10 Best Online Courses to Take in 2021

Whether you want to learn digital marketing or data science, here are the 10 best online courses that will help you get there.

Is online learning the future of education? Recent statistics seem to suggest so. According to Class Central, about 10 million more people enrolled in massive open online courses (MOOCs) in 2019 than in 2018. Last year, the MOOC movement comprised 110 million learners, a 10% year-over-year growth in student numbers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased people’s interest in online courses. Enrollment at Coursera, a popular MOOC provider, rose by a whopping 640% from mid-March to mid-April compared to the same period last year. 

Online learners might be onto something. On-demand courses are not only perfect for social distancing. They’re usually much cheaper than traditional classroom courses (believe it or not, free courses are also a thing). Plus, they’re typically self-paced, which means that they don’t follow a set schedule or have any fixed deadlines. For this reason, online courses are ideal for those who lead busy lives and can not commit to a six-week-long classroom course, let alone a four-year degree.

Employers value online courses, too. According to a 2018 study, 61% of HR leaders believe that online learning is of equal quality to traditional learning methods. Moreover, 71% of organizations said that they hired someone with a credential or degree completed online.

So, regardless of whether you’re looking to get that promotion at work, land a dream job, or simply get a new hobby, an online course can be your ticket to success. Of course, looking for online classes can be a time-consuming process. To help you choose the best course for you (and save time!), we’ve rounded up a list of ten of the best online courses in 10 different categories.

These are the 10 best online course to take in 2021:

Best for Excel: Excel Skills for Business Specialization (Coursera)

Best for Excel: Excel Skills for Business Specialization (Coursera)

Go from beginner to Excel guru in six months or less.

Offered by Macquarie University and available on Coursera, Excel Skills for Business Specialization is a four-course program that will help you become the Microsoft Excel expert in your office.

Don’t worry if you’ve never used Excel before in your life. The program starts off with Excel essentials, including basic Excel terminology and formulas. However, the course covers more than just Excel fundamentals, which means that students with prior Excel knowledge can gain an awful lot from it, too.

The curriculum consists of short video lessons, readings, optional text-based discussions, quizzes, and real-world challenges sourced from industry leaders. There’s also a discussion forum where you can discuss modules with fellow students and ask for help if you’re stuck.

Students who dedicate about five hours a week to this program should be able to complete it in approximately six months. At the end of the program, students receive a shareable certificate.

All in all, Excel Skills for Business Specialization is one of the best online courses for learning Excel. The instructors behind it even won Coursera’s Outstanding Educator Award in 2018, which says a lot about the quality of the program. Still not sure if this is quite what you’re looking for? This Specialization comes with a seven-day free trial, so you can try it before you buy it.

Best for Speed Reading: Super Reading by Jim Kwik (Mindvalley)

Best for Speed Reading: Super Reading by Jim Kwik (Mindvalley)

Learn how to 2X your reading speed from the best.

If you want to learn how to read faster without losing comprehension, you can’t go wrong with Super Reading by Jim Kwik. This Mindvalley course promises to at least double your rate of reading in just 21 days. 

What makes this course stand out from other speed reading courses is the fact that it’s taught by Jim Kwik, a memory, and speed reading expert.

If you haven’t heard of Kwik before, here’s a little background information on him. When Kwik was five, he suffered from a head injury, which left him with a learning disability. For a long time, he thought he’d never be as smart as the other kids. But then, after he discovered accelerated learning systems and methods, his life changed for good.

One thing led to another, and now Kwik is a world-renowned “brain coach.” Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Branson are just some of his famous past-pupils. With the help of this course, you can potentially join their ranks.

Kwik imparts his knowledge to students via short, no-nonsense training videos (which include both theory and personal stories) and reading practices. He also helps you unlearn the restricting habits and learning patterns you acquired in school (this is actually more difficult than it sounds).

There’s no doubt about it. Super Reading by Jim Kwik is one of the best-rated online courses for improving your reading skills. Enrolling in this program is a no-brainer, especially seeing how it comes with a 10-day money-back guarantee, lifetime access, and free upgrades.

Best for Artificial Intelligence: AI Programming with Python Nanodegree (Udacity)

Best for Artificial Intelligence: AI Programming with Python Nanodegree (Udacity)

Getting started with AI is easier than you think with this course from Udacity.

Take your first steps down the artificial intelligence career path with Udacity’s AI Programming with Python Nanodegree. Although anyone can enroll in this program, it’s recommended that students have a basic understanding of algebra and some programming experience (in any language).

This program is divided into five courses. The first two courses focus on Python and its tools, including Jupyter Notebooks, Anaconda, Pandas, NumPy, and Matplotlib. Conversely, courses three and four are all about linear algebra and calculus, respectively, whereas the fifth course zeroes in on neural networks.

The material is taught through short videos and lecture notes. Students can test their knowledge via exercises and auto-graded quizzes. There are also two real-world projects. Both are graded by experienced Udacity reviewers who check your code line by line and provide unlimited feedback.

Additionally, this nanodegree comes with complimentary career coaching. Think personal assistance in your job search, interview preparation, and resume services.

AI Programming with Python Nanodegree is, hands down, one of the best online classes for AI. We especially love the fact that it includes two industry-relevant projects as well as career services. Although pricey, the course is based on a monthly subscription model. So, even though it takes most students about three months to complete this program, nothing stops you from really pushing it and graduating in two months or less.

Best for UI/UX Design: User Experience Design Essentials (Skillshare)

Best for UI/UX Design: User Experience Design Essentials (Skillshare)

Master Adobe XD and create your first UX/UI design portfolio with the help of Skillshare.

Those interested in user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design will not want to skip User Experience Design Essentials. Like most courses on Skillshare, this course also consists of bite-sized lessons. That means that you can learn new skills anytime, anywhere, even if you only have 20 minutes to spare a day.

Indeed, most video lessons in this course are under 15 minutes long. However, because there are 92 of them, it’ll take you about 11 hours to complete this course from start to finish. That doesn’t include the time you’ll need to spend on class projects, though.

The course instructor, Daniel Scott, is a digital designer and Adobe certified instructor. As such, you can trust his experience. He starts at the beginning (i.e., the differences between UX and UI design) and works through UX/UI prototyping (i.e., wireframe tools and micro-interactions).

There are also 13 class projects, some of which are bigger than others. For example, the final project asks you to build a website and/or an app for a specific company.

You don’t need to have any prior design experience or Adobe XD skills to enroll in this course. However, you do need Adobe XD 2018 or above (you can download a free trial from Adobe).

Once you get to the end of Skillshare’s User Experience Design Essentials, you should be well able to create effective UX and UI designs. Don’t have a Skillshare subscription? You’re in luck. Skillshare is currently offering a free, two-month trial so you can take its top online courses without spending a cent (who doesn’t love free courses?!)

Best for Public Speaking: Storytelling and Influencing: Communicate with Impact (Coursera)

Best for Public Speaking: Storytelling and Influencing: Communicate with Impact (Coursera)

Learn how to persuade and influence any audience with professors from the Macquarie University.

Coursera’s Storytelling and Influencing: Communicate with Impact is a six-course program on public speaking. It was created by Macquarie University, which is ranked among the top two percent of universities in the world.

The course is taught by two instructors. The first is Arabella MacPherson, a corporate communications coach. The second is Lawrence Ang, associate professor and distinguished author who has published articles in top marketing journals. Together, they’ll teach you how to understand your audience, tell your story, and connect with people. They’ll also demonstrate how to lead group conversations, reduce listener objections, and pitch ideas.

The curriculum consists mainly of video lessons that not only go over key persuasion techniques but also provide plenty of examples and practical advice. In addition to videos, students also gain access to readings and auto-graded quizzes.

Although designed with the intention of enhancing your professional life, this course can benefit anyone who has 18 hours to spare.

Being able to persuade people is an invaluable skill to have. Storytelling and Influencing: Communicate with Impact is one of the best-rated online courses on public speaking. It will teach you how to communicate appropriately in different situations, a trait that can make you an exceptional leader, both in your personal and professional life.

Best for Python: 2020 Complete Python Bootcamp: From Zero to Hero In Python (Udemy)

Best for Python: 2020 Complete Python Bootcamp: From Zero to Hero In Python (Udemy)

Get to grips with one of the most widely used programming languages today, even if you’re new to coding.

With 2020 Complete Python Bootcamp: From Zero to Hero In Python, you’ll be able to use Python 3 professionally in no time. Available on Udemy, this program is taught by Jose Portilla, a household name in data science and the second most well-reviewed instructor on the platform.

The program is divided into 22 courses, which are further split into lessons. These cover topics like lists, dictionaries, unit tests, and more. Most lessons include practical examples that pertain to real-world tasks (i.e., scraping websites for information or working with image files).

Following lectures is a breeze. That’s because they all come with a coding screencast and reference material in the form of Jupyter notebooks. The program also includes three major projects.

The program is beginner-friendly (i.e., prior coding experience isn’t necessary). However, it’s also suitable for intermediate Python programmers who want to level up.

2020 Complete Python Bootcamp: From Zero to Hero in Python is among the top online classes for Python and a bestseller on Udemy. It’s easy to see why. The lessons are thorough and there are plenty of exercises and projects to test your new-found knowledge. Perhaps more importantly, Portilla doesn’t just teach students Python. He also teaches them how to improve their skill set and search for a solution to a problem themselves.

Best for SQL: Modern Big Data Analysis with SQL Specialization (Coursera)

Best for SQL: Modern Big Data Analysis with SQL Specialization (Coursera)

Pick up the skills needed to query massive data sets in just four months.

Coursera’s Modern Big Data Analysis with SQL Specialization is a three-course program that focuses on the skills needed to work with data of all sizes using SQL. It was created in partnership with Cloudera, an enterprise data cloud company.

The program shows you how to use both traditional relational database management systems (RDBMSs) such as MySQL and distributed query engines like Impala. The focus is certainly on the latter, however.

The curriculum is taught via videos, readings, discussion prompts, practice quizzes, and auto-graded quizzes. In addition, every course ends with a hands-on, peer-graded assignment. You must complete all three assignments to pass the Specialization.

There are no prerequisites to enrolling in this Specialization. As such, it’s ideal for those who are new to SQL. But it’s also great for individuals with prior experience in relational databases interested in storing and querying massive datasets.

Students that spend about three hours a week on this Specialization can expect to finish it in about four months.

Modern Big Data Analysis with SQL Specialization is our top choice for the best online courses for SQL. This Specialization will teach you how to use SQL for big data and prepare you for the Cloudera Certified Associate (CCA) Data Analyst certification exam.

Best for Digital Marketing: Digital Marketing Specialization (Coursera)

Best for Digital Marketing: Digital Marketing Specialization (Coursera)

Get up to speed with basic marketing concepts with a course from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Digital Marketing Specialization is a six-course program offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and available on Coursera. It walks you through some of the most important digital marketing skills like search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing analytics.

The Specialization is taught by five professors, including Kevin Hartman, the Head of Analytics at Google. Course material includes short videos, readings, quizzes, discussion prompts, peer-reviewed assignments, and a capstone project. For the capstone project, students must build an effective channel strategy.

The average completion time for this Specialization is about eight months (at four hours a week).

This Specialization is part of the online Master of Business Administration (iMBA) from the University of Illinois. If you’re accepted to the full program, the Specialization will count towards your degree.

Digital Marketing Specialization is one of the best online courses for acquainting yourself with essential marketing concepts. However, because this Specialization focuses on basic theoretical concepts (like the 4Ps), it’s best suited for individuals that are new to marketing. Those already familiar with fundamental theories looking to learn about digital marketing tools will find the program a bit too basic.

Best for Business: Business Foundations Specialization (Coursera)

Understand how every part of a business works with a course from one of the best business schools in the U.S.

Available on Coursera, Business Foundations Specialization was created by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The Wharton School is not only the world’s oldest school of business but also one of the best business schools in the U.S.

The Specialization is split into five courses, with each course focusing on a different area of business, including marketing, accounting, HR, finance, and operations management.

Every course is taught by subject-matter experts. For example, the marketing module is led by three professors from Wharton’s marketing department, which is consistently rated as the number one marketing department in the world.

Course material includes videos and readings and student knowledge is tested via auto-graded quizzes. To graduate from this Specialization, students have to complete a capstone project which involves writing a marketing plan for a product or service of their choosing.

There are no prerequisites for enrolling in this program. Those that spend around two hours a week studying can get to the end of this Specialization in approximately seven months.

Business Foundation Specialization includes some of the best online classes for those interested in starting their own business or climbing the career ladder. Even better, each year, Wharton invites the top 50 students to apply to one of its graduate business programs — and waives their application fee. Moreover, up to five MBA applicants that excel in this Specialization every year are offered a $20,000 scholarship.

Best for Data Analytics: Data Analyst with R (DataCamp)

Learn data analysis from the comfort of your browser.

Data Analyst with R is a DataCamp career track made up of 19 data analytics courses chosen by industry experts. The track starts with introductory courses and incrementally builds your skills, so prior programming experience isn’t necessary.

Since the courses are between three and six hours long, you can expect to complete the entire track in about 77 hours.

By the end of this track, you should know how to import, manipulate, and visualize data in R and work with popular R packages, like tidyverse and ggplot2. You should also be able to query data, create relational databases, and join data in SQL.

The course curriculum is taught by 15 different instructors, including Jonathan Cornelissen, the co-founder of DataCamp, and Matt Dowle, one of the main authors of the data.table package.

The instructors share their knowledge via short videos and interactive exercises that feature pre-written code. Although a bit simplistic, many of the exercises use real-world datasets, like Netflix films and Australian population figures.

DataCamp’s Data Analyst with R is one of the top online courses for data analysis. Even though the track consists of 19 online classes, you never feel overwhelmed, mostly because the courses are further broken down into smaller lessons. The exercises are doable, as well. That being said, intermediate coders might want to work on projects outside of the guided exercises.

FAQs

There are plenty of sites that offer online classes and virtual university courses (better known as Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC). Coursera, edX, Udemy, Skillshare, Udacity, and DataCamp are some popular choices. However, the best course provider for you will depend on what you want to learn.

Absolutely. Online courses can enhance your current skills or teach you new ones, helping you move up at work or change your career altogether. Studies show that employers value online credentials just as much as they value traditional degrees and certificates.