Learning Unlimited: Choose the right online certificate course for you

Online Learning: What does learning outside the straight-jacket of formal degree programmes look like?

Learning Unlimited: Choose the right online certificate course for you Online courses with certificates
Team Careers360 | Jan 12, 2021 - 10:11 a.m. IST
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NEW DELHI: The world of online certificate courses defies categorisation. It is expansive, geographically untethered, staggeringly diverse and in a state of flux. Popular massive open online course (MOOC) platforms host thousands of courses and reach lakhs of learners each year. All that was achieved in a decade.

According to McGill University Association of Teachers’ brief history of the sector, the term, massive open online course was coined in 2008 but it was 2011 before a course actually lived up to that name. In 2011, Stanford University offered three courses for free online. One of them was Introduction to Artificial Intelligence which enrolled over 1.6 lakh from across the world.

Since then, the sector has grown at a stupendous pace. A 2017 report on online education by Google and KPMG predicted that by 2021, online programmes would draw 9.6 million (96 lakh) users, up from 1.6 million (16 lakh) in 2016. The education ministry has taken an interest, setting up the Study Web of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM). And that was before COVID-19. With the pandemic ravaging the conventional education system, even the sceptics had to change and embrace teaching-learning online. Over the decade, a pattern has emerged.

Emerging picture

Like the first AI course, the vast majority and the best-known of online courses are in the technology, specifically IT, sector. They cover data science, blockchain, artificial intelligence and their applications in various sectors. The most highly-regarded ones are also linked to established educational institutions or corporations. They address a student population that may include school children at one end of the spectrum, and seasoned executives at the other. The certifications, often described as nanodegrees or microdegrees, cost far less than a full degree programme and are unapologetically job-oriented, promising to close the gap between formal training in degree programmes and what the industry requires. And while most are for working professionals to upskill, for certain job profiles –typically in IT or design – they may even replace degrees.

For this issue, we have consciously chosen to address “beginners” – those in or just out of school to those with under three years of work experience. The master list (PDF below) contains over 250 courses in the most popular categories for this group. An explanatory note on how its various components are to be read is given below. The note will further illustrate the features of online certificate courses.

In addition, there is a host of stories that reflect the trends in and diversity of the sector – accounts of students, how recruiters see these courses, ones that guarantee jobs, language courses, the contribution of public institutions, and the peculiar position of soft-skills education. They come with lists of courses too.

Reading the master list


The platforms and instructors often do not follow the terms and definitions of the formal system while setting the eligibility criteria. For some courses, even a school leaving certificate is not a prerequisite. For these, we have said “Class 12” under eligibility criteria.

Some are technically open to candidates straight out of school but may still require other types of technical, mathematical or statistical skills; some others are open to college students who have completed a certain number of years of study but are yet to graduate. For these, we have said “Class 12+”.

Those demanding a graduation degree have “Graduation”, and ones for which work experience is mandatory, have “Graduation+” against them.

Work experience

We have attempted to keep only those courses that are open to learners with three years or less of work experience (considered a “fresher” or entry-level employee). Courses, where the minimum eligibility is over three-years of work, have been dropped from the main list but have been addressed in the stories. Therefore, management development programmes, courses explicitly addressing veterans and team leaders have been left out.

Selection process

Some courses, especially those offered by established educational institutions, come with a separate selection process. These might include interviews or written entrance tests. In some cases, course providers may choose to allow students who do not quite meet the eligibility criteria but are otherwise bright to join.

Platforms, partners, certificates

While most courses featuring in our list are offered in partnership with an educational institution which also co-signs the certificate, some are offered by the e-platform alone. For these courses, the platforms may gather instructors from industry and elsewhere and the certificate comes from the platform itself.

In the case of courses offered by highly-regarded institutions, the certificate may not be issued by the institution as a whole but by a specific branch or department within it that works on continued learning or online education.

Blended learning

Courses with substantial classroom-teaching components have been dropped. Where the duration of campus visits is less than a week or unclear, the course has been retained. The campus-based part may even be optional.


Although subsequent lists connected to the stories are different, for the main list, we consciously favoured courses that are of a longer duration (sixth-months and over) while featuring a handful of shorter ones as well. This was done keeping in mind students and freshers seeking substantive courses rather than seasoned workers seeking a quick top-up of skills.

We have organized the list by duration with the courses lasting the longest – 12 months or so – on top. Where the period stated is in weeks, we have converted it into months but where it is in hours, the original has been kept. However, unlike the formal system where a stated course duration – a four-year BTech for example – implies daily morning-to-afternoon classes with weekends and vacations, online certification courses follow vastly different schedules. Some are self-paced and don’t have any; some run only on weekends; some teach for a shorter period but allow access to recorded and other material for years.


Only the cost of the basic version of a course has been states and it may be pre-tax. Pricing policies vary wildly across platforms. On some, a month’s or year’s subscription opens access to unlimited courses for that period. Courses by foreign and top Indian institutions may cost as much as Rs.3 lakh. For foreign institutions, the cost has been converted into rupees and a rounded figure stated as exchange rates fluctuate daily. Courses in the most popular subjects also command premium pricing. Various chargeable add-ons may include placement sup-port, campus visits and alumni-status. Offers of scholarships and discounts have been ignored.

Constantly changing

From the time we began compiling the list, till the point of publication, various elements related to several courses changed – names, duration, cost. Courses taught once, may not recur. Or they may be re-run at a later date. Some courses listed were taught years ago and will be again. For some, the application process is over. Courses may be changed or restructured with-out warning. Therefore, the following lists offer only a starting point – any student interested in any course they find here must also check for their status on the platform that offers it.

What did we miss?

Probably, a lot. While Careers360’s digital teams have been assiduously cataloguing and detailing all courses they find, we had to restrict ourselves to the ones that a single issue of our magazine could reasonably contain. This meant selecting to feature a handful from a vast array of courses with-out the regulations, standards, public assessments and mandatory public dis-closures that guide Careers360’s other ranking and listing efforts. Missing from the lists are many courses in the social sciences, education and architecture. The courses selected are on popular platforms, connected to well-regarded educational institutions and of durations that suggest rigour and a rounded approach, if not quality.

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