It seems like 2015 is going to be the year of revolutionary educational models. Every few days, a new startup seems to appear with a new vision for how people can learn, grow, or even teach, all on their own.
But even as the long-smoldering debate over whether and how (and how much) to disrupt the university model starts to produce some actual flames, it seems like the demand for new learning methods isn’t coming from a lack of faith in the old, but rather from someplace unexpected: Career development.
Personal development is a big part of it, too—learning to play guitar on YouTube is only the tip of that iceberg—but the thing that really seems to be driving these new sites, systems and software is the idea that what you learned in college isn’t going to be enough to carry you through your career anymore.
In the past 10 years, some things became obvious: Marketers needed to learn HTML. Product designers needed to learn programming code. Programmers needed to learn design. And so on.
Our career silos are breaking down, and in response we need to keep up. And a 15-year-old college degree isn’t going to help with that. That’s why the self-education industry is booming, and sites that make self-guided education easy (like Skillset.com) are prospering.
Here are five types of self-education models that have become extremely popular in recent years, and the best E-learning sites within each category:
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
Just a few years ago, Massive Open Online Courses made the biggest splash of any category here, because they were a complete disruption of the university model by universities. They rose to prominence when esteemed professors from Stanford University decided to offer free courses online (via telecommute) to anyone who wanted to attend—whether that be several hundred or more than a million.
Since then, universities have experimented in these courses so commonly that they it’s barely notable when a new one launches, but they have the advantage over other self-education methods of (often) being live presentations, and giving students access to legitimate, university-level content for free, from anywhere.
Here are the best sources for MOOCs:
- Udemy.com: Over 20,000 open courses in topics from physics to music.
- iTunes U-Courses: iTunes-hosted online classes from skilled educators.
- Stanford Engineering Everywhere: Massive, Stanford-designed and taught courses for computer science and tech topics.
Hands-On E-Learning Sites
These are perhaps the courses that kicked the entire e-learning industry into hyperdrive. Most famously, sites like CodeAcademy taught users how to code, for free, using hands-on tutorials and self-pacing tools. With these sites, users are typically in a silo without much interaction with other users (although that’s getting better all the time), and it’s very similar to teaching oneself with a book, only instead it’s interactive and you can “try” things as you learn them. Since then, many similar sites have sprung up that teach more than code.
The best hands-on e-learning sites include:
- Khan Academy: This site started out with popular self-guided video learning courses, but now they’ve expanded to interactive tutorials, tests, and skill challenges.
- Skillset.com (How can we not include this site?): Prepare and track your readiness for taking actual professional certification exams by taking unlimited skill-based tests.
- Creative Skillset: Geared toward creative industries, this site helps users find one of thousands of independent courses available, both online and in-person.
Video Instruction Sites
As mentioned, the Khan Academy was probably the granddaddy of all these sites, and while that particular site has gotten more and more advanced, video-based learning sites have only grown in popularity. The main benefit of these sites is the sheer variety of topics, instructors, and even learning styles they offer, because each class, lesson, or series is taught by a different educator.
Pretty much anyone can grab a video camera and teach others what they know using these sites, whether that’s graphic design, playing the piano, or photography. That’s why these sites grow exponentially, and offer the most creative subject matter and the widest variety of experiences.
Here are the best peer-to-peer and online video learning sites:
- Lynda.com: One of the originals, and still highly respected among professional and corporate educators, Lynda offers lessons in technical, creative, and business topics.
- Skillshare: This true peer-to-peer education site delivers people with knowledge in a number of (often quirky) topics, like Instagram curation or storytelling.
- Skillfeed: Another peer-to-peer video learning site, this site is run by trusted creative site Shutterstock, and focuses on creative skills like video and design.
Peer-to-Peer Educational Content Curators
Content curation for the purposes of education is a relatively new venture into the world of e-learning, but it’s caught on quickly. The main idea behind these sites is that there is already more than enough content out there for you to learn anything you want to know—it’s the finding it that’s the hard part.
So these sites offer “courses” by having a specialist curate videos, articles, blog posts, tutorials, tests, and anything in between, and putting them in a sequence designed to grow your knowledge over time. The big benefits here is that the content is almost always free, you don’t have to go searching for it, and you’re not locked into the knowledge source or style of any one site.
Here are the best education-based content curation sites:
- Degreed: Degreed is a robust site that has two missions—to help users find pathways to learning more about a particular subject, and also to record their own personal learning as it happens bit by bit.
- Highbrow: This is a truly unique site that delivers self-learning content regularly via email. The content is curated by a specific expert or teacher, and courses are often, well, highbrow—like philosophy and literature.
- Lessonly: Lessonly is geared toward, but not exclusive to, corporate trainers and educators who need to create custom courses and track the specific progress of people who take them. It focuses on orientation, employee onboarding, and more.
Online Degrees From Traditional Universities
Yes, traditional universities have (by and large) come around and started offering their education opportunities to an online audience. The trick, as with choosing college in any format, is finding the program that’s right for you based on a number of non-qualitative factors such as price, location, and length of term. Still, there are a number of excellent programs now available online from well-known and highly regarded institutions.
Here are the best online programs from traditional universities:
- US News and World Report Rankings: Not a program in itself, but a must-review if you are considering obtaining an entire degree online. US News has evaluated, ranked, and divided programs by degree such as Bachelors, Masters, Certificate, and more.
- eCornell: The ivy league has officially entered the modern era with this extremely well-designed and robust online arm of Cornell. At the moment, they offer certificates (but not full degrees) in their most well-regarded programs, such as marketing, business, and hotel management. No other online program from the ivies comes close.
- University of Phoenix Continuing Education: As a pioneer of online learning, the fact that Phoenix offers online degrees isn’t a surprise. But more interesting is their diverse and useful array of continuing education and certification programs.