Online learning makes it easy and fun to acquire new knowledge and skills. With the online education industry booming, expected to reach $370 billion by 2026, online learning is more accessible than ever.
You can learn about virtually any topic you’re interested in, right on the internet. Increasing your knowledge and expanding your skill set through online courses can make you more marketable, give you the skills and training needed to master your profession, grow in your industry, and provide a better professional outlook for you in the future.
If you’re a student, you might be wondering what the best online learning platforms are. They’re not all created the same and some may provide greater flexibility, more ease of use, features and services than others.
We picked the top five online learning platforms that we think are the best on the market of 2021.
What is an Online Learning Platform?
An online learning platform is a website that gives students access to take courses remotely. The courses taken can be for personal enrichment, to further their career, for certification or degree.
Generally, you’ll have access to a big collection of classes you can take, right at your fingertips. Pick the classes that appeal to you, teach you the skills you want to strengthen, and arm you with the expertise you need to further your career.
How Much do Online Learning Platforms Cost?
Online learning platforms will vary in price. Some are free to join and you pay when you buy a course, like Udemy.
Others are available on a subscription model where you pay a flat fee every month or annually, which gives you access to the platform where you can take an unlimited number of courses, like Skillshare.
What Features are Included on Online Learning Platforms?
Every learning platform has their own set of unique features and services built in for students. This can include:
- Interactive learning
- Video lectures
- Certificates and degrees
- Hands-on learning through lab work
Choose the platform that fits your unique learning style and offers the features that you are receptive to, get you excited and keep you engaged during learning.
Check out our recommendations for the 5 best online learning platforms of 2021.
5 Best Online Learning Platforms
When you land on Skillshare’s site, you’ll find a variety of classes available on many topics. While you can find classes on business, marketing, and other subjects, they seem to be geared more toward courses for creatives like photography, illustration, graphic design, and others.
You can browse Skillshare by workshops, student projects, or live sessions.
Workshops are a series of pre recorded classes that you take at scheduled times along with other students. You’ll interact with other students who are also going through the class at the same time and the interaction is managed by a community manager.
Student projects are the homework that students do at the end of the class. Each class has a student project attached to it, where students can take what they learned and do something actionable with it, like painting watercolor artwork after a watercolor painting class, for example.
Live sessions are live stream classes that you can register to take at their designated time, like taking a live masterclass.
Skillshare runs it’s platform on subscription-based pricing. You can pay monthly or annually which gets you 100% access to the entire platform. That means you can take as many classes as you’d like with your membership.
You get the best value with the annual plan which is $13.99/month paid up front for 12 months. The month-to-month plan is $32/month.
You can take advantage of their 7-day free trial to test drive the platform too. During that time you’ll get full access and you can take as many classes as you want.
Skillshare also offers free classes that you can take even if you aren’t a paid member.
These are small micro classes usually running no longer than 1 hour 40 minutes but there are a ton of them available in virtually every course topic Skillshare offers.
Udemy is an online learning platform home to over 150,000 different courses on topics like:
Courses are individually priced by the course creator and they range from free to hundreds of dollars.
The courses are video-based and self-paced so you can go at your own speed.
Each course is made up of video lessons with some course creators offering additional resources like downloadable assets, worksheets, assignments, a completion certificate, etc. There are also audio and text-based elements, quizzes, etc.
Courses are priced individually so you can find one course for $10 and another for $200.
There are sitewide sales that happen throughout the year where students can get any course on Udemy for a flat price, like $10 or $15. If you buy during a sales event like this, you can end up getting a really good deal.
There’s no paid membership with Udemy though you’ll be required to set up a free account in order to buy. When you find a course you want to buy, you can purchase and get instant access. Your courses are stored in your Udemy account for easy access anytime.
Coursera partners with hundreds of colleges and universities to help students learn online. What makes Coursera unique is that you can take online college classes taught by professors without the huge tuition bill if you’d take the classes in college.
Keep in mind you must meet the admission requirements by the college or university you want to attend and Coursera will be a resource to support your online learning from that school.
With Coursera you get:
- On-demand self-paced video lectures
- Free courses
- University degrees
- Certificates and diplomas
You’ll be able to take classes on subjects like data science, computer science, business, health, personal development, social sciences, math, etc.
Use the classes offered at Coursera to set you on your career path to be an IBM data analyst, project manager, social media marketer, cybersecurity analyst, or HR specialist, among other careers.
If you’re working to improve your job skills or work toward a degree or certificate, here’s how it works:
Guided projects (starts at $9.99): Learn job skills to help you work and excel in your profession.
Courses (free): Increase your knowledge around a specific subject.
Specializations ($39/month): Get help mastering job skills at an expert level.
Professional certificates ($39/month): Enhance your knowledge and learn skills to help you land a highly sought after position in a leading industry.
MasterTrack certificates (starts at $2,000): Earn college credit toward a degree and get a university-issued certificate.
Bachelor’s degrees and Master’s degrees (starts at $9,000): Full online bachelor’s and master’s degrees you can work toward and receive.
You can join Coursera for free and then classes are free and paid with paid classes being individually priced starting at around $30.
If you get Coursera Plus you’ll have access to over 3,000 Coursera courses including guided projects, specializations, and professional certificates.
It comes with a 7-day free trial and then your price after that is $59/month or $399/year.
Masterclass is a one-of-a-kind online learning platform, offering courses from some of the best teachers around the world including recording artists, leading actors, musicians, scientists, etc.
This is a streaming platform and they offer courses in a bunch of different subjects like:
- Arts and entertainment
New classes are available every month with access to over 100 classes that you can download, watch offline or watch online on your Android or iOs device. They’re also available on Amazon’s app store and Roku’s channel store.
Classes average around 20 lessons long with each lesson running 10 minutes or so.
They offer both live classes and previously recorded classes from industry experts.
While degrees or certificates are not tied to your learning like with some of the other platforms we’ve talked about, learning on Masterclass will give you a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get taught skills, enhance your knowledge and understanding, and pursue a passion from experts in the industry.
Learn about french pastry with Cronut creator Dominique Ansel, Da Vinci Code author will show you how to create a suspenseful thriller, Usher talks about how to be a great performer, Reba McEntire teaches country music, and more!
You join Masterclass on a membership basis. The cost is $15/month paid annually and this gets you access to:
- Over 100 classes
- Smartphone and TV apps (shared above)
- Members only newsletter
- Global membership community
So you get full access to the entire platform with the ability to take as many classes as you want.
Pluralsight is one of the best online learning platforms for learning about tech-related subjects like software development, IT operations, cloud computing, and machine learning, among other topics.
On Pluralsight you have access to:
- Labs and Hands-on learning
- Certification preparation
- Team efficiency
Courses are individually available, ranging from around 30 minutes long to just over 4 hours or longer.
You will find over 7,000 classes available. These are broken up into “core” and “expanded” libraries.
The core library includes over 2,500 courses that cover popular topics such as software development and security, among other subjects then the core library will work for you.
The expanded library gets you full access to over 7,000 courses of more advanced level courses.
Skills assessments, called SkillIQ, are free and they help you identify strengths and weaknesses around a particular skill set. This gives you valuable insight so you know if you need more education and practice in a particular field, like:
- .NET microservices
- Google Cloud architecture
- Adobe Experience management
- AWS Cloud security
- Malware analysis
Pluralsight also offers a feature called “Paths”. Paths help you to know the correct order to take your courses in so you don’t get ahead of yourself or get confused by the content.
Labs are a new feature which let you practice your skills with hands-on learning.
For example, you have chemistry class and then you have a chemistry lab where you do the experiments and hands-on work. It fills any learning gaps you have after reading the material and it’s great for hands-on learners that do their best work from experience.
Certification prep helps you get ready to take specific certification tests. They help you strengthen your skills and take practice exams.
The team efficiency segment gives you insight to how your team is working. You’ll be able to see the workflow, uncover any gaps in production, and improve your team efficiency and effectiveness.
The pricing is broken down into two sections: skills and flow.
The Skills section helps you improve your work skills. You will be able to develop your understanding, enhance your learning, and master your skills.
There are individual and team pricing plans available on a monthly or annual basis. The individual plans come with a free trial which includes 10 days free or 200 minutes of viewing time, whichever comes first.
Here’s what the individual Skills pricing plans look like:
Skills Standard plan ($29/month)
- Access to all core courses
- Paths access
- Skills assessments
Skills Premium ($45/month)
- Access to all core and expanded courses
- Hands-on learning
The Flow plans are designed for people who need help improving their work flow. You want your team to work better together and run more efficiently.
The pricing isn’t shown on the site for the Flow plans but you can learn about which features are included under each. When you find a plan you think will work for you, reach out to Pluralsight and they’ll do a demo with you to show you how it works and explain the price.
Flow Standard Plan
- Access to GitHub, Bitbucket, and others
- Trend visualization and target setting
- Analytic insights
- Email and phone support
Flow Plus Plan
- Everything in the Standard plan
- Access to GitHub Issues, Jira, and others
- Advanced insights and reporting features
- Email and phone support
Flow Enterprise Plan
- Everything in the Enterprise plan
- Access to GitHub Enterprise, BitBucket Server, and others
- Top level advanced insights and reporting features
Final Thoughts on the Best Online Learning Platform
These are our top recommendations for the best online learning platforms of 2021. Learning can be unique to every student. We picked these platforms based on the features and benefits they offer and ability to cater to different learning styles.
Overall, we really like Udemy. They have a huge collection of courses and you can pick the exact courses you’re looking for to further your education online.
Coursera is also a great pick for adult learners that are looking for online degree options. You can get a certificate or degree right over the internet, at a fraction of the cost of attending most universities face-to-face.
Which online learning platform is your favorite?