Online learning is increasingly popular, and EdTech companies have experienced an unprecedented boom in users in the last couple of years. That’s why it can be tricky to find one that suits you. For this reason, I’ve decided to test and analyze several adult education platforms.
Below is a comparison table and a detailed overview of my conclusions. This overview is based on my personal experience only.
Coursera is an open-source provider (MOOC) of courses offered by universities across the world and tutors. In 2021, there are a total of 244 educators from 53 countries active on the platform. They offer single courses, certifications and specializations, degree programs, and guided projects. Most courses are offered on-demand unless they have specific start/end dates.
Coursera currently offers over 20 Bachelor’s and Masters’s degree programs, over 80 professional certificates composed of several courses per program, over 1,300 specializations, and over 4,000 courses, both free and paid. Subjects range from Business and Marketing to Social Sciences and Humanities, amongst others.
Many courses are offered in English and other languages such as Spanish, Vietnamese, and Russian, to name a few. You can also set up subtitles on some courses’ videos. The providers are universities, private companies like Google and IBM, as well as individual professionals who are part of the Coursera network.
This online education platform is compiled of video lectures, reading materials, quizzes, and tests, often using external tools to complete the courses. Sometimes, like for one of its most popular specializations, “Python for Everybody” which I used for testing this platform during my free trial, you’d need to download third-party software.
There is a 7-day free trial to access the learning materials, but after it, you’d have to pay a fee of $39 per month if you’re learning a specialization, or several thousands of dollars if you choose a degree. Several courses and guided projects are offered for free.
Currently, there are over 1,700 free courses and over 2,000 guided projects, over 500 of which are free. The latter is a great applied learning tool as it allows you to use your skills in practice, and the certificate is also free of charge. There’s also a Coursera Plus subscription for $399 a year which offers unlimited access to all content and certifications. Considering the prices of tuition in top universities, it’s a good way to get access to top-quality teaching at a discount, minus contact hours.
Another MOOC on this list is edX which also offers courses and programs from universities and enterprises around the world. A month ago, it was acquired by 2U. As a result, the platform is expected to reach over 50m learners globally. As of now, over 160 institutions and providers from over 20 countries are represented on the platform.
As of 2021, edX offers over 3,400 courses and 371 professional certifications and degree programs (MicroBachelors and MicroMasters which count towards college credit). They also offer XSeries programs, which are deep dives into in-demand fields by top providers and professionals that consist of three or more courses.
This online education platform includes subjects like Sciences, SocialTechnology and Engineering, and Law. Most courses are offered in English, but some are offered in French, Dutch, and Mandarin to name a few. The content includes videos and reading materials, with exams available in paid mode. English subtitles are available on videos.
Unlike Coursera, the courses are available for a limited time, after which edX deletes them. The providers are universities and for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Some edX courses are also offered on Coursera, like “Getting Started with Python”, which is part of the specialization I mentioned above.
Some courses on edX are free of charge, but specializations and degree programs are not. For example, I tested out the platform with the Introduction to Marketing course offered by Edinburgh University. The course is offered for free, but only for a limited time period and without graded assignments and exams.
You can upgrade for $149 to get access to them and get a certificate of completion. Other courses can cost from $50 to $300. The “Digital Marketing Fundamentals” professional certificate, of which Introduction to Marketing is a part, costs $313.20. Other degree programs can cost up to $2-3k. For more information, read our review of this online education platform conducted in 2014.
The British platform owned by The Open University (The OU) and The Seek Group is another MOOC that offers a wide range of courses and degrees for adult learning by leading universities around the world. As of 2021, Future Learn offers courses by over 200 universities, companies, and NGOs from over 20 countries. As part of The OU, this online education platform in itself also offers its own courses.
It has offerings ranging from short online courses to microcredentials and online degrees. Currently, there are over 1,200 short courses, 43 certifications, and 36 Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. They’ve also recently launched a new subscription model called ExpertTracks targeted at employees, which allows them to boost their job skills in 3 or more short courses. Currently, there are over 80 of them.
The subjects of Future Learn’s courses include Social and Political Sciences, Medicine and Psychology, STEM, and others. The breadth of subjects on offer is smaller than Coursera’s and edX, but still quite comprehensive. The course content includes videos, transcripts, discussions, and tests in paid mode.
Like the other two MOOC providers, Future Learn allows students to study courses for free, but for a limited time and in audit mode only. This means that users won’t be able to access tests or have a certificate of completion. You can pay for a single course (Upgrade) or purchase an early subscription (Unlimited).
The prices vary in this online education platform vary. For instance, the “Multilingual Practices” course from the University of Groningen which I used to test the platform was free for 6 weeks. The Upgrade would’ve been $94 while the Unlimited subscription of $279.99 would get me access to that course and all others on the platform for a year. ExpertTracks come with a 7-day free trial and then a monthly subscription fee of $39. The certifications can cost around $1,000. The online degrees’ prices vary, but from what I can see, they are similar to offline tuition fees of the universities in question.
This particular MOOC focuses on applied job-related skills rather than academics, which is more of edX’s territory. As of this year, Udemy offers over 155,000 courses offered by over 55,000 instructors in various disciplines, including Design, Programming and Software, Photography and Arts, Music, Lifestyle Teaching, and others.
Unlike other providers on this list, Udemy works primarily with individual instructors who are experts in their field rather than large institutions. The courses are on-demand, like Coursera’s. The website is offered in several languages, including English, Japanese, and Turkish, amongst others. Some courses are also available in those languages. I used the course “Building An Airbnb Clone With No-Code Using Bubble” and previewed it for testing the platform. Three lectures were available for preview, with English subtitles only.
There are over 500 free courses on Udemy, available in audit mode. For the paid ones, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on Udemy courses, and users can preview the course for free. Users get a certificate from Udemy for all paid courses. A lot of courses often offer special deals if a user purchases within a specific time frame. For instance, “Building An Airbnb Clone With No-Code Using Bubble” was 86% off at the time of testing. Most courses cost up to $200.
There are also subscriptions available – for instance, Udemy Pro for students who want to obtain IT certifications. Another available subscription is Personal Plan but it’s not currently available to everyone (wasn’t available to me at the time of testing).
Overall, the choice of a learning platform depends entirely on the user’s needs. If they’re more inclined towards academia and want to earn some credits, edX could be the platform for them. If they’re looking to upskill or boost their CV with a new skill, Future Learn’s ExpertTracks and free courses that they can upgrade from to get a certificate could be for them. If, however, they need to develop a very particular skill for work or their personal use, such as master a no-code editor Bubble, they must want to consider Udemy.
After conducting this analysis, using criteria of range of courses available, priced and free trials, and other factors, I concluded that the best online adult education platform in 2021 is Coursera. However, it seems to me that Coursera can offer all of the above and more, which is my reason for considering it the best provider of adult online learning in 2021.
Photo credits: The infographic has been made by the author for TechAcute. The images for each of the online education platforms have been provided by Coursera, edX, Future Learn, and Udemy respectively, and have been provided for press usage. The feature image has been taken by Avel Chuklanov.
Sources: Devon Delfino (Forbes) / Catherine Cooke (Upskillwise) / Rebecca Koenig (EdSurge)