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6 Best Online Business Courses for 2021 - Investopedia

6 Best Online Business Courses for 2021 - Investopedia


6 Best Online Business Courses for 2021 - Investopedia

Posted: 14 Jan 2021 09:14 AM PST

Bottom Line

By taking courses that fill in your business knowledge gaps, you can get many of the perks of going to business school without setting foot in a classroom or spending any money. Some courses are worth spending on, but there may be good alternatives available for free as well.

Elite colleges and universities sometimes open up their classrooms to the virtual world for free or at a low price, which can give you a more college-like experience without the time or financial commitment.

Courses are a fun and low-commitment way to build your business knowledge. These best business courses can give you a jump start in core topics that could affect your business's bottom line. From our top choice, a strategy course from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, to more topic-specific courses from other respected universities and sources, any of these could increase your business acumen without breaking the bank.

Category  Course Title  Affiliation Price
Best Overall Business Strategy from Wharton: Competitive Advantage Wharton School – University of Pennsylvania Free / $199 for certificate
Best for Starting a New Business Business Legal Requirements Small Business Administration Free
Best for Accounting Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Free
Best for Finance Leading with Finance Harvard $1,600
Best for Marketing Fundamentals of Digital Marketing University of Maryland Free / $499 for certificate
Best for Business Law Contract Law: From Trust to Promise to Contract Harvard Free / $199 for certificate

Frequently Asked Questions: Online Business Courses

What Are Online Business Courses?

Online business courses are digital classes that cover a specific topic. Some online business courses follow a set schedule led by a live instructor, while others are self-led at any time and at your own pace.

Due to the nature of online business courses, some colleges, universities, and other content creators offer free digital courses. Others require a fee to join, which may be worth it for specific topics or credentials.

When you take a course online, you can generally expect video, audio, written content, or a combination that guides you through the learning experience.

Are Online Business Courses Worth It?

Online business courses can absolutely be worth it. As with many free digital products, you sometimes get what you pay for. However, many high-quality courses exist, both free and paid.

To decide if the financial and time commitment is worth it for you, read the course description, syllabus, topics covered, and reviews from any prior students. Sticking with reputable platforms and institutions can also help you ensure you choose a quality course that's worth your energy.

What Are the Most Useful Business Course Topics?

The most useful business course topic is the one you know the least about. If you are brand new to business, consider starting with courses on marketing, finance, accounting, and business strategy.

Depending on your business or goals, you may want to take niche courses as well. Courses relevant to your industry or role are likely available in addition to the general topics covered here.

What Do Online Business Courses Cost?

Online business courses can vary widely in cost. Many courses are available for free. Others may offer a free version or require payment for certification at the end of the course. But on the high end, you may find courses that cost many thousands of dollars.

Paying for online courses can be worthwhile, but take care to not overpay for a course that won't deliver the value you're seeking.

How We Chose the Best Online Business Courses

To choose the best online business courses, the Investopedia team reviewed dozens of courses across a range of online platforms. Winners covered important topics with a depth-level appropriate for a wide range of small business owners as well as managers and executives at businesses of any size. In addition to course topics, the source of the instruction was very important to the selection process with a focus on highly-reputable, accredited institutions.

Best online learning platforms for 2021: Udemy, Coursera, and more - Mashable

Posted: 17 Jan 2021 02:00 AM PST

When we spend so much of our time online, we're bound to learn something while clicking and scrolling. Discover something new with Mashable's series I learned it on the internet.

In the past few years, technological advancements and high demand for accessible, low-cost education have led to ridiculous growth in the online learning sector. (For some perspective, experts predicted in 2018 that the e-learning industry would hit $325 billion by 2025 — that's triple its revenue from ten years prior.) So, while the coronavirus pandemic didn't launch the online learning boom, it sure didn't hurt its case. 

Yet even after several semesters of mandatory distance learning, an important question lingers: Can an online education truly replace in-person learning? 

It's not a universal panacea, but for many of us, absolutely — especially if you want to kickstart a career, move up in your current field, make the switch to a completely different industry, or pursue a new hobby.

What are the pros and cons of online learning?

According to BestColleges' 2020 Online Education Trends report, just over half of students who pursue an online education instead of in-person learning do so for the sheer convenience factor: When you can learn from anywhere at your own pace, you've got more flexibility to study around other commitments (be it a job or family responsibilities) and play catchup on evenings and weekends.

Online learning programs, even whole-ass degrees, also tend to be significantly cheaper than their in-person counterparts. (Student loans? In this economy?) More on that in a moment.

Just over half of students who pursue an online education in favor of in-person learning do so for the sheer convenience factor.

Of course, online learning presents its own challenges. Zoom fatigue is very real, as many of us have learned. There are also distractions aplenty — good luck trying to slog through a boring assignment on the same device that could otherwise connect you to social media or run The Sims. It doesn't help that most programs offer very little oversight from an instructor to keep you on task, either.

Overall, though, the benefits of online learning seem to outweigh any issues it poses: A whopping 94% of the students surveyed for that aforementioned trends report said online learning has (or will have) a positive return on investment, with 95% of them recommending online education to other prospective learners.

What kinds of online classes are out there?

Along with traditional online courses and degrees, which are restricted to students at certain universities and typically require an admissions process with prerequisites, you'll also run into "massive open online courses," or MOOCs, their more affordable and widely available cousins.

MOOCs are virtual classes that are available to anyone with an internet connection; popular online courses can enroll thousands of students at any given time, hence the "massive" part. They're often free, focus on a single topic, and usually feature pre-recorded, self-paced video lectures, though "synchronous" versions with real-time lessons by course creators are also a thing.

For the purpose of this piece, we'll be focusing primarily on MOOCs and MOOC providers (or third-party online learning platforms). 

What does it mean if a class or school is "accredited"?

"Accredited" programs have been officially recognized and approved by some sort of institution after meeting a set of standards. Accreditation is basically the mark of a great reputation.

For what it's worth, the vast majority of MOOCs and MOOC providers are not accredited (though the rare platform like Coursera will work with leading universities and companies to offer some accredited coursework). That doesn't mean you should avoid them completely: Taking a MOOC online course can help you figure out whether you're actually interested in a given subject or industry before you pursue it full-time (and spend a good amount of money doing so). Besides, any sort of professional development you do in your free time is a sign to employers that you're a real go-getter.

Can I earn certificates online?

Most online learning platforms only dole out certificates of completion once you're done with a class — sometimes for a fee, and sometimes in the in the form of an achievement "badge"/icon that can be displayed on social sites (which is an easy way to to showcase your achievements to prospective employers).

Those that do offer professional certificates in select subject areas are fewer and far between. If you want to go that route, look for platforms like Coursera that officially partner with colleges and business.

How much does it cost to take a MOOC?

Some good news: Tons of MOOCs are completely, totally free, though you'll probably have to make an account on their hosting platforms to enroll.

Depending on the site, paid classes are usually either sold à la carte for anywhere from $20 to $200 apiece (see: Udemy) or as a part of an all-access subscription for a couple hundred bucks a year (hi, MasterClass). Note that most MOOC providers offer a mix of free and paid classes.

Relatedly, keep an eye out for platforms that offer enterprise plans for businesses and teams — you might be able to get your employer to pay for your continuing education.

Who teaches MOOCs?

It's not ubiquitous, but many MOOCs are created and taught by industry experts, not trained teachers or professors who have put in years at a university. Instructor vetting also varies from platform to platform: Some require a thorough application with essays and video demonstrations of their teaching style, while others let just about anyone publish a class (barring explicit, offensive, or dangerous topic restrictions). 

This means coursework quality and production value can vary greatly from class to class even on the same site, which one of the biggest drawbacks to this type of learning.

All things considered, what are the best online learning platforms?

Now that you're an expert on all things MOOC, keep reading to check out our top picks. 

Looking for the scoop on the best online learning platforms for kids, specifically? Click here.

Lifetime access to all course materials • Learn at your own pace • Student ratings are readily accessible on every course's landing page • Certificates of completion available for paid classes • 30-day money-back guarantee • Offline viewing on the Udemy mobile app available for iOS and Android) • Frequent sales • Lots of free classes • Huge range of topics
Instructors are experts in their respective fields, but most aren't actual teachers/professors
The most affordable way to dip your toes into a new industry or hobby.

Udemy

With tens of thousands of classes on both hard and soft skills, Udemy lets you curate your own education on a budget.
  • Accredited: No
  • Price: Select classes are free; paid courses range from $19.99 to $199.99
  • Free trial: No
  • Number of courses available: 130,000+
  • Subject areas: Design, development, marketing, IT and software, personal development, business, photography, and music
  • Team/enterprise plans available: Yes (Udemy for Business)
Udemy is an extremely popular online platform with hundreds of free video classes and tens of thousands of paid ones starting at just $19.99. (Pro tip: They can get even cheaper if you catch one of its regular sales.) Each class is sold à la carte, so you'll only pay for the skills you really want to learn.
You've got plenty to choose from, too. Subject-wise, Udemy's course "marketplace" covers the broadest range of personal and professional development topics we've seen — everything from finance, Python, and digital marketing to soapmaking and watercolor landscape paintings. Plus, they're all self-paced and include lifetime access, in case you ever need a refresher; once you buy a class, the course material is yours to learn from and revisit anytime.
Here are the three most popular classes on Udemy as of Jan. 2021:
1-month free trial • Free with LinkedIn Premium • Most classes offer "badges" that can be showcased on your LinkedIn profile • Learn at your own pace • 50+ new classes released every week • Offline viewing through the LinkedIn Learning mobile app (available for iOS and Android) • Classes are available in 7 languages
Classes are taught by "real-world practitioners" and professionals, not professors • Not as useful if you aren't active on LinkedIn • You'll lose access to paid course content if you cancel your subscription • Very corporate vibe
A serious résumé-booster that unlocks all the perks of LinkedIn Premium.

LinkedIn Learning

This subscription-based e-learning platform from the site that powers your job search can help you flesh out the "professional skills" portion of your résumé.
  • Accredited: No
  • Price: $29.99/month or $239.88/year; free with LinkedIn Premium
  • Free trial: Yes
  • Number of courses available: 16,000+
  • Subject areas: Project Management Institute (PMI), programming languages, illustration, drawing, leadership skills, spreadsheets, NASBA Continuing Professional Education (CPE), data analysis, design thinking, personal effectiveness, data science careers, creativity, job searching, big data, and web design business
  • Team/enterprise plans available: Yes
Your résumé may claim that you're proficient in Excel, but are you really? Enter: LinkedIn Learning (previously Lynda.com). 
Members get access to its library of instructional videos and receive personalized class recommendations based on their LinkedIn profiles, though you're free to go off-script if you're considering a different career path — dozens of new courses covering in-demand creative, business, and tech skills are added every week. For a deeper dive into specific topics or career tracks, you can also pursue "learning paths" that curate several related classes.
Note that LinkedIn Learning comes free with a LinkedIn Premium subscription, which get you further professional benefits like InMail messaging, application insights, interview prep, and improved search features.
Here are the three most popular LinkedIn Learning courses of 2020: 
7-day free trial for new members • Thousands of free classes • Big course library • Offline viewing available to Premium members via the Skillshare mobile app (for iOS and Android) • Students can share work and offer feedback among themselves
You'll lose access to class videos and any downloadable learning content if you cancel your Premium membership • No certificates offered (professional or completion) • Course creators are "working professionals, experts, and subject matter enthusiasts," not professors
An excellent resource for right-brainers.

Skillshare

Skillshare students come out of its hands-on classes with strong, portfolio-worthy projects.
  • Accredited: No
  • Price: Select courses are free; upgrade to Skillshare Premium for $19.99/month or $99.99/year
  • Free trial: Yes
  • Number of courses available: 29,000+
  • Subject areas: Animation, design, illustration, lifestyle, photo/film, business, technology, and writing
  • Team/enterprise plans available: Yes (Skillshare for Teams)
If you've been biding your time in quarantine by watching crafting tutorials on TikTok and YouTube, consider signing up for Skillshare. The recently revamped educational platform covers mostly artsy-fartsy and DIY topics, with a sprinkling of business and personal development lessons added to the mix for all you entrepreneurial spirits out there (in case you want to turn a side hustle into your main gig). More than 2,000 of its offerings are free, but a $20/month Skillshare Premium membership gets you unlimited access to all 29,000-plus of them.
Most courses are bite-sized at about 30 to 40 minutes; each one features pre-recorded video lessons capped off by a project that allows you to get some real-world experience with your new skills. Skillshare won't give you a professional or completion certificate for completing them, unfortunately, but you can always pad your portfolio with those projects.
Here are the three most popular classes on Skillshare as of Jan. 2021:
Offers accredited classes • Financial aid and scholarships available • 7-day trial to enroll in a Specialization for free • Instructors are extremely qualified (either professors from leading universities or experts from top companies) • 14-day money-back guarantee for Coursera Plus • Partnered with top universities • MasterTrack Certificate programs include live instruction • Most classes have flexible deadlines • Student ratings for each course are readily accessible • College students can enroll in unlimited Guided Projects and one course/year with a free Coursera for Campus Student plan (sign up with school email) • Lots of free classes • Audit paid courses for free • Offline viewing • Mobile app available for iOS and Android
Convoluted pricing • Certificates of completion aren't free • Many courses have specific enrollment periods
A university-level education with fewer strings attached.

Coursera

From short, portfolio-worthy projects you can complete in an afternoon to full-fledged online degrees, Coursera is your one-stop shop for an online college-level education.
  • Accredited: Coursera itself is not accredited, but some of its classes are
  • Price: Free to $99 per course; $9.99 per Guided Project; $39 to $99/month per Specialization; $39 to $99/month per Professional Certificate; approx. $2,000 $6,000 per MasterTrack Certificate; approx. $9,000 - $45,000 per degree; $399/year for Coursera Plus
  • Free trial: Yes
  • Number of courses available: 4,600 courses plus 1,000 Guided Projects, 500+ Specializations, 45 certificates, and 25 degrees
  • Subject areas: Arts and humanities, business, computer science, data science, IT, health, math and logic, personal development, physical science and engineering, social sciences, language learning
  • Team/enterprise plans available: Yes (Coursera for Business)
Founded by a pair of Stanford University professors, Coursera is the rare MOOC provider that's partnered with top universities and companies to offer a solid mix of accredited and non-accredited online learning.
Its website is structured in a way that makes it tough to compare all of its different online course programs and pricing without creating an account, so we reached out to its press team for a detailed breakdown. Here's the scoop:
  • Individual Courses are comprised of video lectures, auto-graded and peer-reviewed assignments, and discussion forums. Some are self-paced, while others have set enrollment periods; either way, they last about four to six weeks each.
  • Guided Projects are brief assignments that offer real-world experience with different tools and skills. They can be finished in two hours or less, and all necessary learning materials (like software and data) are provided via cloud desktops.
  • A Specialization is a curated set of courses and projects that'll turn you into an expert on a specific topic. They tend to be more involved, and most take three to six months to complete.
  • Coursera's Professional Certificates are three- to nine-month training programs run by leading universities and companies (think IBM and Google). They're designed to prep you for a job in a new field and/or industry certification exams.
  • A MasterTrack is an online module of an accredited university Master's degree program with live instruction and hands-on projects. Upon completion, you'll earn a certificate and credit that can be applied toward the full degree. 
  • Online Bachelor's and Master's Degree programs on Coursera take one to four years to finish and are typically far cheaper than their in-person counterparts. 
Not sure which program's right for you? A $399/year Coursera Plus subscription unlocks unlimited access to more than 3,000 classes, Guided Projects, Specializations, and Professional Certificates. For an even more flexible approach, you can also audit most paid classes to unlock all course materials for free.
7-day free trial • Techdegree graduates earn a certificate • Learn at your own pace • Advanced students can test out of subjects they already know • In-house teachers (all instructors are full-time staffers) • Offline viewing available • Lots of projects for practical, hands-on experience and portfolio material
No certificates of completion for individual courses and tracks • Minimal support/resources available if you're not pursing a Techdegree • No mobile app
Expand your programming skillset while building a network.

Treehouse

Friendly and collaborative, Treehouse is the place to go for a coding education that'll help you land a sweet gig in tech.
  • Accredited: No
  • Price: $29.99/month for access to Treehouse's library of courses and tracks; $199/month per Techdegree
  • Free trial: Yes
  • Number of courses available: 285 individual classes, 93 practice exercises, 196 workshops, 41 tracks, and 5 Techdegrees
  • Subject areas: 21st-century skills, Android, APIs, business, C#, computer science, CSS, data analysis, databases, design, development tools, digital literacy, EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion), Go, HTML, Java, JavaScript, learning resources, machine learning, PHP, Python, quality assurance, Ruby, and security
  • Team/enterprise plans available: Yes (Treehouse for Teams)
Learning on Treehouse is done across thousands of hours of on-demand video classes covering all things coding and web design/development (including game and mobile dev), which are geared toward n00b and advanced programmers alike. (You can test out of subjects you already know, which is really nice if you've already mastered the basics — you don't have to waste time rehashing stuff.)
Treehouse offers two different membership tiers: Thirty bucks a month gets you unlimited access to its community forum along with a collection of individual courses and "tracks," which are mini-programs comprised of several classes on a particular skillset. For a more intense learning experience that dives deep into a specific topic, you can instead opt to pursue a self-paced, project-based, bootcamp-style "Techdegree" for $200 a month. (Students in these programs get exclusive access to Treehouse's Slack community, where they can build a network of professional contacts; unlock live chat support; have the option of participating in weekly office hours; receive guided learning paths; and earn certificates upon graduation.) At the time of writing, Treehouse offered Techdegrees in Front End Web Development, Full Stack JavaScript, PHP Development, Python Design, and UX Design.
Not sure where to begin your online education with Treehouse? Click here to take its placement quiz.
Distance learning resources • Free tool to combat Zoom fatigue • Educational content available anytime, anywhere • Earn badges for completing challenges • Self-paced • Test and college prep • Lots of former teachers on staff • Recommends lessons based on your performance on previous tests • Customizable accessibility settings for those with low vision or colorblindness, students who are deaf or hard of hearing, and learners who are sensitive to animations • Lessons offered in 46 languages • Two mobile apps for iOS and Android (Khan Academy and Khan Academy Kids for children ages 2-7) • Download any videos for offline learning
Minimal human interaction • Strictly academic topics • No language-learning classes • No certificates (professional or completion)
Back to basics without breaking the bank.

Khan Academy

This nonprofit educational platform won't bring any extra pizazz to a résumé, but if you need to brush up on some core academic skills (or help your kiddo with their homework), it's just the ticket.
  • Accredited: No
  • Price: Free
  • Free trial: N/A
  • Number of courses available: Not specified, but there are 70,000 practice problems available in addition to videos, articles, and quizzes
  • Subject areas: Math, science, computing, test prep, arts and humanities, economics, reading and language arts, and life skills
  • Team/enterprise plans available: N/A

Khan Academy offers free online courses, learning resources, and test prep on STEM and history topics for toddlers through young adults. The former are comprised of highly accessible readings, video lectures, and interactive quizzes; some are taught by founder Sal Khan, while others are led by the organization's in-house team of former teachers and industry experts. You can track your progress across its "Mastery System," where points are dolled out for mastering different skills, and earn badges for acing different challenges. 
For these ~unprecedented times~, check out Khan Academy's distance learning guides and free Zoom fatigue tool if the grind of remote learning is wearing on you.

Unlimited courses for one annual fee • Stellar video quality/production value • New classes added all the time • Wide range of subjects • Suitable for all skill levels • 30-day money-back guarantee • PDF workbooks included with every class • Select number of video courses can be downloaded for offline viewing on the iOS app • TV app available • A fun gift!
No certificates (professional or completion) • No offline viewing on the Android app • You'll lose access to all content if you end your subscription • Smaller range of topics compared to other online learning platforms • Zero student/teacher interaction
Like TED Talks but better.

MasterClass

MasterClass isn't a replacement for a traditional education, but its celebrity instructors' video demonstrations make for some fascinating TV.
  • Accredited: No
  • Price: $15/month billed annually
  • Free trial: No
  • Number of courses available: 100+
  • Subject areas: Sports and gaming, arts and entertainment, music, writing, food, design and style, science and tech, business, home and lifestyle, community and government, and wellness
  • Team/enterprise plans available: No
More edutainment than anything, MasterClass gives you an up close and personal look at the skills and talents your faves are known for — a peek into their genius, if you will.
One of the platform's biggest draws is the super high production value on its pre-recorded video lectures and demos — the lighting is great, the audio is crystal-clear, and the course structure is easy to follow. Each one's divided into about twenty 10-minute lessons and includes in-depth workbooks and notes. 
The other appeal of MasterClass is, of course, its ever-updating lineup of A-list instructors. Who better to teach cooking than Gordon Ramsay, or TV writing than Shonda Rhimes? (As of Jan. 2021, its most recent additions include Issa Rae's class on how to make it big in Hollywood and an art/creativity course led by Jeff Koons.)

What else do I need to know about choosing an online learning platform?

Above all, a good MOOC provider will put its student reviews front and center so you know exactly what you're getting into in terms of teacher quality/teaching style, time commitment, and course difficulty level.

It's also nice to be able to fall back on a platform's free trial or money-back guarantee, in case your schedule changes, you wind up straight-up hating a subject, or you don't mesh well with an instructor's teaching style.

I'm interested in a very specific topic. How can I find online classes on it?

This one's easy: Just head to Class Central, a search engine and reviews site for more than 15,000 free online classes.

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