Top Online Learning Platforms | Find a Cheaper Alternative to College

Online Learning Platform
Santiago Mallea

Santiago Mallea

Content Writer At Gradehacker

If you want to study something new, but college is not an option, then you should consider opening your future to online learning platforms.

Because not always do you have the money or time to enroll in a college degree program. Between your job and your family, you know there is no way you can spend two years (or even four) of your life paying a lot of money for tuition each semester.

But as you want to improve your quality of life, you need to continue your education and gain new skills. Here is when online learning platforms come in.

You go to Google, search for them, and find that there are A LOT of options to choose from. You can’t waste your time exploring each one for the courses each has, how much they cost, and what recognition you get after completing the course.

In summary, you need a list of the best online platforms with all the information you are looking for. Luckily for you, you have found it.

Here at Gradehacker, we know how important it is to know all the alternatives to getting an education, even those outside of the traditional colleges. We are the non-traditional student’s most trusted resource, and we want to help you determine which online platform is the one for you.

That’s why we are sharing the best five online learning platforms.

But before we get to it, let’s see what these are.

What Are Online Learning Platforms?

An online learning platform is a digital space where students can take online courses covering a wide range of study fields. 

Its purpose is to offer a cheaper and quicker alternative to people who:

Of course, it can also be used by anyone who simply wants to learn something new, regardless of whether it’s related to their professional life. Still, as most types of courses are educational-based and have university-level education, studying on an online platform is a solid alternative for many non-traditional students.

Each online course platform is unique and has its own individual courses covering a wide range of topics. Communication, business, leadership, graphic design, tech skills, creative skills, and more!

However, depending on the online platform and the area you are studying, some learning programs don’t offer certificates, while others do.

Now we are ready to start taking a closer look at what we think are the best online learning platforms. Besides listing the information you want to know, such as their prices, the number of courses, and which area they are best at, we’ll also share why we recommend it.

Online Learning Platform
  • Guided projects start at $9.99 per course

  • Professional certificate and specialization courses start at $39 a month

  • Higher university-issued certificates begin at $2,000 per course

  • Bachelor’s or master’s degrees start at $9,000

Coursera has years as one of the main services in the online platform world. What makes them stand out is that they have partnered with over 200 universities and companies, like Yale and Google, to bring affordable and job-relevant courses to people.

Their e-learning platform is made to resemble a university’s portal. It allows professors to use multimedia, and upload assignments, homework exercises, and community discussion forums similar to those you encounter in college.

While they have hands-on projects and individual courses, they also have online degree programs for Bachelor’s and Master’s levels, which cost a fraction of what you can find in traditional universities. Or, you can also go for a Master Track certificate, which takes less than a year to complete, and gives you a university-issued certificate and credit that can lead you towards a degree.

Online Learning Platform

But they have all types of sources too! You can get a professional certificate and take high-quality courses to develop a specific skill that can lead to a job-raise or a better position. These specializations take between one and six months to complete, but they also have individual courses that are much shorter.

On the one hand, guided projects only require one or two hours of your time to earn your completion certificate, as usually, these courses teach you how to use a specific app or software. On the other hand, free courses last between four and twelve hours and introduce you to more developed programs (that you can continue taking by paying for the following courses). The bad news is that they don’t give you a completion certificate when you finish them.

You can check for all of their types of courses here.

Online Learning Platform

Coursera's Pros and Cons

Pros
Cons

High-quality courses that range from free to University-degrees

Free courses don't include a completion certificate

You can earn a certified degree program

Some individual courses have strict timelines

Affordable prices

Wide range of good-quality courses

Experience similar to online degrees

Why we recommend Coursera

We recommend them because they have Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs recognized by prestigious institutions and only cost a fraction of a traditional university’s tuition fee. Or you can also earn a Master Track certificate in a few months, transfer your credits to another college, and earn your degree there!

Overall, Coursera is an excellent option for any non-traditional student who wants to accelerate their journey and pay less for it!

  • Skillshare Premium monthly plan: $32 per month

  • Skillshare Premium yearly plan: $168 billed annually

Skillshare is an online community that mainly focuses on providing high-quality courses about creative topics, such as creative writing, art & design, graphic design, photography, and animation. However, they also have other traditional courses, like business and marketing classes.

Unlike Coursera, Skillshare’s online course platform doesn’t aim to resemble college-style classes; instead, it has a more informal approach to improving students’ creative skills. Classes generally consist of a series of videos and assignments that test the student’s practical skills so that by the end of the course, they have the skills required to create a project of their own.

What makes Skillshare stand out from the rest is its subscription-based plan. While you are subscribed to Skillshare Premium, you will be able to access all of the courses on their site.

Meaning you can take as many courses as you want! 

You can see their series of courses here.

Online Learning Platform

Plus, they have a couple of free courses, mostly for beginners, but cover a wide range of interesting topics. For example, they have a 7-hours course about Photoshop. That’s more than enough to learn how to use one of the leading editing software!

If you are unsure whether it’s for you, you can use their 7-day free trial

Another advantage of Skillshare is that they are multilanguage, covering English, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese. Not only do they translate their website to each of these languages, but they have subtitles for all of their courses, regardless of the language spoken by the professor of the program.

The downside is they don’t give you an official certificate after you finish, and they don’t have partnerships with universities that allow you to transfer their credits there and continue pursuing your degree in an accredited institution.

Online Learning Platform

Skillshare's Pros and Cons

Pros
Cons

The best online platform for developing your creative skills

Only has a few free courses

Wide range of creative topics courses

They don't give you a completion certificate

Subscription-based plan that lets you access all of their courses

Their courses aren't Bachelor's or Master's degree-level programs

Affordable pricing plans

Has a 7-day free trial

It is available in many languages

Why we recommend Skillshare

We recommend it mainly if you are a creative professional looking to improve and further develop your skills within a creative field. Skillshare is THE platform for creative professionals. Their subscription-based plan is an excellent option for curious students who want to discover and learn new skills that they would likely never acquire anywhere else.

Plus, their pricing plans aren’t too high (considering all the knowledge you can access), and in any case, you can always use their 7-day free trial.

Udemy is the online course platform with the biggest repository of high-quality courses. It focuses on more general topics, ranging from technology-based subjects such as web development, IT certifications, and game development to more broad subjects like personal development, marketing, photography, office productivity, and music.

Like Coursera, their experience is similar to what you get from traditional universities, as Udemy’s online courses can include video lectures, audio, powerpoints, and quizzes. The most significant difference is that instructors don’t interact or review assignments with the dedication that college professors do.

Online Learning Platform

Undoubtedly, what makes Udemy one of the best learning platforms is its wide variety of courses, each topic with a wide range of options where to choose from. For instance, if you are interested in a web development course focused on JavaScript, you’ll find over 1,000 alternatives, which is perhaps too many options for such specific knowledge.

The good news is that once you pay, you get lifetime access to that course. There is no time limit for you to take it, and even years after you’ve earnt your completion certificate, you can go back and see the content as much as you want.

Pricing plans on Udemy depend on the course and its instructions, and while the cheapest options begin at $11, most courses cost on average between $80 and $100. You can see every content included in a program before starting it, but if you are not satisfied with the course you paid for, there is a 30-day refund available.

Online Learning Platform

Udemy's Pros and Cons

Pros
Cons

Covers a wide range of topics

Too many options for a specific course

Affordable prices per course

No free trials

You have lifetime access to the course you have paid

Only has a few free courses

Video classes similar to a college's online degree program

Limited and poor interaction between students and instructors

Gives you a completion certificate

30-day refund if you didn't like the course

Why we recommend Udemy

We recommend it because it has an enormous quantity of specialized courses. If you are looking to learn or improve a specific skill, in Udemy, you pay once, and then you have lifetime access to video tutorials to go back in case you need it.

You can also try as many courses as you want and make use of the 30-day refund in case you don’t like what you are learning.

EdX is an online course platform created by Harvard University and MIT members for students who want to access high-quality courses. Their course repository mainly focuses on STEM topics (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), but they also have humanities, communication, arts, literature, and law programs.

They partner with over 160 universities, like Berkley, Boston University, and the University of Maryland, and have certified degree programs that these prestigious institutions recognize.

Online Learning Platform

What makes EdX different is its certification process.

Why? Because technically, most of their courses are free. If you choose the free audit track, you’ll have temporary access to all course materials, except for graded assignments.

What’s the catch? You won’t be able to complete the assignments, nor will you receive a completion certificate, which is what universities or future employers will ask for to show as proof of your knowledge. To earn these certificates, you’ll have to pay the certificate fee.

However, not all EdX programs have a free audit trach option available. These are:

EdX Programs that accept it

EdX Programs that accept don’t it

Online Learning Platform

EdX's Pros and Cons

Pros
Cons

The best option for those interested in STEM topics

Not all of their courses have the free audit option available

Recognized by prestigious institutions like Harvard University and MIT

Fewer courses in subjects outside of STEM topics

Free audit track lets you access all relevant information

Offers a Bachelor's and Master's certified degree program

Prices according to courses that give you transfer credits

Why we recommend EdX

We recommend it if you are interested in gaining experience in any of the STEM topics. EdX lets you earn certificates of completion that both let you prove your knowledge and serve as valid transfer credits for any of their partnered universities.

It’s a great choice if you are a non-traditional student, as you can progress in your academic life while having an official certificate that could get you a pay raise.

  • $39.99 per month

  • $26.99 per month with the annual subscription ($323.88 per year)

Linkedin Learning (formerly known as Lynda.com) is Linkedin’s online course platform where its users can access courses primarily focused on the fields of business, technology, and creativity. Through a series of video tutorials, they aim to educate and instruct the student while building and improving their Linkedin profile, hence increasing their chances of finding a better job position and establishing relationships with more professional people.

The experience they offer is one of the most simple. First, you need to see all the video content available, then answer a series of questions in a quiz, and that’s it! Instructors can leave additional content like PDFs and PowerPoints, but once you see all the video classes and pass the exam, you’ll have earned your completion certificate.

Online Learning Platform

Similar to Skillshare, they have a subscription-based plan, that once you pay for it, you gain access to all the courses you want. And in case you have doubts, they also give you a 1-month trial to try more in-depth all that they are offering.

Their prices are high, but Linkedin Learning may be worth it if you are looking to expand the list of your professional contacts.

The biggest downside is that not all of their courses have the high-quality overall standard that most other online platforms have. This doesn’t necessarily mean that most of their courses are bad, only that they may not be as recognized by some institutions or employers as the programs from other platforms.

Perhaps you’ll find more recognition with business and technology-related courses. Still, you may not have the same luck with the programs focused on other fields like arts, humanity, and social sciences (which are, in comparison, much fewer).

Linkedin Learning's Pros and Cons

Pros
Cons

A better alternative for those interested in the business and technology fields

High prices

Helps you build or improve your Linkedin profile

Not all of their options are good-quality courses

1-month free trial

Doesn't have the same recognition as the other platforms

Gives you a completion certificate

Too much focus on business courses and not so much on other topics

Why we recommend Linkedin Learning

We recommend it if you want to improve your business skills. Their courses in this field are much more well-developed and have a more solid validity within some institutions. Plus, you’ll further develop your Linkedin page and expand your contact list much easier.

Online Learning Platform

Find The Online Learning Platform For You!

Finding the ideal online course platform may not have looked like an easy job at first. But with this list, now it will be easier for you to choose the right one.

As with everything in your educational journey, you’ll need to understand your situation and know which are your personal goals. By knowing what you want to do, how much time you have available, and how much money you have in your budget, picking an online platform will be a piece of cake.

We hope this list was helpful to you. Hopefully, you’ve found a much cheaper alternative to college, where you’ll still learn skills that will improve your life.

But if you are not convinced, don’t give up the search! These are only some of the best and most popular platforms, but there are more out there. Continue looking until you find the right one for you!

However, if one of these learning platforms we’ve just mentioned seems like a right fit, give it a try and expand your set of skills! Who knows, maybe by paying a small percentage of what college tuition costs, you’ll earn an official certificate that could get you a better job position and give you enough transfer credits to accelerate your academic journey.

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