Washington DC School Class - 1890s - The Frugal Guide to Online Learning

Online Learning for (Not) Dummies

Alternatives to Lynda.com

As we discussed in our last post, Lynda.com is a great resource for online learning and is now being incorporated more into LinkedIn, itself. In today’s job market, the need for continuous learning is growing for almost all of us. But Lynda.com is not the only online learning tool available and, in some cases, it’s not the best choice.

Here are some tools you might want to consider for your online learning goals.

Publications (online and off)

A Google search will easily find online resources for learning any topic, many for free. Books (ebooks and printed) are easily available on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble online.

I’d be remiss in not reminding you that there are millions of blogs out there with free training on just about any topic known to mankind.

Open Textbooks

One of the newer initiatives in education is the development of open source textbooks – including many university-level textbooks – to help reduce the cost of textbooks for students. Some sources:

The Open Textbook Library from the University of Minnesota.

OpenStax offers a variety of free open-source textbooks in Math, Science, Social Sciences, the Humanities, but notably not in computer science. Most of these are used in college classrooms, but some are for high school Advanced Placement, too.

The University of Washington offers its Open Educational Resources Network which includes a directory of textbook resources. This should take you to all the other major open source textbook distributors.

Flat World is a digital learning organization promoting open education. They have a catalog of textbooks in the categories: Business and Economics (the largest section), Humanities and Social Sciences, Mathematics, Sciences and Professionals and Applied Sciences. The catalog offers a Table of Contents for each book. Textbooks here aren’t free, but students can purchase online-only, all-digital or printed copies of the books. You might find some of the books available elsewhere online or through a library using the worldcat.org catalog.

The Saylor Academy offers over 100 free open textbooks, most available as PDFs, DOC or DOCX (Microsoft Word formats), and as HTML.

I haven’t cross-referenced these catalogs, but there may be considerable overlapping of titles in these resources.

Washington, DC Classroom photo from the 1890s

MOOCs and Online Courses

Messing with MOOCs

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs are designed to be taken by an unlimited number of students and are open to all. They may include videos of actual university courses or stand-alone online courses taught by university faculty. Some offer the students interaction with faculty or teaching assistants and may include opportunities for students to interact online or in live meetings. Some universities, such as MIT, offer lots of courses for free. Others, just a few. Some MOOCs additionally offer students online discussion, live meet-ups with other students, and group wikis requiring them to work together.

Most MOOCs are available for free, although there might be charges for certificates or degree credits. Many college students will use MOOCs (usually from another school) to prepare for their own live classes, or audit them simultaneously. High school students may use these courses as advance placement or to augment their current studies. In turn, high school teachers enroll in the courses to update their knowledge and find new teaching techniques and ideas. Other students around the world study these courses in order to get scholarships for universities they could not otherwise afford.

MOOCs were created in 2008 and have grown greatly in popularity since then. In return for offering these courses, universities get grants and have a live laboratory for studying new teaching (and learning) techniques and technology. They also get to show off their best faculty to attract full-time students, too.

Coursera logo

Coursera offers actual college-level courses from over 140 universities, including Penn State, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, Stanford, UCSan Diego, Duke, University of Edinburgh, and Peking University. Courses are available in a variety of languages. Many of the listed classes appear to be introductory-level courses.

edX logo

Founded by Harvard University and MIT, edX lists a wide variety of online university courses from both top American universities and some foreign ones. Their MicroMasters Programs offer graduate-level classes. Their XSeries Program and the Verified Certificate course options offer certificates to demonstrate competency in an area. Some courses are eligible for college credit. See also edX’s collaboration with the W3C below.


Udacity offers many courses (mostly in tech), including Nanodegree programs which may already offer curated courseware similar to that LinkedIn is proposing to offer.

Iversity is a European MOOC host offering courses in a variety of languages. Many of them are business courses, and the rest seem to be a hodge-podge.

The MOOC List offers an online catalog of MOOCS. You can explore upcoming courses by categories, MOOC Providers, specific university, instructor or language, among other categories. It is not a provider of courses, but a useful catalog of other offerings around the web.

Individual University Offerings

MIT Logo (Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT Open Courseware offers courses from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As one would expect, many of the courses are for engineering, software, programming, and science, but there are also courses from the Humanities. The faculty are top-notch and it’s free.

Harvard University Veritas emblem

Harvard Online Learning offers a variety of podcasts, lectures and full interactive courses.

Yale Bulldog logoOpen Yale Courses offers free introductory courses created by Yale faculty. The courses cover much of the liberal arts curriculum and science but, notably, not computer science. The courses appear to be mostly first-year 100 level courses, with a few second-year courses added.

Logo of Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative offers a sampling of various courses. Similar to Yale’s offerings, these are mainly introductory courses. Some of the courses are free for the first few weeks and require a fee to complete. No credits are offered.

Stanford University online courses includes some free offerings in both live courses and self-paced courses.

Commercial Learning Sites

If we were not discussing alternatives to LinkedIn’s (and soon Microsoft’s) Lynda.com, this is the category it (She?) would fit in. We are not bashing Lynda here, just discussing the competition. These sites may include tutorials for specific software packages (such as Microsoft Office or Adobe creative and publishing software).

These classes may be excellent, well-prepared courses by experienced instructors, or they may be created by novice teachers, so the quality can vary. There are many to choose from.


Udemy offers a wide variety of courseware, including technology, office productivity, design, marketing, photography, to languages and music. When I checked, most courses appear to be available for $19. That might be a sale price, though.

Pluralsight is an online technology learning site which now incorporates all the Adobe software courses formerly available on TrainSimple.com. A commercial service, it costs $29 per month, with annual subscriptions available. (You might still be able to subscribe to just the Adobe software courses for $15 / month or $150 / year. See the Subscribe to Train Simple page. Pluralsight offers a ten-day free trial for a limited number of classes.

Envato tuts+ offers over 900 video courses with 22,560+ tutorials in a variety of technical courses in web design, coding, audio, graphics and business courses. Premium pricing is $15 / month with a ten-day free trial. Tuts+ also has a presence on YouTube, Google+, Facebook, GitHub and many more places around the web. Envato is also a marketplace for website templates, plugins, stock video footage and much, much more. (Previous to consolidating on Envato in 2014, Tuts and tuts+ was a loose collection of websites offering tutorials on a variety of websites.)

SkillShare offers short, quick learning bites of 15 minute presentations on a wide variety of topics (including design, cooking, crafts, film, music, writing, lifestyle as well as technology-related). Premium accounts are $12 / month and there is an unspecified free trial.


The Khan Academy offers free online courses, mostly at levels ranging from elementary school to high school and advanced placement. If you want to revisit some high school topics you wish you spent more time with, or if you are working on a GED, this may be an excellent site. (They accept all ages.)

For less formal learning in short spurts, TED-Ed offers short talks on a wide variety of topics, similar to the TED Talk videos that inspired it.

Computer and Web Programming Training Sites

There are several websites offering courseware for building the web. If MOOCs represent the university approach to online learning, these sites are the Vo-Tech equivalent. Many of these are text-based, not video instruction. Some are excellent.

Codecademy logo

Codecademy offers a variety of basic courses in programming, largely dealing with web technology. All the courses are free.


Free Code Camp offers free open source training in web technology, including HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, Databases, Git, Node.js, React.js and D3.js. Advanced students build an online portfolio by donating projects to nonprofits.

w3 Schools logo

Dating all the way back to 1998, w3schools claims to be the largest Web Developer Site on the Internet, offering courses in web programming. The courses are free and may be taken at your own pace. Afterwards, for a $95 testing fee, you can take an exam for w3 certifications in CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP, Bootstrap, or XML. (w3 stands for WWW or the World Wide Web, but the site is not affiliated with the W3C, which is the standards organization for HTML and CSS. See below.)

Code School offers both single courses and longer learning paths to learn various types of programming, with an emphasis on web building courses, including HTML/CSS, Ruby, JavaScript, Python, iOS, and GIT. (PHP coming soon.) A commercial site, you can pay $29 / month or $228 / year (which comes out to $19 / month, paid in advance).

Treehouse is yet another coding school for building websites, learn coding, build apps or start a business. It offers a ten-day free trial, after which it costs $25 / month or $250 / year.

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)

W3C logo

If you are studying HTML, CSS and web tools, you should also check the W3C website, which shows the actual standards for the HTML languages. For example, their HTML5 specifications are the very definition of HTML5 (and they’re pretty readable, too).

W3C also offers CSS specifications but, unlike HTML, CSS is a large collection of specialized specifications that are all works in progress.

The W3C has also combined with EdX to create W3Cx, a collection of online courses. Some are self-paced, others are on a calendar schedule. You may audit the classes for free or choose to receive a verified certificate for a fee. The page for W3Cx includes a short video endorsement by no other than Tim Berners-Lee, who created the World Wide Web (and also directs the W3C).

Photo of a classroom the Holton Arms School

A Draft Curriculum?

If you would like to view one person’s take on online offerings that might approximate the courses for a bachelor’s degree in computer science, see Online Learning: An Intensive Bachelor’s Level Computer Science Program Curriculum, Part II.

There’s More

This is only a sampling of the online courses available worldwide. Don’t forget to check your local community college or academic communities for either classroom or online training.

If you know of any other useful online training courses, please share in the comments below.

Image Credits

Title photo is of a Washington, DC Public School Classroom in the 1890s. Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) photographer. From the online catalog of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.

Washington, DC, Classroom Scene (with girl reading on top of desk), Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographer. Photo dates between 1890-1900. From the online catalog of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.

Photo of Students in Classroom at the Holton Arms School, from the Theodore Horydczak (ca. 1890-1971) Collection of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.

All images were cropped and edited for web display.

Logos for the learning sites are from their respective websites or from a Google Image Search.

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