What Are the Best Free Online Courses? Coursera vs Udemy

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Online education is a big business. Market experts estimate that by 2025, online learning will be a $319 billion industry. Most people are familiar with online degree programs offered by traditional schools, online universities, or online services like iTalki, who offer one-on-one tuitions to learn a language online. As the online education industry continues to expand, we are now seeing the growth of online learning platforms. These platforms offer MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These are individual courses open to anyone over the world. MOOCs are an excellent option for individuals, who want to sharpen their skills, learn a new skill, or obtain additional training, but are not necessarily interested in a 2- or 4-year degree program.

Online learning platforms vary. It may take some research to decide which one is truly the best fit for someone. Two of the most popular and well known online learning platforms are Coursera and Udemy.

In this article, we are going to take a closer look at both of these online learning platforms. We review their pros and cons. For anyone considering signing up for an online course, we hope to provide all the necessary information you need to make the choice that is right for you.


First, we will take a closer look at Udemy. Udemy started with their online learning platform in 2009 and began course offerings in 2010. It is for adult learners who want to expand their resume or pick up additional skill sets. It is ideal for students who are unable to attend a traditional university or adult learning center. Udemy is not affiliated with specific Universities or Colleges.

Classes are typically a combination of video presentations, PowerPoint presentations, .pdf, and .zip files that contain all the course materials. Users pay for each class individually and work at their own pace to complete the lessons.

Udemy has a massive number of courses in a variety of subject matter. As of 2020, Udemy lists over 150,000 classes available for review and purchase. Like Coursera, they do offer some free courses as well as those requiring payment. While a portion of their classes are for professionals working toward specific certifications, Udemy does not offer accreditations or professional certification. The majority of classes teach a particular skill, but aren’t part of a full path to certification like seen with Coursera.

Udemy has classes in almost any subject matter imaginable. They work with over 57,000 instructors in over 65 different languages. Udemy focuses on making material available for anything from professional development and personal enrichment, to learning new hobbies and talents. Many of the courses they teach are short term classes to teach a specific skill, such as necessary computer skills, playing the guitar, or basic photography.

However, they also have classes that teach subject matter to help build a resume and improve your current professional skills, plus learn new ones. They offer classes teaching necessary coding and website building, digital marketing, and business writing.

Here is an example of a very popular Udemy Class:

The Complete Web Developer Course 2.0

What you will learn:

  • How to build Websites and Web apps
  • Ways to get a job as a Junior Developer
  • Start an online business
  • Be proficient in databases and server-side languages
  • Build HTML-based web apps
  • Bid for projects on freelance websites
  • Be a comfortable front-end developer

The class materials include:

  • 30.5 hours of on-demand video instruction
  • 143 articles
  • Full lifetime access on mobile/PC
  • Certificate of Completion (not a professional certification)

This class typically costs $69.99, but is often on sale for much less, as low as $14.99.

Not all instructors work for a Universit. The quality among different classes can vary widely. Anyone who has a skill and can create 30 minutes of content, can create and then teach a Udemy course. Udemy is a great place to learn about a variety of subject matters. But some classes will offer much more in terms of materials and study aids.

Udemy courses do not have graded assignments or quizzes. It is up to the participant to ensure that they understand the material. They do offer discussion boards where students can connect with their instructors and other students to ask questions and talk about the course material.

Udemy has a massive library of courses available to help teach learners new skills in a non-academic sense. They offer classes in yoga, photography, music, karate, acting, among many others. For someone looking for a quick and fun way to learn a new skill without a substantial monetary commitment, Udemy is an excellent alternative to formal classes. Udemy can help you get a feel for a new skill or subject and decide if it is something you wish to pursue further.

Udemy Pros and Cons

As with Coursera, the pros and cons of Udemy are what actual students have said about the platform. The most common pros and cons are listed below.

Udemy Pros

  • Students can take classes at a time when it is convenient for them.
  • Students can choose to work quickly or slowly, with no time frames that are required to adhere to.
  • Classes are available in almost any imaginable subject matter.
  • Udemy has a large number of free classes.
  • The courses are at reasonable fees and no significant commitments.
  • Classes are available in over 65 languages.

Udemy Cons

  • No formal assessment process to determine how well students learned the material.
  • The quality of the classes can vary widely, as the instructors are not heavily vetted.
  • There is no formal accreditation for the vast majority of classes.
  • Classes are mainly individual, rather than a series. Hard to find clear learning pathway

As we saw with Coursera, the users of Udemy are mostly positive about their experience. The majority of people who have taken classes with Udemy are confident that they were able to learn a new skill, improve their resume, or build on their previous knowledge.

Try a course at Udemy



Next, we will take a closer look at Coursera. Two professors from Stanford University founded Coursera in 2012. Their focus was to provide high-quality education on a platform that could reach a wider audience. The first universities to offer content and coursework on the Coursera platform were Princeton, University of Michigan, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania. It allowed individuals to learn from high regarded Universities in the United States.

Coursera offers many classes to enhance your life and well being. A good example is The Science of Well-Being. This is a course originally from Yale University and is taught by one of their instructors.

Coursera also offers stand-alone certification classes that teach a specific skill, such as Time Management for Personal and Professional Productivity or Successful Negotiation. They also have Guided Projects, which are short classes, typically under 2 hours, that also drill down onto a specific skill, such as Spreadsheets for Beginners using Google Sheets. Participants receive certifications for completing Guided Projects as well.

As Coursera continued to evolve and expand their offerings, they developed Specializations. Specializations are a series of courses that focus on developing a particular skill. They typically have between 3 – 6 classes that provide a comprehensive understanding of specific subject matter. They are an excellent choice for someone who may want to add a skill to their resume. Students can increase their knowledge base, get a professional certification in a particular area, and strengthen their overall employability.

Here is an example of one of Coursera’s most popular Specialization course programs.

Specialization: Python for Everybody

Learn to program and analyze data with Python. Develop programs to gather, clean, analyze, and visualize. There are five different classes:

  1. Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python)
  2. Python Data Structures
  3. Using Python to Gather Web Data
  4. Using Databases With Python
  5. Capstone-Retrieving, Processing, and Visualizing Data with Python

The University of Michigan sponsors this series of classes. One of their professors teaches the courses, and in many ways, follows the traditional learning process. The classes include lectures, assigned reading and videos, practice quizzes, graded assignments, quizzes, and graded programming. Participants receive certifications for each course they complete. By completing all five, the students should have a good understanding of programming using Python.

Specialization courses typically take several months to complete. As such, the students are billed every month, usually between $49 – $60 per month, while they complete the classes. Financial aid is available if a student can prove need.

In 2018, Coursera began to offer degree programs, at both a Master’s level and a Bachelor’s level. Currently, Coursera provides a variety of accredited degree programs through different Universities around the world. Students pay for a degree programs on a course by course basis. As with Specializations, financial aid is available for students interested in pursuing a degree program. There are also scholarship programs available for Coursera degree programs as well.

Coursera Pro and Cons

To understand what people like and don’t like about Coursera’s platform, we reviewed feedback from students who have used Coursera. The most commonly listed Pros and Cons are below:

Coursera Pros

  • Coursera partnered with well-respected Universities around the world.
  • The classes are all heavily vetted, and are high-quality courses.
  • Students have a flexible schedule. They can watch lectures and do classwork on your timeline.
  • Coursera offers programs to suit anyone – single classes, Specializations, and Degree programs.
  • The classwork includes assignments and quizzes to ensure an understanding of materials.
  • A peer-review process assesses all class assignments through an official rubric.
  • Students can receive certifications for all classes.
  • They offer great Financial Aid.
  • The courses are relatively low cost to get started. Some classes are free.

Coursera Cons

  • Some classes are only available on specific dates/time-frames, so students can miss out if they don’t sign up in time.
  • Due to large class enrollment, assignments are graded by peer review, with some inconsistency in feedback.
  • Free class offerings have diminished significantly, and are often used to “sell” the advanced classes requiring payment.
  • Degree Programs lean heavily to IT and development degrees. They need more variety in degree programs available.
  • Coursera has limited support for technical/software issues.

The Coursera student population rates Coursera quite positively. Coursera is an excellent alternative to traditional university programs. The program is perfect for individuals who want to expand their knowledge base, receive professional certifications, learn a new skill, or even complete a degree program.

Find a Course at Coursera

Udemy and Coursera – Which is best for you?

When we are looking at both platforms, there truly is no “winner” in terms of one program being better than the other. It depends on what the learner prefers and what they are trying to accomplish.

For someone willing to make a more significant time commitment, who is looking for a professional program with a clear learning path, or is seeking a professional accreditation, Coursera is the clear winner.

For someone interested in learning about a new subject, but does not want to make a substantial financial or time commitment until they are sure they want to progress further, Udemy would be the way to go.

In comparing learning styles, for individuals who prefer or need structure and weekly goals to stay focused and engaged, or for those who prefer a more academic approach, Coursera would probably work best.

For people who want to learn at their own pace and don’t want the pressure of assessments or tests, or those who want a more casual or fun learning environment, Udemy would be the perfect choice.

When comparing the two programs, they both have strengths and weaknesses. None of which are expressly good or bad. The purpose of each learning platform is to meet different goals. What may be relevant to one program may not be as large a concern to the other. Thus, deciding which program is best truly depends on the student’s individual goals.

Udemy Strengths

All courses are affordable to anyone. Udemy does a fantastic job of keeping costs low. Their courses can run between $50-$200, but are often at a discount. It is not unusual to see classes offered at $15 instead of the regular $60 price. Udemy also has a large number of free courses available.

Users like the flexibility to study at any time. Once you purchased a class from Udemy, it includes lifetime access. There are no specific dates or time commitments. Learners are genuinely working at their own pace in the most real sense. If you can not complete the lesson as planned, you will have the ability to finish the course later.

Udemy has a huge class library. If someone wants to learn about a specific topic, most likely, Udemy will have a class on it. With over 150,000 classes to pick up a new skill.

Udemy Weaknesses

Udemy lacks accreditation. While many of the classes may teach everything a student would need to get the formal certification, Udemy does not provide accreditation. For many courses, this is not a concern. But in some areas and some professions, accreditation is vital.

The quality varies by course. The idea behind Udemy was to have a massive library of classes to choose from. With over 150,000 courses and 57,000 instructors, which are not all qualified for the job, there will be some classes that are not high quality. It is essential to read specific reviews when deciding on a course.

Coursera Strengths

The courses are very academic and heavily curated for individuals wanting an actual educational experience with top-rate professors. Students learn in an environment that has a degree of structure. They find weekly assignments, as well as exams and assessments.

Students will receive professional accreditations—ideal for learners who want or need specific certifications. Coursera has a lot to offer. With their Specialization programs, students can gain valuable certification in much less time than with a traditional degree program.

Users find clear learning pathways. With their degree programs, Specialization, as well as their guided projects, Coursera gives learners a complete outline of the process. The steps to take to complete the chosen program is very clear.

Coursera Weaknesses

The time commitment can be a problem for some users. Most of the programs have a specific sign-up dates. Although their focus is that students can learn on their own time. There are weekly requirements for the student complete. For people who want to work faster or slower, Coursera may not be the best fit. Most of the classes require a commitment for a specific time frame.

Coursera certainly offers free classes; however, their Specialization programs have a monthly payment requirement (typically $30-$60). The individual courses, whether required for a degree or stand-alone,  also require a financial commitment (usually $30-$100 each).


In reviewing Udemy and Coursera, both programs have been very successful, as shown by the high approval rates each has from their respective students. While they are each learning platform designed for adult students looking to learn something new, that is really where their similarity ends, as each company has a specific niche within the marketplace.

When deciding which option is the best between Udemy and Coursera, it depends on the student’s learning style, time and monetary commitment, and their ultimate goal. Each learning platform has its place in the adult education industry.

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