Since the technology revolution of the late 1990s, online learning has been gaining popularity as a method for training and instruction. It offers unparalleled convenience, flexibility, and affordability in a world that’s becoming increasingly expensive and busy.
And everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon now, especially with no end in sight to COVID. With this demand, online learning platforms have become one of the most coveted products on the global market. But choosing the right platform is no small feat! There are infinite options, each with its own set of unique features.
That’s why, whether you’re a business hoping to train employees, or you work in the academic sector, we’ve got you covered! Keep reading to find out what the best online learning platforms are.
What Is an Online Learning Platform?
An online learning platform is a digital space that allows course creators to market, sell, and deliver their eLearning courses. They’re often referred to as “online course marketplaces.” Like traditional schools, such platforms offer learners a safe environment in which to learn, access course materials, and, in many cases, interact with both teachers and students alike. They offer a wide range of features, including, but not limited to lectures, assignments, quizzes, learning interactions, completion certificates, and social forums/chats.
So, in a way, an online learning platform is kind of a catchall term for both businesses and learners. They help you create, catalog, market, and accept payment for your courses, while simultaneously providing all the tools and resources that learners need under one roof.
Online Learning Platforms vs. Online Course Platforms vs. Learning Management Systems
It’s easy to conflate online learning platforms with online course platforms and learning management systems (LMSs). But it’s worth making the distinction. Let’s start with online learning platforms.
As mentioned, an online learning platform is more of a marketplace. It focuses on the perspective of learners or “buyers.” That’s because online learning platforms do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing your courses, growing your audience, and building your sales funnel. So here, the priority is the front-end part of your business – the course marketplace, as well as the courses themselves.
However, this heavy lifting comes at a cost. For example, if you’re looking for maximum flexibility with pricing structure and functionality in terms of collecting and analyzing user data, then you’re going to be relatively constrained. Especially if you’d like to personalize your courses with adequate branding.
In contrast, online course platforms focus more on the back-end portion of things. They often involve instructor-focused, cloud-based software that enables you to not only create courses, but effective learning environments. For example, you can upload various types of learning materials and arrange them into learning paths.
Many online course platforms also let you create your marketplace – that is, your own sales funnels, pricing plans, memberships, and revenue. Not to mention that you gain control over invaluable user analytics, branding, and marketing strategies to maximize the growth of your business.
As for learning management systems (LMSs), they’re less focused on sales and marketing and more focused on seamlessly delivering training to large groups of learners, employees, or partners, for example. Compared with online educational learning platforms, many LMSs have built-in course authoring capabilities, enabling you to create fresh courses. Besides, LMSs allow you to manage users, assign content to them, and track learner progress – all under one roof.
All in all, you can think of LMSs as a higher tier of online course platforms. They offer you extra freedom and flexibility in terms of the types of courses you can create and the level of interaction you can incorporate.
Understanding the difference between online learning platforms, online course platforms, and LMSs will help you narrow down options within the vast sea of eLearning products. But even once you’ve settled on a specific platform type, there are still many choices to sift through. Continue reading to find out what they are.
1. Udemy Business
If you’ve ever dipped your toes in the eLearning waters, then you’ve definitely encountered big fish like Udemy or Udemy Business. Udemy Business offers 14000+ courses for over 9500+ companies on a wide range of topics. As an online learning platform for business, its specialty is skills-based training courses. Expert instructors can easily upload their video-based courses (e.g., screencasts, talking head videos, and video presentations) and track trainee progress, analyze data, and glean actionable insights. However, the content has to be created outside of the platform; there are no built-in course creation functions.
Pretty much anyone can become an instructor on Udemy. Though many are specialists and/or highly passionate about a specific topic, this also opens the door to quality control issues. In any case, Udemy Business is a solid choice if you, as an instructor, are looking to reach a large audience. Its wide user base makes it easier to market and monetize your courses. And as a training manager/business, it’s a hands-off way to bring your team’s skills up to speed.
Who is it for?
Udemy Business is a common go-to for L&D professionals or business owners who don’t have the time or budget to create their own courses. The affordability of Udemy, coupled with its wide range of skills-based courses, means there’s relevant training content for almost anyone. However, if your training team is learning highly specific skills that are unique to your business, there’s no guarantee that the courses will provide a one-to-one fit. Overall, it’s a top online learning platform for business teams seeking more general skills.
Udemy Business offers two pricing plans:
- Team (5-20 users): $360 per user/year
- Enterprise (21+ users): Contact sales for a custom quote.
Like Udemy, Skillshare is another big name in the world of online learning platforms. Offering 35,000+ courses for over 5 million learners, they specialize in courses for creative professionals (e.g., graphic design, animation, photography, videography, etc.). So, its learner base mainly consists of individuals, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. Another feature that makes it distinct is its emphasis on collaboration and social learning. Not only can learners post their assignments on the platform, but other students can engage with them by liking, providing feedback, and asking questions about each other’s work. This makes it easier to get inspired and bring creative skills to the next level.
If you’re looking to join Skillshare’s 8000+ community of instructors, this platform takes it up a notch by providing updated resources and teaching tools for your course topic.
Who is it for?
If you’re a business that works with design or visually creative professionals, then Skillshare is a great way for them to hone their skills. You’ll have access to a vast array of relevant courses. As one of the few online learning platforms that let users share their work and engage with fellow students and teachers, it’s also a great way to seek inspiration through connection. To teach on the platform, one needs to be an expert in the creative industry, including business related topics like marketing, business analytics, leadership, and management.
Skillshare has a 3-tiered pricing plan:
- Starter (2-19 users): $159 per user/year
- Enterprise (20+ users): Contact sales for a custom quote.
- Revive (51+ users): Contact sales for a custom quote.
3. LinkedIn Learning
When Lynda.com merged with LinkedIn in 2017, it gave rise to LinkedIn Learning. Specializing in creative, business, and technology courses, it offers 16,000+ courses for a user base of over 700 million people. It’s considered one of the best online learning platforms because the instructors are carefully vetted to ensure that they’re not only subject matter experts (SMEs), but have excellent teaching/presentation skills. As such, its quality control and product quality are top-notch.
LinkedIn Learning offers an impressive degree of interactivity via quizzes and practice exercise files, which can be completed concurrently with their microlearning videos. Once you complete the course, it issues a certificate that you can share proudly on your LinkedIn profile. Though they’re not accredited, it bolsters your profile and can be a real game changer when it comes to business opportunities. On this list of online learning platforms, LinkedIn Learning offers the highest quality of instruction and production.
Who is it for?
Individuals or businesses that are looking to upskill their teams in the business, tech, and creative industries will love LinkedIn Learning. Since the platform allows microlearning courses, they offer maximum freedom and flexibility. This makes it an ideal online learning platform for businesses that train employees off-site, or individuals/entrepreneurs who lead busy lifestyles and need self-paced learning.
From an instructional perspective, you’ll need to prove that you’re an SME with top presentation skills. With LinkedIn Learning, simply being passionate isn’t enough.
LinkedIn Learning offers a monthly and annual plan as an all-access pass for individuals.
- Annual: $26.99/month
- Monthly: $39.99/month
If you’re interested in pricing for teams, you’ll need to contact them for a custom quote.
BitDegree is one of the best online educational learning platforms out there. While it offers courses that focus on tech skills, including software development, game design, crypto, etc., what makes it truly unique is its emphasis on blockchain technology. Such systems facilitate a “learn to earn” business model, wherein learners can earn BitDegree cryptocurrency tokens and blockchain certificates by completing courses. It offers a gamified environment that can be extra engaging, motivating, and rewarding. But the best part is: These tokens can actually be used to access paid courses at accredited institutions.
Anyone who’s “qualified” can teach on the platform. Moreover, BitDegree provides teachers with invaluable tools to get things off the ground. From course creation to tracking user progress and performance, BitDegree’s got your back.
Who is it for?
As an online learning platform for schools, BitDegree is mainly useful for individuals looking to enter the workforce or get an education. And because it offers beginner, intermediate, and advanced level courses, anyone of any skill level can join. However, this platform doesn’t work well for businesses. There is no team subscription plan or an ability to give multiple users access via a single account.
As for instructors, if you’d like to offer your expertise to a motivated group of learners, then BitDegree is the way to go. Regardless of whether you’re well versed in the eLearning realm, BitDegree Studio offers ample support to help you create, gamify, and sell your courses.
BitDegree is partially a free online learning platform and partially paid. While some courses are free, the paid ones are à la carte, meaning you pay for them individually. So, it all depends on what you choose. In any case, membership is free.
In a vein similar to that of BitDegree, Coursera is more of an online learning platform for schools, since it offers a vast variety of online degrees, specializations, and certificates – many of which are accredited by some of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions. With 5,000+ courses, 200+ affiliated businesses and universities, and over 77 million learners on the platform, Coursera is a force to be reckoned with.
The majority of their courses are heavily focused on business-related topics and, more so, the sciences (e.g., computer science, data science, health sciences, physical sciences, etc.). Until recently, all the instructors had to be top-class teacher or professors at one of Coursera’s partner institutions, guaranteeing high-quality content from subject matter experts. But they’re less stringent nowadays. In any case, if you want to sell courses on Coursera, you’ll need to know your stuff!
Who is it for?
Coursera is used by students who are looking for a first-rate education on an online learning platform that offers recognized completion certificates and university diplomas. It’s also used by over 100+ Fortune 500 companies, 6,000+ college/university campuses, as well as many government institutions.
As for those looking to make money teaching, the best bet is to be affiliated with an accredited academic institution or thought-leading business. That said, the door’s still open if you don’t fit into those categories.
Coursera offers a 3-tier pricing plan:
- Single learning program (for a single course): $49-$79/month
- Coursera Plus Annual (access to all courses): $59/month
- Coursera Plus Monthly (access to all courses): $399/year