Whether you’re taking advantage of extra time created by social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, trying to get ahead professionally, or looking into personal development, online classes may be the most flexible and affordable solution.
There are many subjects, platforms, and class-size options available if you're looking to learn online. Unless it's a course focusing on a trade, all you'll really need is a stable internet connection and computer. Even better, many courses are free unless you want some type of certificate or course credit.
But where to start? Here are some helpful starting points to get up to speed with online classes.
How do I get started with online classes?
The first step in online learning is to identify what you want to learn about. Are you looking to gain a skill, earn a degree, or brush up on your algebra skills to help your child with their homework? Determining what subject you're interested in is just as important as deciding where you want to learn it.
Some popular courses people are currently taking online are about coding, data science, and other courses based on rote memorization of mechanisms like biology or chemistry. Similarly, a skill like using complicated software or digital platforms is trending.
It's not recommended to take courses like social sciences, i.e. sociology or psychology, as well as English and History, online in the short term because they are based on reading, essays, discussions, and heavy research. That said, there are social science courses available online, both for free and for-credit which is usually paid, that can be taken over a longer period of time to allow for students to absorb what they're learning properly.
Where can I take online classes?
After you've decided what you want to learn, you will need to choose where you would like to do it. There are many options, such as Coursera, Khan Academy, Skillshare, Lynda, and Codeacademy as well as most major universities. Here's what to know about each.
If you're looking for an online course from an accredited institution like a college or university, Coursera is the place to do it. Coursera has also partnered with businesses to provide courses that will provide students with valuable skills and make them more competitive hires in the job market. Institutions such as Duke University, the University of Michigan, Stanford, IBM, and Google are offering mostly paid courses on Coursera that translate to "industry recognized" skills.
There is also the option to earn a bachelor's degree online, with courses starting individually at about $49 for a 4-6 week program, and a 1-4 year degree plan coming in at $9,000. It is almost completely customizable, meaning you finish your degree where, when, and how you want.
Coursera also offers professional certificates for skills such as IT Support, Computer Science, coding, Data Science and Customer Engagement. These are priced at $49 a month, and you'll get a certificate you can link to any resumé page or LinkedIn profile.
If you're looking to get a start on a master's degree but haven't been accepted just yet, there are sections of a master's degree plan ready to go on Coursera. Each module can count toward a full degree if you are admitted to the full master's program from that university.
For parents looking for a more structured approach to learning during a pandemic or playing catch up so their child is ready for the coming school year, Khan Academy can easily supplement their at-home teaching plans. The platform has partnered with many school districts to deliver effective, personalized learning and extra lessons in specific areas for struggling students.
All courses are free, allowing students to get a better grasp of topics like math, science, reading, AP, SAT and ACT test practice, and other high school and college prep. Even if you're just looking to nail down high school-level algebra or statistics, Khan Academy is a good resource for both adults and children as a refresher before heading into more difficult paid online courses.
While it does not provide course credit or a certificate, Khan Academy can provide students with data regarding their improvement in a specific subject and can help track progress as well as identify areas of concern.
This is where online courses can teach less academic subjects and more hands-on skills on the practical side. From learning to draw, 3D model, or play guitar, nearly anything you can think of is available as a lesson on Skillshare.
New members can get their first two months of Skillshare free. The pandemic has shown us that a month is a lot longer than we think it is, so imagine all the things you can pick up from Skillshare. After the trial is over, a monthly Skillshare subscription to access courses is $15 a month or $100 a year.
Other courses available on Skillshare include lessons about freelancing, how to start your own business, and other business skills that could be particularly useful in navigating the unprecedented economic situation created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Formerly known as Lynda, LinkedIn Learning is similar to Skillshare in that it offers courses catered to real-world skills rather than academic pursuits. The difference is that courses completed on LinkedIn Learning can translate to certification of skills on your LinkedIn profile, which can be appealing to potential employers.
Some courses which are offered on LinkedIn Learning include "business, creative and technology" focused courses such as a variety of ways to use Excel, how to be an effective remote worker, the foundations of a variety of coding languages, as well as small business marketing and project management. Most of these focus on professional development rather than personal development, another difference between Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning as learning platforms.
A LinkedIn Learning membership costs $29.99 a month, or $299.98 a year plus tax. A yearly subscription shaves about $60 off paying a monthly subscription for 12 months, so consider whether LinkedIn Learning is an investment you would like to make in the short or long term.
The online classes at Codeacademy are all about—you guessed it—coding. While coding is not particularly difficult to learn, it does require a significant amount of practice and rote memorization. This is a huge resource for those looking to learn more about computer science and data science. Classes available through Codeacademy look at coding through multiple lenses, such as how to analyze data in languages like Python, CSS, HTML, and R, and how to build your own bots with them among other things.
These classes last anywhere from 6-10 weeks and are flexible in what's all covered. Depending on whether you're looking to develop a career path, learn a specific new skill, or a single course, there's an option for you that mixes languages and possible applications.
There are free basic courses with Codeacademy, but a $19.99 Pro subscription, which is billed yearly, is in the ballpark of $250. This membership comes with members-only content, unlimited mobile practice, real-world projects, step-by-step guidance, peer support, team performance reports, unlimited license switching, and flexible start dates.
Universities and colleges
Many institutions of higher education also offer online classes directly. If you want to brush up with some courses from an alma mater or just feel more comfortable learning directly from an accredited institution, there's likely a good selection of courses to choose from.
By accessing the course schedule or catalog of the school of your choice, you can see what courses are available to be taken online. However, these courses will have start and end dates corresponding to traditional semesters and will last longer than those not hosted by a university. Admission and registration requirements will also apply, so check with their office of admissions to see what would be required to take a class online.