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eLearning websites compared: best ways to learn from home in 2020

From formal classes to quick how-to videos, we explore the wide range of possibilities available online if you want to learn from home

eLearning websites compared: best ways to learn from home in 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many more people become acquainted with online learning as colleges, universities and other providers have taken to the internet to deliver their classes. But this type of formal learning with a human teacher is only the tip of the iceberg.

There are always new things to learn. Some adults join classes to master a skill such as playing a musical instrument, while others get a qualification to progress at work or change career altogether. The reach of the internet means that even people with the most esoteric interests can come together to share their knowledge. In other words, learning has never been this easy.

Below, we explore the various ways you can learn from home and take a closer look at several eLearning websites, including FutureLearn, MasterClass and OpenLearn.

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Ways to learn from home

Try watching some video tutorials

Many ‘how to’ type of things you might want to find out about might be best approached through a video, because this medium can make understanding something much clearer than reading explanatory texts or looking at photos.

YouTube is a primary source of videos and is very easy to use. Go to youtube.com and type ‘how to’ in the search box followed by what you want to do. Videos that match your request will be found. Click one to watch.

There are plenty of other providers of video on the web, and sometimes a video from a more specialist source might be just what you need. You can discover these by using a general search – go to a search page such as Google and type ‘video how to’ in the search box followed by what you want to do. For example, if you tried ‘video how to fix a puncture on a bike’ you’ll get videos from bicycle shops, cycling organisations and more – as well as YouTube videos

Learn from the specialists

If you want to go more in depth into a topic, it might be useful to find a specialist resource devoted to that topic rather than look for answers to a number of tightly defined questions.

For example, you could try:

  • Websites of membership organisations that can include a wealth of in-depth information about their specialist subject
  • Fan or enthusiast sites provide copious amounts of information and might also have chat areas where you can ask questions or browse what others have shared
  • Closed membership sites where you have to create an account before you can delve inside, but which might be a treasure trove of resources
  • Blogs run by individuals that are full of useful, interesting and inspiring information, help, tips and hints
  • Facebook groups that connect people with a shared interest, potentially bringing people together from all over the world. For example, the Which? Gardening Facebook group caters for everyone from beginners to seasoned gardeners and has grown from 4,000 members in March to more than 7,000 now.

Popular eLearning websites in 2020: what do they have to offer?

FutureLearn

Free to join and access courses, £199 a year for extended access, further payment for degree, premium and invite only. Visit at futurelearn.com.

Tends toward academic or vocational courses with providers including the British Council, King’s College London, and a range of UK and international universities, professional bodies and specialist organisations.


MasterClass

£170 a year gives full access to all classes. Visit at masterclass.com.

A wide range of classes from scriptwriting to interior design with famous experts, such as actress Dame Helen Mirren. Each class is of around 20 video lessons of an average length of 10 minutes and a companion workbook. Classes can be on a computer, phone or smart TV.


OpenLearn

Free. Visit at open.edu/openlearn/free-courses.

This part of the Open University offers nearly 1,000 free-to-study courses. These are tagged as introductory, intermediate and advanced. The length of courses is measured in study hours. Course lengths vary from the very short, including some just one hour long, to 20 or more hours.


Udemy

Courses are individually priced. Visit at udemy.com.

More than 100,000 online courses, with new ones added every month. The range of topics covered is very broad, with arts and sciences topics, personal development and career development all among the subject areas that feature heavily. All the courses are video based.


Coursera

Courses are free or individually priced. Visit at coursera.org.

Courses on Coursera will take you up to degree level, but there are also many free courses. While at first Coursera might look rather academic, dig deeper to find a range of different courses for those seeking to broaden their understanding of a subject area.

How to find the right eLearning course

You will usually need to register at an eLearning site. This will mean you can get back to the course you’re in the middle of easily, have access to records of progress and see your complete history of everything you’ve done.

You might need to pay for some courses, and some sites have a graduated system where you get one level of service for free, but need to pay for extra or more sophisticated services. There are, however, hundreds of thousands of free courses and these include many high-quality ones offered by well-regarded academic or research organisations.

When searching for your course, consider our top tips:

It might also be worth checking out traditional bricks and mortar colleges that you might not normally have been able to access before because they’re outside the area where you live. Many, such as City Lit college in London, have now moved some courses online because of the pandemic.

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Additional reporting by Tom Morgan.

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