My name is Ned, and I am the founder of 365 Careers, a company specializing in creating online courses. As of April 2019, over 380,000 students around the world have taken one of our trainings, and I decided to write this article to share with you why I believe Udemy is the best platform for online learning.
For full disclosure, my opinion is a bit biased, as our company is an instructor on Udemy (but we have also worked with quite a few other platforms so far).
The fact that I have worked in the online course industry as a course creator full-time for almost 5 years now gives me some valuable insights in the field, and I will make sure to point out the advantages and disadvantages of the platforms we will discuss here.
Video version of the article:
Let’s say a few words about the competitive landscape, shall we?
The online course industry is experiencing massive growth. And I believe that this trend will continue over the next decade, as more people learn of the advantages of self-paced online learning. Moreover, online courses have two additional benefits. They make education scalable and immensely more affordable and also provide access to a plurality of teachers and industry professionals who would be impossible to reach by students all over the world. This is very exciting, as it is the path to creating a world of equal opportunity where people who want to learn will be able to learn as much as they want to and move forward in life. Е-learning is one of the most remarkable developments since the invention of the internet.
A few years ago, a marketing research company called Global Industry Analysts projected that “E Learning” would reach $107 billion in 2015. And that happened.
Now, the same firm expects that the industry would triple its size by 2025 surpassing $325 billion of annual spend. That’s a noticeable increase, which could turn out to be slightly conservative as B2B trainings online have been expanding at a much faster pace.
Developing countries like China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Russia are still to enter this equation, but once they do, they’ll catch up very fast. I can definitely tell there is much interest in these countries, as our company has already been contacted by many potential partners who would like to translate, adapt, or sell our content in these regions.
In terms of mergers, acquisitions, and notable VC activity in the field, we have seen several important transactions over the last few years.
In 2018, the subscription-based tech e-learning platform Pluralsight had a successful Initial Public offering, and as of 2019 it has a market capitalization of more than $4 billion. Actually, Pluralsight’s stock listing was the first successful IPO in the industry.
Oh, yes… and we shouldn’t forget about two other interesting platforms that I would like us to pay attention to: edX and Masterclass. EdX is an open source non-profit organization founded by Harvard University and MIT, while Masterclass is a Hollywood-type online course provider that has raised $136.4 million in financing according to Crunchbase.
These are some of the important names in the online course industry presently. Rapid growth and serious interest from both B2C and B2B customers attract a large number of new entrants into the field, but the platforms we will discuss here are some of the most important names that would play a major role and shape how the industry would develop over the next 10 years.
Let’s describe each platform, starting with Udemy. First, I’ll provide a general description of the platform, and then I’ll perform a search to show the depth of their library.
Udemy is the global e-learning marketplace. Anyone can take a course on the platform, and anyone can publish and sell a course. According to Udemy’s official statistics over 30,000,000 people have taken a course on Udemy, and the overall number of enrolments has surpassed 190,000,000. The platform features 100,000 courses from 42,000 instructors around the world. These figures make Udemy the one global platform for online learning.
This is the largest number of enrolments compared to any of the other platforms. Besides the US, Udemy has dedicated teams focusing on different countries and tries to provide education in multiple languages – not just English. Only Coursera and to a certain extent EdX, have added language versions to their offerings, and chances are the other platforms will have a hard time doing that because they cannot leverage a network of instructors similar to the one Udemy has.
Let’s talk about some of the key advantages for students when taking a course on Udemy:
- There is a great number of instructors who compete to create quality content (otherwise the marketplace’s rating system would penalize them, and they would not succeed)
- Competition creates a very dynamic environment in course creation, and trendy topics are covered on Udemy much faster compared to other platforms. We’ll talk about that later on
- Low prices (typically $10-$15) offer equal access to education
- Lifetime access to course content (the $10-$15 fee is one-off, and students are not billed every month)
- Access to course Q&A, where instructors answer student questions and help students cope when they have difficulties. This is one of the tremendous advantages of Udemy. Instructor tutorship is invaluable and probably Udemy’s strongest advantage
- Whenever you learn, you want to have access to as many resources as possible, and Udemy ensures that. Students can complete exercises and assignments and submit them to instructors to get their opinion on how they have performed
- And importantly, frequent course updates; the instructors on Udemy compete with each other by posting new content frequently. To give you an example, when we started there, we posted a Financial Modeling in Excel course that was 5 hours long. Today, 4 years and 69,000 students later, it has been updated more times than I can count. The old content has been replaced with newer videos, and the course length is 12 hours. A person who bought this title 4 years ago received all of these updates for free, as well as access to a vibrant course Q&A discussion board containing hundreds of discussions on numerous useful topics
I’ll open a bracket here and express my personal opinion that other players in the filed would have a hard time coping with Udemy’s “self-updating” course library. Moreover, Udemy’s huge number of instructors means it is that much more likely they can come up with a great course when the need for it arises on the market. To give you an example, think of late 2017 when there were very few ‘how to code blockchain’ courses on the market. The demand rose sharply as the field exploded with innovation and new projects, and one of the very few places where such courses were available was Udemy, as several instructors there had anticipated the upcoming trend. This is hard to achieve for other platforms, as they rely on a process that figures out demand, then scouts look for an expert instructor, try to convince them, negotiate with them, sign a contract, the instructor must adhere to their strict rules, the course goes into production, then comes the time for editing, and so on and so forth…
Oh… right… And what happens if the course becomes outdated and needs an update 9 months later? Udemy doesn’t have to do a thing. The course owner is responsible for keeping their content as up-to-date as possible; otherwise, their rating would go down. While authors who have published with e-learning platforms offering one title per topic do not have such a strong pressure to keep an eye on their content as often as they should.
Udemy is very democratic, as it allows anyone to post courses on the platform. In any language and on most topics. Money making courses were significantly limited a few years ago, and that was a move I simply loved. Many people online get distracted and falsely led by promises of overnight success and get-rich-quick schemes, and Udemy’s decision to restrict such courses showed true integrity to me.
One of the platform’s huge competitive advantages is that it offers all kinds of courses. Not only technical or business courses. You can use Udemy to learn Spanish, learn how to code in Python, run machine learning models, or brew your own beer. Most topics under the sun have been covered in a course of their own. And if they haven’t, they will be… Trust me 😊
Of course, the platform has faced issues in the past and will continue to do so. That’s normal for every ecosystem involving thousands of users uploading content.
One such criticism is everyday low prices.
I believe this is unfair. At this point, students complaining that Udemy’s prices are too low is like complaining that someone doesn’t want to take as much money from you as possible. Sure, higher prices would result in higher profits for Udemy and course authors, but this doesn’t mean that the quality of education would be superior.
Some courses on Udemy are very, very expensive and high budget. Udemy’s scale allows instructors like our team to work on 6 to 12 month projects, full-time, in teams of 6 to 8 people. To give you a specific example, at the moment we are working on a CFA certification course that will certainly surpass a 6-figures production budget, and will most likely be sold on Udemy at a decimal or even less compared to the price other websites are offering such materials for. Kaplan and Bloomberg provide similar training on the CFA curriculum at prices above $500, and even reaching $1,000. On Udemy, we’ll charge a price of $15 or $20. And we’ll be happy to do that because the platform has scale, and it will enable us to reach thousands of students around the world. When you create content, the biggest reward isn’t monetary, but the part where as many people as possible see what you have created.
Udemy’s low prices (compared to the ones of other platforms) democratize education and are a breakthrough regarding providing equal opportunity to all members of society. Fortunately, most people in different parts of the world can buy a $10 course nowadays.
Another criticism made is that a few times stolen content was published for a while on Udemy, and some people have profited from such actions temporarily. Well, that’s the risk with any form of Intellectual Property on the Internet. This happens all the time on YouTube too. Somebody steals content and posts it as their own to profit from it. From what I have seen, Udemy has been very fast to react in such cases, and they have genuinely improved their instructor verification process, requiring you to perform video verification before selling courses on the platform. It is inevitable to make mistakes along the way, but hey ‘’let him who is without sin cast the first stone’’. The important thing is that the platform reacts and corrects such actions fast and in a decisive manner.
If thousands of courses are posted on a platform, the chances are that many would not be that great. Sometimes people rush to post their content or do not pay as much attention to the production process, as they should, and many courses do not come out with excellent quality. However, that’s not a problem for students from my experience, as they are excellent judges and can get an idea of a course’s quality pretty fast. This is a bigger problem for the people who have posted their content, but have not done their best, as they have carried out a significant part of the work, but very few people would ever enrol. The rating system is the fair judge of that and similar to what happens in Amazon, helps determines who will be a successful vendor and who won’t.
These are some of the most important points I wanted to address regarding Udemy. Feel free to reach out in the comments section, if you would like to share your opinion or ask a question. I’ll be happy to hear from you.
Let’s discuss some of the other platforms, shall we?
LinkedIn learning today, Lynda.com in the past, is one innovator in the online learning field. They have a library of 13,000 courses, which are typically shorter and have an average duration of 2-3 hours. LinkedIn’s acquisition has not changed the style of Lynda’s videos. These are well edited, heavily rehearsed and professionally shot videos, putting a significant emphasis on production quality. LinkedIn learning’s production quality is the best in the industry. Instructors teaching courses on LinkedIn Learning are professionals with solid experience who are very good teachers in general. It is also true that the platform does not create competition among courses of different instructors as for each topic, students are provided with a single course, and that’s that.
It is also cool that integration with LinkedIn allows users to find content relevant to their career aspirations.
Easiness of explanations is another area where LinkedIn Learning instructors excel.
Like most other platforms, students earn a certificate of completion they can include in their resume once a given training has been completed.
Having said that, it is important to notice several important drawbacks, which have held back LinkedIn Learning and will continue to do so, unless important changes are made. First, you can’t interact with instructors and ask questions related to the materials and examples discussed. And that’s a huge minus. What if you become curious or you can’t understand a topic? Also, LinkedIn Learning can be rather expensive for the average user. Their annual subscription starts at 250 dollars paid at once. If you prefer monthly billing, instead then this number jumps to 300 dollars. So, that’s a different value proposition compared to Udemy. You don’t get lifetime access to a course.
Frequent instructor updates are not LinkedIn Learning’s forte. And finally, the depth and breadth of many topics aren’t as extensive as most curious students want to see. It takes LinkedIn Learning a significant amount of time to meet market demand and add content on new topics.
Ok. Next one. Udacity. Personally, I have zero experience with Udacity, as I have never taken a course there, but here’s some information based on my extensive research of their website 😊 Udacity has 10 million students learning on their platform. The website’s focus is on career improvement and growth. The programs offered are called nanodegrees and are developed through a partnership with some of the leading companies in the world. Udacity’s range of courses is narrower and is more focused compared to Udemy and even LinkedIn learning. They specialize in data, AI, business, autonomous tech, web development, mobile app development, and Virtual and Augmented reality. What they do is cool, as they try to focus on trendy career paths regarded as ‘careers of the future’.
The thing with Udacity is that, if you choose one of these nanodegrees you must take a series of courses that allow you to acquire the necessary skills. Moreover, you have to engage in a specific period as courses are held within a given time frame, and you must make progress each week of a course’s duration. Most nanodegrees require an average commitment of 10 hours per week for a 3- or 4-month time frame, and cost between $599, $999, and $1,999.
These are high prices for an online course and come close to the prices charged for in-person classes where you have access to a teacher who focuses on your performance. On the positive side, Udacity allows you to contact an expert who reviews your work and shares feedback on the progress you have made.
When taking a course on Udacity, students have access to the materials during the course only. They do not have lifetime access, as this is a time-limited program with a clear beginning and ending points.
Very good. Let’s move on to Coursera.
They are a well-reputed platform that offers course takers online learning from leading universities. Courses contain videos, quizzes, and projects, and frankly resemble taking a class in university. I have had the pleasure of graduating from university, and I am sure that it has shaped the way I think in many important areas. The topics chosen for these lessons are more theoretical than practical. More practical lessons are included in Coursera’s specialization option. Anyway, Coursera is a superb opportunity for anyone who has ever desired to take a class by let’s say Duke University or Stanford. Very similar to what you will see in a university classroom. The lessons are very useful to shape overall knowledge and are perhaps less inclined towards practical application.
When you take a class on Coursera, you have two main options – to ‘audit’ the class, which means taking it for free and using some of its resources or paying for the course. If you pay, you can receive a certificate at course completion and submit assignments while taking the course. Pricing varies for specific courses. Some don’t have the ‘audit option’ and cost around 40 to 50 dollars one-off (and if you pay this amount, you’ll be able to get a certificate). Specializations offered on Coursera are courses that cost between 39 to 79 dollars per month. At this price, you get a certificate of completion, and you will have to take several courses in a given period. Other platforms provide a certificate of completion too, but students are quite tempted at the thought of getting a virtual document stating they have completed a course on Coursera by Stanford University.
So, I’d say Coursera is a very interesting option for people interested in a university-like experience. However, this is also counterintuitive because one of the strongest sides of online learning is that it can be so much more different and empowering than an in-class experience.
Pluralsight is another well-established platform in the online courses industry. Especially in the B2B segment. What makes Pluralsight very popular among business clients is their strong focus on B2B support and extensive tech library. Pluralsight focuses on tech courses only. So, it doesn’t make sense to even search for a CFA course here.
They are very similar to what we saw for LinkedIn learning. One instructor covers a specific topic, and that’s that. There isn’t a strong competition on the platform. We should also point out that production quality is very good, and some technical courses are great for specialized professionals. For individual users, Pluralsight offers pricing in the region of $35 per month or $300 paid annually. At this price, students receive exercise files, on-demand tech learning, offline viewing, and access to course discussion boards.
Ok. Moving on.
I will briefly mention EdX here too. EdX is very similar to Coursera. They are a non-profit open source platform founded by Harvard and MIT in 2012. The course-taking experience offered by EdX is very similar to the one on Coursera. Most titles are free and are taught by world-class universities and organizations such as Harvard and MIT. The same drawback regarding technical content applies here. EdX and Coursera are great for theoretical courses, and less so for technical courses. Also, we can’t expect to find lifestyle, photography, or other types of courses not frequently taught in universities here.
And finally, we have Masterclass. It is a truly interesting player in the e-learning industry. I’d say that Masterclass is in a league of its own for teaching creativity, art, and other forms of creativity and soft skills courses. Masterclass revolves around featuring some of the world’s best-known names in a field.
So, for example, you will see Gordon Ramsay teaching cooking there, Natalie Portman teaching acting, Steph Curry teaching you how to dribble a basketball, and so on…
Their popularity has grown tremendously thanks to the high-profile names they have landed as instructors. So, if we compare Udemy to a high density, highly diverse global megapolis like New York, London, or Hong Kong, then Masterclass would definitely be Hollywood in such a world. A significantly tinier audience, fewer courses, but very fancy and very glamorous stuff 😊
In terms of learning, I think Masterclass is quite cool if you are already involved in a field. I’m not sure if Carlos Santana would have enough time to teach you how to hold a guitar, but for some people who already have a certain level of experience, Masterclass can be inspiring in a given field.
When you buy one of their courses, understand that Armin Van Buuren or Christina Aguilera won’t be able to respond instantly or take a look at what you have learned 😊
In pricing, Masterclass offers 2 options – $199 for 1 year and take all of their courses pay $99 and buy 1 course for a lifetime.
Masterclass has a very different model compared to the rest of the platforms we considered earlier. And I enjoy what they have been doing in the online courses field. They applied the so-called ‘niche’ strategy. They are focusing on one part of the market, having no direct competition from the other platforms.
So, to wrap up this article, we can conclude that the online learning space is brimming with innovation. Many of the other platforms have caught up on some of Udemy’s initial lead by replicating certain parts of their course offering, but in my opinion, Udemy continues to be the best place for learning because they have the most up-to-date course library, the best prices in terms of value for money, and importantly provide students with access to instructor support.
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Thanks for sticking till the end of the article, I appreciate it!