Adult education is often spurred by a major life change or maybe even a crisis. Job loss is probably the biggest motivator, but serious illness, divorce, or relocation abroad (particularly as a trailing spouse) are all common reasons to undertake further education.
But you shouldn’t wait for a life (or, indeed, global) crisis to hit to start updating your skillset. Keep current with your industry, or add a useful skill from another field to future-proof your career. And since we all have a little bit more time at home due to the ongoing pandemic, why not take advantage of these online learning outlets that make learning widely accessible?
Best for: general learners
Udemy has an astonishingly large database of roughly 100,000 online learning courses covering a vast range of fields. Courses vary wildly in price—some are free, while others cost hundreds of US dollars. They have near-constant sales, however, so it’s a good idea to wait to see the “real” price of the course.
While the courses are high-quality on the production side, the actual content is less certain. You should ensure that qualified professionals are organising the course (which means doing background research on the teacher and reviewing the syllabus). The upside is that Udemy offers a 30-day refund policy in case the course isn’t up to your standards, and class materials are permanently made available to your account (in case you are a bit of a procrastinator).
Best for: affordable degrees/certifications
Coursera offers thousands of university programmes and courses through their platform, so you know you are getting a high-quality product. The paid version even offers accreditation through partnered universities and corporations, including some huge names like Stanford and Google, which is perfect for those looking to update their CV.
Expect individual courses to cost USD 39 (around QR 156) and up, with full degrees starting at USD 9,000 (around QR 36,000). There are also a couple of options in between, including “specialisations” to master a specific skill. While the degrees are not exactly cheap, they are still far more of a bargain than on-campus versions. If credentials aren’t as important to you—or you just love free stuff—auditing the course (taking it for free) is a viable option when available.
While the hard sciences and IT are the most subscribed Coursera options, one of the most popular courses is “The Science of Well-Being” by Laurie Santos, a Yale University psychology professor.
Best for: the humanities
EdX is another online platform that uses university content but has some key differences from Coursera. For starters, you can’t get a full bachelor’s degree on the platform yet. You can, however, get a master’s degree or take accredited courses that can be transferred to a more traditional university. For most adult learners, however, the course completion certifications noting affiliation with top universities like Harvard and MIT will be enough.
There is a broader range of courses in the humanities on edX, so the overall breadth of offerings is superior. Due to their non-profit status, all courses are fully auditable, and it is much, much easier to access this option, as we find this feature is often (intentionally?) hidden by Coursera.
4. LinkedIn Learning
Best for: soft business skills
The business social media network’s foray into adult education, LinkedIn Learning offers a dizzying array of courses split into three general areas: business, creative, and technology. While you can purchase individual courses for around USD 20 (around QR 80), the platform heavily encourages you to take out a subscription for USD 30/month (around QR 120) to access all the courses on offer—and you can try before you buy with a free month.
While the price tag seems hefty for a platform that does not offer accredited certification, it does include LinkedIn Premium. So if you are upgrading your skills while looking for a new job, this might be a good option for you. A particularly fun feature is the ability to see what courses your connections have “liked” and the courses and videos that are popular among your industry peers. Also, if such things matter to you, adorable little badges can be added to your LinkedIn profile after completing a course.
Best for: creatives
The MasterClass platform takes itself very, very seriously. But then again, when you have luminaries such as Anna Wintour, Martin Scorsese, Gordon Ramsay, and David Sedaris on your platform, you can perhaps be a little snooty. They currently have videos from almost 100 famous professionals in a variety of fields, including media, photography, fashion, the culinary arts, filmmaking, music, and even sports.
Offering valuable insight into particular pursuits, MasterClass gives you an unvarnished look into the career paths of these creative professionals. Most courses are split into 15–20 sections, with a 10-minute lecture in each, so you get several hours of content from your chosen instructor. While the platform is somewhat lacking in hard skills (you won’t be handing in essays to Ms Wintour, after all), their raison d’être is inspiration. And the price they put on inspiration comes to a tidy USD 15/month (around QR 60).
Best for: IT skills
I am a journalist, so I get told to “learn to code” a lot. Well, it has never been easier to do so with all the platforms out there that can teach you everything from BASIC to Malbolge. And while many of the platforms referenced earlier do offer programming classes, they cannot match Codecademy for its task-based instruction and sheer ease of use. All you need is a working web browser to practice coding. Sure, you will eventually want to download all the associated applications for whatever computer language you are working with, but it’s nice to have a solid background first before potentially spending hours installing them.
Oh—and they are free! Although you can pay for a premium account, which gives you additional support, curated coursework, and certificates of completion.
Best for: a language refresher
Learning a foreign language takes dedication—it’s not something you can effectively pick up through an app or online learning platform. The same really applies to Duolingo in that we only recommend it as a supplement to your primary method of study.
All that said, Duolingo is a fantastic tool if you did study a language or two in school—even if that was a decade or two ago. Take a quiz to match your level to the app or website, and then work through the suggested lessons that cover reading and speaking (and writing, to a lesser degree).
With bright, cheery graphics and a colourful interface, Duolingo feels like a mobile game and is a great way to amuse yourself while waiting your turn at the bank counter.