Without a doubt, there are more resources now than ever before for those looking to start a business. Because of technology like the internet, people with no formal training have plenty of tools at their fingertips. And with over 32.5 million SMBs in the U.S., access to premier business knowledge has never been as important. So, it’s easy to see how online business courses might play a key role in the current startup landscape.
However, easy access to information and education isn’t something relevant to new business owners alone. Because even the most seasoned veterans need to stay on top of current trends and practical developments. So, from the greenest startups to the largest Fortune 500 companies, continued learning represents a vital pursuit. Of course, “continued” being the operative word. Because if businesspeople stagnate in their knowledge and understanding, they do so to their own harm. In fact, Google, a goliath of business, encourages employees to spend 20% of their time learning. And furthermore, the sentiment of making learning an everyday activity echoes from Harvard Business Review.
But at the basest level, there are at least four benefits of continuing education for businesspeople of all calibers:
- Learning increases competence
- Continued education can lead to networking and professional opportunities
- Greater knowledge and skill contribute to job security
- Knowledgeability and competence make for a higher salary
Ultimately, the importance of education for beginners and professionals alike can’t be discounted. And since online business courses are an accessible method for learning, they present an easy way to keep up.
Free and Paid Online Business Course Providers
As could be expected, there are many different options available for online business courses. However, the quality varies from one to another, often dictated by price. That is, while there are free options available, they might not always go as in-depth as purchased courses. Though, that rule of thumb is somewhat shaky and applies irregularly. Ultimately, it depends on what topic a person wants to learn about and how deep they want to go. If they’re lucky, they might be able to find an inexpensive option that fits their needs just fine. But overall, the point is fairly simple. Individuals can generally find the information they need if they’re tenacious enough to search it out.
Of course, because there are thousands of online business courses and providers, it’s not possible to highlight them all. But there are a few prestigious names worth mentioning for beginners or professionals looking to dive in.
When it comes to having a wide range of curriculum and options for online business courses, Coursera stands out. Because it not only has free one-off selections – it also hosts accredited university programs. Generally, courses consist of pre-recorded video lectures, which are viewable on a self-paced basis. However, some programs feature much more strict and time-bound projects. For example, university courses might include student discussions, homework and exams due at specified intervals. And for all specialization tracks, students participate in a capstone, applied learning project.
Understandably, Coursera’s helpfulness depends largely on what individual businesspeople hope to get out of the educational experience. Because if they’re searching for a certificate, they’ll likely have to pay. Though it’s worth noting Coursera offers financial assistance options on the home page for every course or learning track. Alternatively, if only looking to expand their knowledge without a tangible reward, individuals can find free options using audit mode. Ultimately, the choice might come down to buffing up a resume or learning for its own sake.
Udemy is another popular option for online business courses, though unlike Coursera, the selection is far larger. In fact, there are somewhere around 10,000 business courses available through the provider. However, there are also several factors contributing to the overall informality of the learning experience. For example, the course quality checklist focuses largely on structure rather than actual content. And because the instructor standards aren’t particularly stringent, professional credentials aren’t guaranteed for creators. So, unfortunately, Udemy lacks the implicit credibility of other providers.
However, one obvious positive for Udemy is individual course price. Each selection typically falls somewhere around $15 to $25, though some naturally list for more and others less. So, businesspeople looking to get an introductory grip on a new topic might find Udemy a compelling option. While learners aren’t provided a viable certification after completing a course, they are awarded a certificate. So, again, if the prime motivation is for some official designation, Udemy isn’t the right choice. However, for the sheer number of topics available and the typical price, it’s a fantastic gateway to continued learning opportunities. As for any provider, the good and bad of Udemy have to be weighed against the learner’s overall needs. Succinctly stated, Udemy can be beneficial for introductions to topics though less so for in-depth, professional analysis.
In a sense, HubSpot Academy combines several positive things about Coursera and Udemy in one package. Because it offers numerous free courses and learning tracks, the latter of which include certifications with LinkedIn badges. However, because HubSpot specializes in digital marketing, most of the course topics focus on that sphere. So, learners can expect a definite limit to the available range of subject material. The upside is each course is taught and presented in an extremely professional manner by instructors responsible for those tasks. And to that extent, learners can rest assured in the relevance and application of course material.
Furthermore, each learning track includes practical application projects designed to help students get started. However, because HubSpot is a subscription-based marketing tool, many of the optional assignments require paid access. So, while learners can take the courses for free, some practical application lessons may not apply well. At least, not without an active subscription. Still, HubSpot Academy presents a well-rounded and effective option for learning important concepts in digital marketing. And since the courses are self-paced, individuals can start and stop as needed.
Though far from unqualified, the previous online business course providers lack the level of credibility associated with Harvard University. Though that’s to be expected when compared to a prestigious institution founded nearly 400 years ago. Ultimately, while there are free options, price might largely be an issue with this provider. Because the majority of online courses have a fairly high cost – often between $1,500 and $3,500, though sometimes much higher. So, businesspeople who want the prestige and quality of Harvard’s online courses won’t find the majority easily affordable.
Furthermore, dissimilarly to courses through Udemy or HubSpot Academy, Harvard options typically limit to a set time period. So, learners must enroll and complete them within a specific date range. Still, those who can afford these online business courses undoubtedly invest in a high-quality learning experience. So, while the price tag might seem exorbitant compared to other available options, the experience may outweigh the cost.
Stanford Online Business Courses
In the same vein as Harvard University, Stanford Business offers a handful of self-paced online courses. However, the topics included appear far more nebulous than those of other providers. In other words, they’re less concrete and more cerebral, covering issues like demystifying decision making and embracing uncertainty. So, while they still apply well for business professionals, these courses hold more for experienced individuals than newcomers. Particularly because they seem to assume a base-level or foundational set of skills and knowledge. Ultimately, they can help further bolster and build upon existing business education. Thus, anyone looking to solidify their understanding of important concepts might find them useful.
However, they too are fairly steep in price, particularly for learning activities which sharpen less pragmatic skills. As such, Stanford’s online options aren’t nearly as accessible as those of other institutions. Though, again, the prestige and knowledgeability of the professors ensure a worthwhile experience. Additionally, like HubSpot Academy, learners who complete courses receive LinkedIn badges. Thus, they can showcase their dedication and knowledgeability to potential employers or clients.
edX for Business
Finally, a sort of melting pot option for online business courses, edX hosts learning activities for many well-known colleges and institutions. Several of these include:
- University of Cambridge
- The Smithsonian Institution
- Princeton University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Furthermore, where Harvard and Stanford largely provide expensive course options, edX separates individual courses from programs. Typically, standalone courses carry no cost for an audit package, though there is a limited window for completion. Alternatively, users can pay a small fee for unlimited access to course materials, which includes a certificate of completion. So, as with other provider options, learners can determine the experience based off their individual needs.
In terms of available content, edX boasts a catalog of nearly 830 courses and 175 business programs. Unlike courses, these programs do include enrollment fees, some of which are steep. They are also more akin to an online university experience than self-paced education. So, professionals looking to learn on their own time may benefit more from standalone courses.
Online Business Courses for Continuing Education Credit
The previous providers largely represent options available to newcomers and experienced individuals alike. And furthermore, they highlight learning opportunities which often carry little measurable reward. However, there are other business professionals who have to complete continuing education activities to retain their licenses. For example, members of the AICPA, SHRM/HRCI, and the American Payroll Association. And while these individuals might benefit from the provider options above, those online business courses typically won’t satisfy their recertification requirements. In fact, many licensed professionals have to acquire credit from providers pre-approved by their organization. So, when it comes to continuing professional education for credit, there are a whole host of other online business courses. Here are a few of those providers, broken down by the organizations they serve.
- AICPA CPE & Learning – Of course, it only makes sense for the AICPA itself to serve as one of the main providers of continuing education for accountants. The extensive learning opportunities include online business courses as well as conferences and webinars. However, as one might expect from an organization of its standing, AICPA charges a high price for many of these activities. At least, in relation to the amount of CPE credit participants receive for completion. For example, a single course might cost around $400 for 7.5 CPEs – a mere 6% of the required recertification total. Admittedly, there are free courses available from AICPA. So, business professionals looking for inexpensive courses can check into these alternative options. However, because they provide a minimal amount of CPEs, learners will likely have to utilize other means as well.
- Sequoia CPE – Opposite the AICPA’s proprietary courses, Sequoia CPE offers a relatively inexpensive, subscription-based option for CPE. In fact, a year-long membership costs only $149 and admits access to over 100 unique courses. So, CPAs at the beginning of the license renewal process might find Sequoia meets their needs quite well. However, the downside is that users cannot purchase courses on a one-off basis. Which means those only lacking a handful of credits would likely overpay for access to an entire catalog. So, the benefit of Sequoia depends largely upon where in the recertification process accountants fall.
- HR Jetpack – HR Jetpack is designed specifically by HR professionals to meet the needs of HR professionals. The yearly subscription costs $299, which allows access to courses that can help meet the minimum 60 PDC requirement. As with many other providers, HR Jetpack’s courses are self-paced, and they even offer supplementary online community events. However, unlike many other online business courses, the catalog boasts only short, bite-sized activities. The longest of which lasts just over three hours. And since some HR professionals prefer to take a single course to knock out a large amount of credit at once, this structure might not appeal well. But for those who don’t mind utilizing a multitude of hour-long courses, HR Jetpack presents a decent option.
- Lorman – Another provider serving both SHRM and HRCI, Lorman offers a multitude of courses for individual purchase. Typically, HR professionals can acquire them for around $149 each, including an option for MP3 download. However, learners should note there is some variance in price and credit awarded for different activity formats. Ultimately, because of the price-per-credit ratio, Lorman might not be accessible for individuals looking for a large amount of credit. However, the diverse catalog and variability in delivery methods makes it a unique option for furthered learning.
American Payroll Association
- Illumeo – Unlike AICPA and SHRM/HRCI, the American Payroll Association has far fewer approved course providers. But even though online business courses are rarer for payroll professionals, Illumeo offers around 50. And because each selection can be purchased on its own or as part of a subscription, there’s a bit of flexibility. Overall, a one year membership with full access costs $399, and individual courses only $99. This pay structure stands the same for long and short courses alike. So, learners might feel they’re underpaying for a large amount of credits or overpaying for a only few. Ultimately, though, in a market starved for APA course providers, Illumeo is a valid option.
VTR Learning’s Online Business Courses
When it comes to continuing education, and online business courses specifically, finding a unique way to present material is essential. Because when there are literally thousands of different providers, they all tend to blur together. VTR Learning achieves this by adding a narrative element to the majority of their courses. So, instead of watching one slide after another, learners are invited to participate in story-based business simulation. And as an intern for a fictional company, they get a first-hand look at processes playing out how they might in real life.
But of course, this sort of unique experience isn’t for everyone. So, VTR Learning alternatively offers a host of courses designed for a more traditional learning format, including:
Furthermore, VTR Learning serves business professionals of many calibers, including members of AICPA, SHRM/HRCI, American Payroll Association, and ASAE. However, the interactive format further makes the courses ideal for beginners looking to jump into premier business education for the first time. So, no matter the experience level, there’s something to be gained.
Ultimately, every individual is different. So, the way they learn best will vary – and that’s all right. There are plenty of online business courses and providers out there to help meet the needs professionals and beginners alike. And while it might initially seem difficult to find the right resources, it helps to know where to look.
Article written by Braden Norwood
Last updated March 16, 2023