The rise of online learning platforms makes learning a new skill easier than ever before.
Whether you want to pivot to a new job or pick up a creative skill, you can now find the knowledge or teaching you need in just a few clicks online. Compared to traditional education, e-learning is by far more accessible, less expensive, more diverse, and more convenient. This trend is driving skills-based freelancing as the future of work. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven even more people in the workforce and students to digital education.
Here are the top online learning platforms of 2020 to help you find the digital resource that best suits your needs.
- Skillshare: Best for creative skills and community
- Udemy: Best for learning a variety of topics
- MasterClass: Best for powerful inspiration from experts
- Honorable Mentions
1. Skillshare: Best for creative skills and community
Skillshare is one of the largest, most popular online learning platforms and is designed to teach and inspire a passionate community of creators. The name “Skillshare” accurately describes the format: professional creators share their skills by creating classes to teach their expertise. Courses fall under 3 main categories: Create (Film & Video, Illustration, Web Development, etc.), Build (Freelance & Entrepreneurship, Marketing, etc.), and Thrive (Lifestyle, Productivity).
Features & Pricing Plan:
- access thousands of free courses, taught by working professionals, experts, creators
- create projects and discussions in a course
- pricing: see below
- unlimited access to all 22,000+ courses, taught by working professionals, experts, creators
- download courses (including mobile) for offline viewing
- no ad interruptions
- additional perks
- Annual plan: $8.25/mo ($99 billed annually)
- Comes with perks such as discounts on partnership platforms like Adobe Creative Cloud, Squarespace, and Society6
- Monthly plan: $19.00/mo (billed monthly)
- Free trial? Yes – 7 days
Anyone can create a class and join the teaching community on Skillshare. While this does guarantee quality in every classes, the pro is a huge variety of educational content that’s easily accessible. Some ways you can gauge the popularity and quality of classes are by reading reviews, seeing what’s trending or the number of students in a course (which can reach the high ten thousands), and viewing “Staff Picks”.
Skillshare also offers a plan for teams.
There are two plans – Starter and Enterprise – depending on the size of your team or business.
Skillshare is the best online learning platform for creatives looking to learn from professional creators in an engaging environment. You can find quality classes in just about any creative discipline at a reasonable price. Try out the free membership, which already offers thousands of quality courses by creators for creators, and see if you like the learning experience. Upgrade to Premium if you want even more at still an affordable price – if you choose the annual plan, you get unlimited learning for just $8.25 a month, which is less than the average price of one meal out (a pretty good deal if you ask me).
2. Udemy: Best for learning a variety of topics
Udemy is a popular massive open online course (MOOC) provider that aims to making quality education accessible to all. The platform boasts an impressive global reach: 35 million learners, 130,000 courses in 65+ languages. Top categories include design, web development, marketing, IT and software, business, personal development, and music, with many courses having millions of enrollees.
Features & Pricing Plan:
Pay for each course individually – no subscription. Each course has a free preview available, and some courses are entirely free.
This no-subscription model makes it convenient to pay only for what you’re interested in learning, without having to commit more money beyond that. Prices per course range from $20 to $200, or free.
All courses are on-demand and video-based.
On-demand video course formats allow you to watch and learn whenever is most convenient. All Udemy courses are required to contain at least 30 minutes of video content and at least 5 lectures or learning modules, with optional added tools such as exercises and quizzes to create a richer learning environment.
When you purchase a course, you get lifetime access.
So you can always go back and review anything you learned.
Search filters can help you narrow down your course search. You can filter by ratings (5 star scale), video duration, topic, level, pricing (shows you how many paid vs free classes there are), language, and more.
Like Skillshare, anyone on the Udemy platform can become an instructor, which has similar pros and cons. Udemy is not an accredited institution – for paid courses you complete, you receive a certificate of completion, but this does not count for formal accreditation (which Coursera does provide, covered below).
Udemy’s pay-per-class plan is great for if you want to just want to learn specific topics without overcommitting your money with a subscription fee. This payment structure, along with its huge array of courses and proven global track record of popularity and usership, makes Udemy the best online learning platform for learning a variety of topics in a structured but low-commitment way.
3. MasterClass: Best for powerful inspiration from experts
I remember first hearing about MasterClass when a trailer for author Margaret Atwood’s class popped up as a YouTube video ad, and instead of clicking the skip, I watched the whole thing – the quality narrative, high production, and music to match had me hooked. MasterClass is an inspiring education platform with 90+ classes taught by world-renowned experts and masters in their fields, including Film & TV, Music & Entertainment, Writing, Culinary Arts, Sports, Design, Photography, Fashion, Lifestyle, Business, and more. Learn the skills, stories, and struggles from the greats themselves.
Features & Pricing Plan:
Annual Membership, All-Access Pass
The annual membership is $180 per year, billed annually. You get full access to all MasterClass courses, including new courses that are released after your purchase. You can watch courses as many times as you want.
There is no free trial, but you can explore the Class Trailer, Class Sample, and course outlines to get a sense for the class you’re interested in.
See their list of high quality courses and the experts who teach them. I’d love to take Bobbi Brown’s makeup course, or learn Hans Zimmer’s film scoring process (saw him live in a phenomenal concert).
Each course video is pre-recorded with high production quality.
The basic format per course is as follows:
- Lessons begin with an instructive introduction video for the chapter content.
- A downloadable PDF workbook with assignments accompanies each lesson. You can submit your work for critique and feedback.
- Get feedback from a community of students in a private student group, with additional activities available.
You can read reviews and ratings for each course. You can also gift a membership to a friend.
MasterClass is worth it if you want to learn everything that goes on behind the scenes in a craft, directly from a world-renowned expert in that field. Whether it’s acting, athletics, cooking, entrepreneurship, or something else, MasterClass’ partnership with proven experts offers you insight and inspiration that you likely cannot find in any other generic course.
4. Honorable Mentions
Another popular MOOC like Udemy, except with accredited courses taught by top academic institutions and companies. You can audit courses for free, or pay to get official certification for course completion.
Free free free! YouTube has content on just about any topic you can imagine. Yes, it may be a place for funny video compilations, but it is also full of quality tutorials that individual professionals have decided to create content about and share with the world, for free. Great for quick help or introductions to new topics and skills.