones and materials for each separate week. They have strict start and enrollment dates and are most often priced individually.
    With other options, such as the ones you get with subscriptions, you can take as much time as you need, and they don’t have any fixed deadlines.
    If you prefer a strict schedule and want a more structured approach, the former will be the ideal option for you. In contrast, the latter will be suitable for those with a hectic and intense lifestyle that would like to cram lessons here and there. This format is for people with better time management and organization skills.
  • Content. Look through the curriculum: do you like the modules? Are you satisfied with the topics for lectures, seminars, and workshops? Make sure that the course is what you actually want and don’t rush into purchasing something that you will regret. Consider the materials provided by the module convernors - if you’re visually impaired or hard of hearing, check for text-to-speech options, built-in captions, and powerpoints.
  • Can you get a certificate? Many courses offer official certificates signifying your qualification upon completing the program. These are often backed or provided by universities or big companies and are extremely useful during the job-seeking process. It’s most likely that if you want to get such a certificate, you will have to pay for it. However, there is usually an option to take the course for free without an award. If the program claims to be accredited, make sure that it’s legitimate and is not a scam - always check twice before giving your card details to anyone.
  • Assessments. Are the courses assessed by coursework or examinations? A lot of people prefer coursework-based programs, whether because exams give them anxiety or simply because they do better without time limits. Others perform well in tests and under the pressure of a ticking clock. Which one of the two types are you? Make sure you pick a course that sits in your comfort zone.
  • Interactive features. Although subscription-based classes will rarely have this feature, others often have interactive online sessions, including webinars and Q&A calls, chats, and email-based communication. Can you talk to your lecturers in this course? Are one-to-one classes available? Many will agree that the more interactive the program is, the more value it bears. However, if you prefer to take things at your own pace and be fully independent, an entirely self-led course will suit you more.

The Ultimate List of Top 15 Online Learning Resources

Now that you know the perks of online learning systems and can make an educated choice, we can look at some of the most popular platforms available today.

Here are 15 of the best learning resources you’ll find on the internet:

  1. Coursera. This is arguably the most well-known platform that provides all kinds of learning resources, from massive open online courses to degrees and specializations. You can study programs provided by Google, IBM, and Ivy League Universities such as Yale and Princeton. Pretty much any topic is available - from Python to medical neuroscience and English grammar.
    Each course is paid for individually and can vary in duration. The average price is $47 per month for programs that can last for 3, 6 or more months with 2-3 hours of study material per week. Normally, a certificate is awarded at the end of each course, but an opportunity to opt out and do it for free is also available. 
  2. Skillshare. This website allows individuals to create their own courses and teach people for money. Therefore, you come across the most extraordinary variety of topics - from self-care and productivity to business analytics and web-design. It’s worth noting, however, that the classes are not academic and more creativity-centered - you won’t find a course on biomedical science here. The site is available for free with a number of limitations, but the premium version costs as little as $17/month or $84/year.
  3. MasterClass. This incredible website provides courses over 9 disciplines taught by the greatest specialists in the field. On MasterClass, Gordon Ramsay will teach you cooking, Margaret Atwood will give you creative writing classes, and Christina Aguilera will show you how to sing. The annual membership costs $216, providing unlimited access to all classes across all disciplines.
  4. Udemy. This massive open online course provider is largely focused on improving job-related skills for students and professionals. The most popular courses are based around IT, although many other topics are available, including lifestyle, photography, and design. Each program is purchased individually on a one-time basis. Although they all claim to be originally priced around $180-200, they are constantly on a huge sale and cost $13-18.
  5. EdX. Harvard and MIT created EdX as a way to open up the world of higher education to more people. Most of the MOOCs on the site are advanced level and are certified for an additional price of around $90 per course. The typical duration of a course is 12 weeks with the workload being 6 to 18 hours per week. The website also provides micro-bachelors and micro-masters degrees with the average cost of $166 per credit, compared to $564 per credit in a regular undergraduate course.
  6. Open University. This distant-learning-only university has been around for 50 years, yet it started gaining popularity fairly recently. It’s the ideal option for people that work part-time and are denied the opportunity to learn on campus. You can get a degree-, diploma- or certificate-level qualification or study post-graduate courses and do research. Part-time degrees last 6 years and take 16-18 hours per week, while full-time is shortened to 3 years with 32-36 hours a week. The cost of such a qualification is £18,576 or $23,587.
  7. CodeCademy. This online platform specializes in coding. It follows the method of learning by doing - the student gets to write working code throughout the entire process. The platform is free with the opportunity to upgrade to Pro level that has members-only content and real-life opportunities. The price is $40/month for a monthly subscription or $20/month for a yearly subscription.
  8. Musicium. If you’re keen on learning music, this is the right place for you. Musicium has guitar, singing, and music production classes taught by experts. Explore different styles and find your creative path. You can access all courses for $19 a month, $50 for three months, or $190 a year. Alternatively, purchase a single course for an average of $39 for lifetime access.
  9. LinkedIn Learning (Lynda). This learning platform is ideal for businesses that look to train their employees. Premium LinkedIn users will benefit from over 16,000 video lessons and courses that grand certificates upon completion. The price is $35 monthly or $350 annually.
  10. Pluralsight. Another platform to boost your programming skills that will suit both individuals and teams of coders. You can choose from a $30/month subscription, an annual $311 plan, or a Premium version with exams and interactive courses that costs $470 a year.
  11. Future Learn. This website offers a variety of courses to learn new skills, earn a certificate or even get an online degree. Learning material is presented through lectures and videos with the opportunity to test yourself and hold a discussion afterwards. The courses are accompanied by visual organization tools to help you manage your time. You can study for free or get a certificate for each individual course for $40, or pay $250 for unlimited access to everything.
  12. Online School of Graphic Design and Art (OfG). This provider of state-approved online courses helps aspiring creators become certified media professionals specialized in graphic design. All programs last between 4 and 12 months and at the end students receive a graphic designer qualification. The price is $249 per module - each course contains 12 modules, making the total fee $2,988.
  13. Khan Academy. This non-profit website provides free online lessons to students of all levels, from young first-graders to mature graduates. Teaching is done through detailed illustrated videos and lecture notes with assessments in the form of quizzes and tests.
  14. Kadenze. In a STEM-dominated world, Kadenze fights for accessible and high-quality education in art- and music-driven subjects. Students enjoy going at their own pace and take their time with learning. The website can be used both for free and with a $20/month membership that gives access to course completion certificates.
  15. Cognitive Class. Started by IBM, this learning platform is now a leading provider of data science and computing classes. Lessons are fairly short, on average lasting several hours. Currently all courses are free.

Let the Opportunities Grow

Pursuing education is a noble activity and should be universally encouraged. If your current life situation doesn't allow going to an on-campus university, don’t be immediately put off and consider using an online learning platform. Internet-based courses are fantastic tools that enable learning new skills and even acquiring a degree-level qualification to people with busy lifestyles. Determination is a virtue - pick your e-learning platform and get studying!

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