How to Find the Online Courses You Really Need

June 3rd, 2015

At various stages in your career or life you will need to acquire new knowledge or skills. Traditionally, you’d have checked out a local institution for available classes. That would have been a hit or miss affair, depending on program availability, the course schedule, and the cost.

Now, you’d turn to your browser to find online courses that meet your specific needs, run on your schedule and in many cases are free or very low cost. The only problem is, in the ocean of data how do you find your perfect online course?

Before you jump straight into Google

Diving straight into Google isn’t the answer. Generic searches produce pages of results and, our research shows that the results at the top of the list are unlikely to be what you’re after. Google searches favor course provider websites that tune themselves for searches. Smaller, but very relevant, suppliers get overlooked. And, online courses offered by traditional institutions are often hidden on a course search page or are accessed via an academic calendar system. These important sources just don’t rank as highly in search results. And, arranging and re-arranging variations of search phrases won’t get you closer to the answers either.

To get meaningful results you need a plan.

Your search plan

You need to start by clearly articulating why you are looking:

Are you interested in skills upgrading?
Learning a completely new skill?
Pursuing a personal interest? Or,
Do you need to complete employer mandated training?
Then, identify your constraints:

Does a regulatory agency or professional body have to recognize the course?
Do you have to take the course from an accredited institution?
Is there a time constraint?
What is your budget?
Armed with answers to these questions you can stop searching and start learning.

Getting your bearings

The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with the language of online course descriptions. For example, you’ll find more by looking for office productivity than just searching for Excel. Going to Udemy’s site is a great way to get orientated. Udemy offers most of the online course types and uses standard terminology to describe them.

Udemy’s roster is also representative of the overall market for online courses, which is weighted towards information technology, general business and personal development. The IT and, to a lesser degree, the engineering worlds have transitioned to online learning. As have the financial and accounting sectors.

Assuming you didn’t find exactly what you needed at Udemy, you now have some background in how to search more effectively.

Information Technology Skills

Online IT learning divides into two distinct segments: vendor/industry specific skills and web development. To get a sense of the vendor-specific skills options go to ExitCertified. Many other third party suppliers offer similar vendor-based courses to those offered by ExitCertified: you can search for them using the course titles. Pricing for these types of courses is flexible, so it’s worth checking out a number of suppliers to get the best deal.

The second cluster of online IT courses supports web development. In fact, a number of startups offer mentorship and rapid development programs specifically for individuals acquiring skills from scratch. For these types of programs you should look at Code School, Code Academy, Treehouse, General Assembly or One Month.

For more conventional online web development courses, try and you could also look at the list in a recent blog post on our website: 75 online learn-to-code options.


For engineering-related courses the online options are more restricted. The Open Education Consortium provides excellent free course materials for different branches of engineering, including lectures, course notes, assignments and exams from top engineering schools. For more practice-specific courses we recommend starting with RedVector and using the course titles you find there to search for alternate options.

The leading MOOCs also provide engineering training and you should try the following: Coursera, EdX, Futurelearn, NovoEd, Open2Learn, and Udacity.

Finance & Accounting

We recommend heading back to Udemy and taking a look at the finance and accounting courses on offer. One of the issues with finding finance courses is avoiding the large number of stock market and investing offerings. Use Udemy’s course titles and descriptions, as inputs for your Google searches and you’ll locate the better quality offerings.

There are three specific sources also worth flagging for finance and accounting courses: GCF Learn Free, ALISON and Webucator.

In conclusion

Simply running keywords through Google just leads to frustration. Take a few minutes to clarify why you are looking, then head over to one of the relevant sites in your area of interest to get a feel for what is available and the terms used to describe the relevant types of courses.

After you’ve tried the approaches above, you should also run your search through our Find Online Courses service. This will confirm that you’re not missing obvious options and for more speculative searches it will be more effective than using Google.

– Guest Post from Paul Bradley, CEO and Co-Founder – Online Course Info

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