Best Online Course Websites

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by ConsumerAffairs

Research Team

Updated on 11/08/2017

Online courses allow students to pursue education on their own schedule. This flexibility makes it possible for learners to tackle ongoing education while also holding down a job and meeting social commitments.

Some online courses include fast tracks to certification programs, while others offer degree options. With the convenience of setting their own schedules, online courses allow people to pursue their education when traditional classrooms won't work.

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    Compare Reviews for Top Online Course Websites

    Read 355 Reviews

    StraighterLine helps students save money on college by offering affordable classes at a reduced price. Coursework is guaranteed to transfer to the 80 different colleges included in their special network of schools.

    Read 44 Reviews

    There are over 1,000 free courses - from some of the world's top universities - available on Coursera. Subjects include everything from music theory to business to accounting and finance to psychology.

    Read 39 Reviews

    With over six million students, Udemy offers over 25,000 courses on a variety of topics. Students have the option to learn via computer or via their mobile device, such as a tablet or a mobile phone.

    Khan Academy
    Read 9 Reviews

    Founded in 2006, Khan Academy is a nonprofit test prep company headquartered in Mountain View, Cali. They offer a variety of free practice material for parents, teachers and students across multiple skill levels and subjects.

    With a membership, students have unlimited access to Lynda's wide range of courses. There are over 3,000 video courses available on the site, and they are available on computers, tablets, phones and other mobile devices.

    Canvas Network
    Read Expert Review

    Canvas Network offers lots of free online courses that utilize their special learning management system. Canvas uses cloud technology to create adaptable learning experiences for students.

    Read Expert Review

    Via the internet, codecademy teaches students to code properly, using their interactive methods. Students will learn how to build a website, or even an interactive website, by the end of the coursework.

    Read Expert Review

    Using innovative teaching methods, iversity courses are designed to help students learn from anywhere in the world. Much of the coursework is free to use, and students earn a certificate when they complete a course.

    Read Expert Review

    Students can use Learnable to become better developers. Unlimited access to over 5,000 courses is available on their website, and students can learn at their own pace, expanding their coding skills as they progress.

    Read Expert Review

    Students who are interested in the tech field can take courses at Treehouse. Classes range from basic introductory level courses to advanced coursework for pros. A community of students and teachers offer support and feedback.

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    Features to consider when choosing an online course website

    Sterling academic curriculum

    What you learn in a course determines how useful it will be after you finish school. Incorporating different teaching methods, using the most up-to-date information and relating the classroom to the real world all make education applicable, after obtaining a certificate of completion or a degree.

    • Real-life examples: A course relying on dry academic examples might not translate well into a real world setting.
    • Multiple teaching styles: A lecture-focused course won't work for all students. Some learners absorb information verbally, while others need to read or apply knowledge to internalize it.
    • Up-to-date material: Information can become obsolete, so curricula must have periodical updates to stay current.

    Qualified instructors

    Teaching in a traditional classroom is very different from teaching online. Instructors need to be fully qualified in both the subject matter and learning methodologies to be effective.

    • Multimedia lessons: A teacher who is comfortable presenting materials using a lecture, power point presentation and video will be more effective than a simple lecture lesson.
    • Training and experience: A teacher who has taken a week-long course on teaching via a digital platform is not going to be as engaging and efficient as a teacher that specializes in online learning environments.
    • Subject matter experts: A math teacher should have an advanced mathematics degree, and an English teacher should have a history of publication. Teachers should only lead classes in areas of their expertise.

    Student requirements

    Different schools have different expectations for their students. Some might make group work mandatory, while attendance might play a role in grading, even through online courses.

    • One-on-one learning: Even when enrolled in a class with others, many online courses can seem like a one-on-one class. Teachers tailor the learning environment for the individual.
    • Group work: Working in groups allows students to develop social skills and teamwork skills necessary in today's corporate world.
    • Varied assignments: A course that consists of reading a chapter and taking a test might not engage learners throughout the process. Using daily, weekly and long-term assignments to build engagement helps ensure a better educational experience.

    Performance assessments

    Learning is all about outcomes. The final grade and the amount of knowledge a student takes away from a course should be measured throughout the class.

    • Graded assignments: When a course begins, students should receive a syllabus that lists all the graded assignments and metrics used to develop their final grades.
    • Tracking grades along the way: No student should be forced to wonder about their grade. They should be able to look up their current standing at any time.
    • Facing feedback: How often does a professor provide student feedback? It's through feedback that students improve their classroom performance.


    The platform used to communicate with teachers and other students, look at course materials, and attend online classes is a critical part of a successful learning experience.

    • Intuitive interface: The interface used to access course materials is the most important part of any online courses. If it is easy to understand and use, the course will proceed more smoothly.
    • Mobile access: More people use mobile devices to access the Internet now than ever. A mobile interface is critical for students that have to juggle a work, school and home life.
    • Multimedia display: People learn in a variety of different ways, and it's important to present information using as many methods as possible.

    Course accreditation

    Accreditation determines how a degree or certificate can be used in the workplace. Some accreditation is more valuable than others.

    • Regional accreditation: Regional accreditation is how most colleges prove the quality of their education. For a degree program, it is the best way of distinguishing quality from degree mills.
    • Distance learning accreditation: With the rise of distance learning programs, there is now accreditation available specifically for learning organizations specializing in online courses.
    • Certification programs: Many certifications require acceptance from a national organization. Be sure the curriculum offered meets national standards.

    Types of online courses

    Open schedule

    These programs are the most flexible of online courses. Students are provided with all the needed coursework and deadlines at the beginning of the class and allowed to work at their own pace.

    Hybrid courses

    Like the name, these course are a hybrid between traditional classes and open schedule programs. While work can be turned in at any time before the deadline, students are required to meet on a schedule either in class or through an online chat room.

    Computer-based classes

    These courses use a computer platform to deliver information, but students must use a designated classroom or computer lab and meet on a regular schedule.

    Fixed-time courses

    With a fixed time course, classes are essentially the same as traditional classrooms, using an online platform. Students must log in at a designated time and complete class work with the group.

    Who takes courses online?

    New high school graduates

    After high school, the traditional path includes immediate enrollment in college. New grads may find the convenience of online courses attractive, especially as they may work to help reduce their student debt.


    After several years in a field, some professionals may decide they are ready for a change. They might want a quick certification program, or flexible course that works around their schedule.

    Stay-at-home moms

    Staying at home with the kids makes a lot of sense for many families, but when children reach school age, many moms may want to pursue their own education. Online courses offer a way for them to stretch their wings while remaining available to their kids.

    Students on a budget

    Online courses are often less expensive than traditional schools, making them a great way to earn a degree on a budget. Those who don't have a lot of money can still continue their education through distance learning.

    Online course website expert reviews


    Dedicated to providing an exemplary education, without the price tag of a traditional college, Coursera partners with some leading universities to offer courses completely free. They push student engagement and faster learning as core values.

    Read More is an educational platform that serves millions of people. Their subscription-based model is revolutionary and offers unlimited educational opportunities.

    Read More

    Udemy offers classes in virtually every subject imaginable, all available at any time. Their goal is to make education accessible and convenient.

    Read More

    A technology-focused online learning environment, Udacity works with industry leaders such as Google, AT&T, Salesforce and more. They bridge the gap between academic knowledge and real world applications.

    • Technology experts as instructors: Teachers at Udacity are leading industry experts with successful projects under their belts.
    • Nanodegrees: Available through Udacity, these degrees are a type of credentialing that businesses recognize as industry specific.
    • Free to audit: Course materials are available free of charge.
    • Reasonable rates on credit courses: To get the extra, one-on-one instruction time and a graded project, students must pay to enroll. Rates are based on a monthly enrollment fee, not a pay-per-credit model. Faster students can save a bundle on classes.
    • Enterprise learning: Professionals may attend classes through their employer.
    • Best for: New high school grads, stay-at-home moms, professionals and students on a budget.
    Khan Academy

    This nonprofit organization is dedicated to bringing free education to everyone. They work with a variety of partners to create clear and engaging curricula that help keep students on track until they demonstrate subject mastery.

    Read More

    Iversity is a platform for massive open online courses. The goal with this platform is to better lives, which is a big part of why it is a free option.

    • Price: Iversity is free to use, making it accessible to almost everyone with Internet access.
    • Plentiful course options: Learn what interests you, as you become curious.
    • Expert educational partners: Courses feel like traditional classes because they are designed by real professors.
    • Credit transfers are available: Based in Europe, this program offers the potential to earn transfer credits to certified universities.
    • Self-driven education: You decide what to learn and when to learn it. There is no schedule or time frame.
    • Best for: New high school grads, stay-at-home moms and students on a budget.

    Treehouse is an educational platform dedicated to cutting-edge technology and business.

    • Technology focus: Take every course needed to put you on the path to designing your own app, building a new web-based business or writing a program.
    • Expert teachers: Teachers only teach subjects in which they have expert knowledge and real-world skills.
    • Free trial: Try out the program before you sign up for a pro account. You can see how the classes work before you spend a dime.
    • Inexpensive subscription pricing: You pay by the month as long as you are enrolled, and take as many classes as you can fit in.
    • Self-paced learning: There are no schedules, no deadlines and no missed assignments.
    • Best for: New high school grads, stay-at-home moms, professionals and students on a budget.

    Turning everyone into a coder, Codecademy teaches anyone how to code quickly and effectively. They have helped 24 million learners worldwide.

    • Most major coding languages: The courses available cover modern coding languages to allow learners to build custom programs, websites and apps.
    • Social education: Based on techniques pioneered by Facebook and Zynga, this platform uses social media strategies to build engagement.
    • Free classes: All courses on Codecademy are available at no charge.
    • Code Hour app: Download the app to learn basic coding on the go in one hour.
    • Best for: Professionals and stay-at-home moms.

    Learnable is an online platform dedicated to helping people learn how to design and develop for the web. Since their inception, they have helped more than 50,000 people reach their educational goals.

    • Expansive course catalog: An open platform that covers every subject should have thousands of courses, but it is an unexpected gift in a niche provider like Learnable.
    • Affordable: Most professional training comes along with high price tags. Certification courses might cost thousands of dollars, but Learnable is just a few dollars a month.
    • Free e-books: As part of the subscription, learners can download e-books every month, at no charge.
    • Explore big data: Analytics are a major part of modern business success, so learn how to collect and apply data for best results.
    • Test your knowledge: After reviewing course materials, you can test your knowledge before scheduling a certification exam.
    • Best for: Professionals
    Canvas Network

    A platform dedicated to providing free and open coursework, Canvas Network acts as a repository for courses.

    • Open forum: Discuss classes with other learners to get a different viewpoint on the material.
    • Leading university partners: Available classes come from top universities such as Cornell, University of Washington and more.
    • Real teachers for real classes: Accredited professors teach classes online and at top-tier universities.
    • Pricing: All classes are entirely free, with materials included.
    • Open enrollment: While classes have specific schedules, enrollment is open to the public and there are no class maximums.
    • Best for: New high school grads, stay-at-home moms, professionals and students on a budget.

    Compare Reviews for Top Online Course Websites

    Read Expert Review

    Udacity offers online courses designed by some of the world's top companies including Google, Facebook, AT&T and more. The courses offered teach students skills associated with information technology & computer science.

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    The ConsumerAffairs Research Team believes everyone deserves to make smart decisions. We aim to provide readers with the most up-to-date information available about today's consumer products and services.

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