The 12 Best Online Learning Platforms for Adults

 There are tons of online learning platforms with a variety of different course options available for adults to further their education. Whether you are looking to enhance your professional abilities, start a side hustle, learn a new skill, or just gain some knowledge for your own personal development, there is an online learning platform to meet your needs.

Why Online Learning?

Online learning is one of the best ways to learn something new. Not having to travel to a classroom or be available at exact times is a godsend for busy adults. Most online education platforms offer flexible schedules and class times, allowing you to do the work when it’s most convenient to you. This makes learning online one of the best options for active adult learners who want to enhance their skillsets.

Which Online Learning Platform is Right for me?

There are tons of educational opportunities online, so it might be overwhelming to determine which one is right for you. Should you sign up for linked-in learning? Udemy? Coursera? Is there a free option? There are tons of choices.

So, to help you narrow it down, I separated the options into which ones are best for your goals, whatever they might be. You probably don’t want to choose Codecademy if you’re looking to enhance your soft skills and be more profitable as a client representative, right?

So first, you need to ask yourself – why am I pursuing education online? Is it to enhance your career? For fun? To learn or develop a side hustle? Whatever your reason, there’s a great option for you.

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The Best Online Courses for Enhancing Your Career

One of the top reasons for exploring adult learning online is to enhance your career. That may mean pursuing a graduate degree or certificate to make you more competitive or pursuing a bachelor’s degree and changing industries. In addition, it might be as simple as improving some of your soft skills so you can be better at your current job. These four online learning platforms are the best for distance education programs specifically designed to help you achieve your career goals.  


Emeritus is the place to go if you need an online certification program. They have programs in tons of different areas, from data science to leadership and even finance!

Many of Emeritus’s certificate programs are from the world’s leading universities. They host courses from such prestigious institutions as Columbia, Wharton, and Northwestern. Given the huge names of the universities, the certificates are reasonably priced. You can complete a post-graduate degree in applied data science from Columbia for approximately three thousand dollars. With the cost of higher education in the United States, that’s downright reasonable. If you need a certificate program, Emeritus is the best place to start.



Coursera is one of the leaders in ELearning, and it’s easy to see why. They partner with a wide array of accredited universities (even my Alma Matter – the University of Illinois!) and have a plethora of online course offerings, from creative writing to special relativity.

If you are interested in higher education, Coursera has numerous options for you. They offer online MBA programs from places like the University of Illinois and Arizona State, and a variety of other online degree programs.

A cool bonus from Coursera is that they offer a lot of courses for free. One of the highest-rated free courses on the platform is a machine learning course. These are great if you are looking for online classes just for fun – they generally don’t count towards degree completion.

Edx has a wide variety of online programs, most of which are designed to help you advance your career. They have an interesting option that they call the micro bachelor’s program, and a micro master’s program to match. These programs are specifically designed for adult learners who want to advance their careers. They’re more affordable than traditional options and offer more flexibility.

Edx offers these programs in a wide array of disciplines, from information technology to marketing. Most of them are related to computer science in one way or another – with data science, programming, and cyber-security options.

Linkedin Learning

Linkedin Learning is one of the best places to learn “soft” skills and random business skills. The courses are generally short and to the point. They are created by industry leaders and experts in fields, rather than by professors, so you get a different take on classes. Many LinkedIn learning courses are structured like webinars. They have a video instructor explaining the materials, and some of them have tests and exercises in between lessons.


The videos are available online and you can access them at any time of the day. There aren’t any class discussions or assignments, so the work is completely self-paced. I took a headline writing course with them, and I think it did help me write more engaging copy. I changed “Self-Care Sunday” to “11 Indulgent Self Care Sunday Ideas” – which article are you more likely to read? This is the type of content you can expect from Linkedin Learning.

The Best Online Courses for Learning a New Skill

A lot of times, we turn to distance education programs to learn a new, specific skill. These skills might be to help us find a new job or advance in the careers we already have. Sometimes, we may even do it for fun (like learning a new language, or learning to code). These three learning programs are the best options if that is what you are going for.


If you want to learn a new language, Babbel is the site for you. The courses were developed by actual linguists and are some of the closest things you can get to real immersion. These online classes are self-paced and the app works on a variety of devices, so you don’t have to be tied to a computer.

The only downside to Babbel is that they don’t have a lot of languages. Although the 13 language programs they do offer are commonly spoken, they don’t offer Mandarin, which is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. In fact, the only Eastern Asian language they offer is Indonesian.

However, if you want to learn a European language, like Spanish, French, or Italian, Babbel is a perfect choice. 


Codecademy is the go-to resource for learning new computer skills. And regardless of what the name implies, it has a wide array of IT courses – not just coding. The classes are all computer science based and they have a plethora of options. If you want to learn HTML, Java, programming, web development, game design, or a wide array of computer skills, Codecademy is the first place you should look.



I struggled with where to put Udemy on this list because they have thousands of options. Some could be for fun, and some for professional development as well. However, the majority of the courses seem geared towards learning new skills, so that’s where it falls.

Udemy offers a variety of courses in unique skills, like creating videos for Youtube, drawing, and creating great landing pages. They also offer some business skill programs, such as public speaking, mastering punctuation, and the basics of business school. The courses are reasonably priced, so it’s a great option for someone looking for a specific class to learn something new.

The Best Online Courses Blogging, Side Hustles, and Social Media

I know that most people only think about accredited degree certificates when they think of adult learning online, but sometimes busy adults are looking for something different. I decided to include some courses in the how-tos of the online learn to bridge that gap. These courses were created by normal people just like you who learned how to do something and are trying to share that knowledge. You won’t get any type of certificate and they aren’t accredited, but they might be exactly what you are looking for.

Launch Your Side Hustle

Launch your side hustle is the absolutely best course for someone who wants to launch or build an online business. If you want a full review of the course, you can read it here, but I can not say enough good things about it. It’s a must-have for anyone who is trying to build any type of online business (and it’s even great for those who are just toying with the idea!)

enroll in the side hustle course

Making Sense Of Affiliate Marketing

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is the course everyone goes to in order to learn how to make money blogging. The course lists the exact steps that a blogger can take to start monetizing via affiliate marketing.

This online class goes over the fundamentals of affiliate marketing, from building trust with your readers to discovering which products will work best with your brand and your niche.

Pinterest Ninja

Pinterest Ninja is a great course for those who are just starting out with blogging (or other online ventures!) or want to grow their audience on Pinterest. It’s not just for bloggers – people with any type of online presence that they are trying to grow will benefit from this course – from Etsy shop owners to POD t-shirt designers. Pinterest is a search engine. Learning how to use it to its full functionality will help you explode your online presence.

VRA (Video Ranking Academy)

If you want to learn how to make Youtube videos that will actually rank on Youtube, you need to join VRA. 

Video Ranking Academy is a network of courses made by Sean Cannell, the guru behind the successful Think Media Youtube channel. There are a ton of different courses to choose from, but if you want to go big, you’ll go for the full Video Ranking Academy course. It’s expensive, but it will teach you everything you need to know about making a successful Youtube channel. 


Adult Online Learning for Personal Fulfillment

Sometimes, we just want to take a course for fun, or for our own personal development. Maybe you want to learn how to crochet, or how to do something different. A lot of the platforms I listed above do have some course offerings in this area, but there’s one platform that’s basically dedicated to it. 

International Open Academy

International Open Academy is the best option for learning random new skills that may not have anything to do with a career. They have course offerings in things like pet CPR, bread making, and herbology. They even have a course on how to make clothes for your pets! 

International Open Academy also has online classes for basic skills, such as car maintenance, taking care of a baby, and even training your dog. With the initial prices being as low as $100 and the numerous deals they run (it’s 88% off right now!) there’s no reason not to explore their offerings. If you want to learn a random new thing just for fun, International Open Academy is the best place to start.

Free Adult Learning Online Courses

It’s hard to find free courses online that are actually free. A quick search of free online courses will bring you to platforms like Coursera and Udemy (which are great – don’t get me wrong) which have a few free offerings, but you have to dig for them. It’s hard to tell if the course you want is free until you get all excited and click on it, only to find that it’s a paid course.

So are there any that are actually free? The answer is yes – there are opportunities for free adult online education.  But, most of these won’t give you a certificate (you have to pay the big bucks if you want the credit – but that’s a post for another day).

Open Culture

Open Culture has one of the widest selections of massive open culture online courses (MOOC) available. MOOCs are free online courses that are open to pretty much anyone with an internet connection.  Open Culture is one of the best known and most inclusive, boasting over 1000 courses. Some of these free online courses even do include that certificate!

Another cool thing about open culture is that it isn’t limited to courses. They also offer free Ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts, and movies. So whichever way you learn best, open culture has an option for you.


Not all courses on Alison are free. However, they do have a plethora of free options that are actually easy to find. Their front page shows their most popular free courses, and you can sign right up through Facebook, Google, or even Linked In. Most of the other options on this list do have a few free offerings, but I like that you don’t have to dig for them on Alison.


A lot of Alison’s free offerings seem to be just for fun or personal development. They have courses in stuff like mechanical engineering and diesel engine basics, which are great if you’re curious about how stuff works. But if you want to build a career in these fields, you probably need hands-on learning at an accredited school.


You laugh – but there’s a lot of cool stuff on Youtube for those willing to look for it. If you are just trying to figure out how to do something, like install drywall or change the oil on a car, Youtube is the place to look first. There are millions of people with real-world skills in a variety of different topics, and some of them put instructional videos on Youtube. One thing to be careful with on Youtube though is that not everyone is an expert, regardless of whether they think they are. Make sure you watch a few videos and ensure the one you decided to go with is doing it right.  

Which Online Learning Opportunity is Right for you?

As you can see, there are a plethora of options for taking classes online. Some are more geared for professional development, while others are just for gaining personal knowledge. Hopefully, this round-up gave you a better idea of which option is right for your continuing education needs. And, if you’ve discovered a different option that isn’t listed here -let me know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “The 12 Best Online Learning Platforms for Adults”

  1. This immediately made me think about the phrase “there just isn’t enough time in the day.” And it’s true! I cannot express enough how many times I have thought about starting my own “side hustle” (l love that you used this term) but have become overwhelmed by the amount of work upfront and the know-how I need to actually be successful. Not to mention that I truly don’t have time to attend a class every day (nor do I want to spend that much money). I usually get frustrated and give up, but I came across your blog and the resources you mentioned and it has sparked my desire to get going! I’m looking for ways to passively generate income and have been trying to find free online training software and lessons. I checked out Pinterest Ninja (which you’d listed) and it was loaded with information (videos and articles) for a small fee. Launch Your Side Hustle discusses the art of making money off of the things you already know how to do and that appeals to me, since that is exactly what I am looking for. I also came across Capterra, which lists some of the best online training software for small businesses and startups. There are some online resources that come at no cost, but you do have to dig around a bit for that. Thanks for your amazing list of resources, Melanie!

  2. Wow, super comprehensive list! Lots of new to me stuff here. I bought a bundle of self dev courses this year which is going to keep my busy for like… forever.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the list! I did a lot of research to try to find the best options! What self dev courses did you get? I’d love to hear about them!

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