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Online Learning Courses

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What you need to know:

  1. Online Learning Courses are academic, technical, or practical courses which can be studied wholly, or primarily, through the internet.
  2. If you do want to do an online course, research the provider and be clear about what you want to learn and what your outcomes should be, then look careful at the market before choosing your course.
  3. A range of universities and learning providers offer qualifications including A-Levels, Degrees, and vocational qualifications online. The most famous of these is the Open University.
  4. Many of the world’s best Universities now also offer a range of courses for free online. These MOOCs include courses from Universities across the globe, including Ivy League US institutions.
  5. A range of excellent new language learning resources are also now available online, many of which are free to use.

What is an Online Learning Course?

Online Learning Courses, or E-Learning courses are academic, technical, or practical courses which can be studied wholly, or primarily, through the internet from the comfort of your own home.

With most people these days having the internet readily available, they have the largest ever resource of information and entertainment at their fingertips. Most of us have put a question about something into Google to seek out the answer. Some of us might even have slipped out of a pub quiz to check an answer on our phones. Many will have looked up a recipe, or how to do a DIY task. But how many of us have thought about taking our interest in something to the next level?

Because these days, as well as readily offering answers to simple trivia questions, the internet has become the largest depository for academic and educational resources ever. And it also offers the opportunity for us to study in more detail almost any subject we might care to take an interest in.

So instead of googling the odd recipe, why not do a full cookery course? Don’t just look up how to assemble flat-pack furniture on YouTube, learn some joinery skills. Instead of Googling which English King signed the Magna Carta, take a medieval history class.

Because it is all out there, and there is an almost bottomless pit of options for you. Whether you want to pay for a course, or do one for free; whether you want to get a proper qualification or just learn something for fun; whether you need to learn a skill for work, or just want to impress friends at parties, there is an online course out there for you.

What to look out for?

Before you jump straight into a course, it is well worth taking a step back and doing some research to make sure you are making the right choice.

There are numerous providers of online learning and training courses, but being the internet, there is no regulations, and the quality of courses can vary wildly. If you are doing a free course, you may well be willing to gamble a few hours of your time and try a course out to see if it is what you want.

However if you are paying for an online course, you are well advised to do some research into the provider first and make sure they have a good reputation and track record for providing excellent courses.

It is also advisable to be clear in your own mind about what you want to achieve from the course before you begin too. If you are looking to secure a qualification, or study something relevant to your work, look into the details of the course syllabus, and ensure the content and outcomes are what you are after.

Also check to be sure that the provider is licensed to award the type of qualification they are advertising. There are numerous rogue institutions and awarding bodies that offer qualifications not worth the paper they are written on. Do some research first!

If you are looking to do a course to enhance your skills for work, or to qualify you for a new job, speak to your employers or potential employers first to confirm the course you are considering is recognised by them. They may have certain approved courses which they accept, so you must be sure you are doing the right one.

If you are studying with a view to going to university, check with the academic institution to ensure that the course you have in mind will be accepted by them when considering your applications.

If you are just studying for the pleasure of learning about something, make sure the course covers the areas you want it to before proceeding. If it doesn’t there is a much higher chance of you losing interest and not completing it.

All of the providers mentioned in this guide are reputable ones and, any qualifications offered should be widely accepted.

The Big Names in Online Learning

There are a number of larger reputable learning institutions which specialise in online training and learning courses which will be the first place many people look when seeking out a course. Amongst the best are:

  1. The Open University
    The largest online university in the UK, with more than 600 programmes on offer, and offering over 250 qualifications. If you are looking for an undergraduate or postgraduate course, research degree or professional skills training course, the chances are The Open University will offer it. For most courses you don’t need previous qualifications either, as The Open University has specially designed introductory courses.
  1. RDI (Resource Development International)
    RDI is an online learning provider which partners with eight UK universities. Its list of subjects is long and varied, including such things as business, management, HR management, law, psychology, IT, finance & accounting, tourism & hospitality and sales and management.
  1. UK Open College
    Another of the country’s largest online and distance learning establishments, the UK Open College offers more than 250 affordable courses including 15 A-Levels, and such subjects as creative writing, beauty therapy, bookkeeping, HR, or childcare.
  1. LearnDirect
    Learndirect has helped over 3 million gain new skills and nationally recognised qualifications in core subjects like maths, English and IT, as well as numerous business and job-specific skills. They also run a range of eCourses, most of which don’t lead to qualifications, but offer an opportunity to learn and enhance skills in practical subjects like website design, and computer software programmes like Microsoft Office.
  1. University of London
    The University of London offers a range of internationally recognised diplomas, bachelor’s degree or master’s degree online. They also offer short courses (from 35 hours to 240 hours) in conjunction with The Royal Veterinary College.
  1. University of Derby
    The University of Derby offers around 20 online courses, including foundation, honours or postgraduate degrees, in various subjects. All courses offer support from a tutor and online subject forums to engage with fellow distance-learning students.
  1. Oxford College
    Oxford College specialises in home learning in the UK and worldwide. As part of this it offers a range of online qualifications such as  A-Levels, Fast track A-Levels, Level 3 Diplomas, Level 1 (introductory) courses, Level 2 courses (GCSE equivalent) and BTEC HND courses, which can then be topped up with a third year at university to gain an honours degree if required. The range of subjects is astonishing, with everything from Accounting to Zoology covered.
  1. Distance Learning College and Training
    DLCT is the UK's top specialist provider of accredited distance learning courses in logistics, purchasing, supply chain management, and export & management. It offers globally accepted professional qualifications and can boast a 97% pass rate on all its courses.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs):

A more recent and exciting addition to the Online Learning Courses market is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

A MOOC is an online course which is open to all and has no restriction on the number of participants. The first MOOC only appeared in 2008, but already many of the world’s finest academic institutions are offering some of their courses free to the world as a MOOC.

The MOOC craze initially kicked off in the USA when in 2011 Stanford University launched three courses. The first of these, an Introduction to AI, attracted more than 160,000 students.

From there a company called Coursera launched and signed up Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) then launched its own company which signed up neighbouring Harvard University, the University of California, Berkley, and Georgetown University amongst others.

In the UK, the first foray into MOOCs was predictably made by the Open University which launched FutureLearn. This company now has numerous partnerships and offers MOOCs on a range of subjects from a whole host of British and International Universities, and other learning providers including  

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • British Council
  • British Film Institute
  • British Library
  • British Museum
  • University of Cape Town
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Kings College, London
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oslo
  • Shanghai International Studies University
  • Trinity College, Dublin
  • University of Warwick

The Beauty of MOOCs, is that there is no constraint on what you can study by either ability of geography. You can register with a course from any University or learning provider in the world. If it turns out not to be of interest, too difficult, or too easy, you can just walk away.

There are way too many MOOCs available now to list them all here. But you can be pretty safe in assuming that if you want to study it, there is probably a MOOC available. If you want to check out a comprehensive list of MOOCs available, you can visit such sites as or the Open Education Database


Whilst there are many MOOCs available to help you learn different languages, there are also a number of specialist online providers who offer a unique, and often free, set of resources and teaching materials to help you learn another language.

Five such providers in particular worth mentioning are:

  1. Busuu: Free lessons featuring new vocabulary and phrases supported by dialogues, writing exercises, audio recording options, and the chance to network with other language learners and native speakers on the site for some real-time practice. The range of language includes all the usual modern European ones plus the likes of Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic.
  2. Duolingo: One of the best all-round free language study resources that you can get online. Study vocabulary and learn to build sentences using reading, writing, listening and speaking exercises. There is also an ‘Immersion’ resource with authentic reading materials and a translation option when needed. Unfortunately they only offer nine European languages to date, but there are plans for more to be added soon.
  3. Foreign Services Institute : The American Foreign Services Institute site is basic, with simple graphics, but the learning materials are high-quality, designed by professional linguists with the goal of learner fluency.
  4. Livemocha: Livemocha breaks its lessons down into target skills, with separate sections for the core skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. New lessons present new material, break it down for the learner, then reassemble the parts so the student can apply what they’ve learned to build on their existing knowledge. It also offers a broad range of languages.
  5. Memrise: Memrise uses a memory technique known as Mnemonics, and flashcards, to use your pre-existing knowledge to help remember new vocabulary.  It offers a range of languages, but is primarily user-generated content, so the quality can vary at times.

Further Reading:


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