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Out of 100,000: Picking the Best Courses from Udemy's Vast Library

By Denton Zhou | Published June 6, 2019

In the past, we’ve looked closely at online courses from universities and organizations. They’re great at helping their learners absorb knowledge and information. That’s largely due to the dedicated instructors behind them and the resources available to them.

Today, we look at a very different kind of online courses, the ones you’ll find at Udemy. 

Thousands of instructors

Unlike institutional courses, most courses on Udemy are smaller scale productions. Often, they’re put together by small teams with relatively few resources. In fact, it’s common to find solo instructors running an entire course.

Perhaps Udemy’s schtick is that it lets anyone start a course. So long as it passes the “Quality Review Process,” it’s ready for primetime. Because the barrier to entry is so low, we see thousands of creators joining Udemy each year. Most creators join out of a desire to teach, for profit, or a bit of both.

A platform filled with knowledge

With so many creators, it’s not surprising to learn that Udemy’s catalog of courses is huge. As of this writing, it contains over 100,000 courses. This number is only growing. Compare that to edX and Coursera whose libraries contain “only” a couple of thousand courses each.

All of this means that you have plenty of options.You might find thousands of courses about popular subjects like business, programming, and design. Many might even overlap those found on platforms off of Udemy. But you’ll also find courses about topics unique to Udemy, anything from the obscure to the very niche.

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Automate the Boring Stuff with Python Programming

10.99 | A 9.5-hour course from Udemy

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The Ultimate Excel Programmer Course

10.99 | A 12.5-hour course from Udemy

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The Modern JavaScript Bootcamp (2019)

10.99 | A 29.5-hour course from Udemy

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Beginner Full Stack Web Development: HTML, CSS, React & Node

10.99 | A 30-hour course from Udemy

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The Step-By-Step Guide To Your 401k Plan

10.99 | A 1.5-hour course from Udemy

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The Psychology of Color in Game Design & Development

10.99 | A 2.5-hour course from Udemy

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YouTube Masterclass - Your Complete Guide to YouTube

10.99 | A 11-hour course from Udemy

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Financial Modeling: Build a Complete DCF Valuation Model

10.99 | A 2.5-hour course from Udemy

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Affordably priced, accessible to the masses

Udemy’s policies make it attractive to creators, but most of its popularity is due to its pricing. With courses averaging $15 a pop, it’s easy to see why many learners flock to Udemy to find a course.

And unlike on subscription platforms, Udemy offers its courses on a purchase once, keep forever, basis. There’s no recurring fee and your courses never disappear (*unless they violate policy, in which case you can get a refund).

What to watch out for

You might think that it’s unlikely that all 100,000+ courses from Udemy are of high quality. And you’d be correct. Critics of Udemy are quick to point out its lower quality offerings, of which there’s no shortage.

There are a few kinds of low quality courses commonly found on the platform. 

The most common I’ve found are the “fluff” courses, those padded with filler content to stretch their length. Others regurgitate information widely available elsewhere for free, adding little to the learning experience. In rare instances, insidious “creators” have been caught ripping videos off of other YouTube creators wholesale, reuploading them to Udemy for a quick buck.

Other forms of low quality courses propagate misinformation or push scams.

During the cryptocurrency craze of late 2017, at least one instructor used Udemy to promote (shill) certain crypto assets. The instructor presumably profited from generating demand in those assets, selling them before their prices plunged. At least one of those crypto assets was later proven to be a Ponzi scheme.

As you would shopping online nowadays, take everything you find on Udemy with a grain of salt.

The good stuff

If everything you read about Udemy in the last section makes you want to run away from it, don’t. Within the vast catalog, there are at least a few thousand superb courses that at $15, could only be considered a steal.

Even if you’ve bought an otherwise excellent course that you no longer need, you could return it for a refund. Udemy will let you return any course within 30 days of purchase.

As for good, high quality, courses, they exist. And there are at least a few thousand of them.

We’ve personally taken at least five in the past year. Some of the skills we’ve learned, we’ve been able to apply on OpenCourser. There are some top notch coding, marketing, and startup courses on Udemy!

As for finding courses you’ll love, there are a few things you could do to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff, by:

  • Checking the “last updated” date of the course
  • Looking at how many reviews written and the review score itself
  • Looking at how many students have enrolled in the past
  • Reviewing the “What you’ll learn” and “Description” sections to make sure a course covers everything you need
  • Watching preview segments

This does take a bit of work. And we have to admit, some of the metrics we’ve selected here aren’t always reliable either. 

Marketing-savvy instructors can inflate their review score, review count, and the number of students enrolled. Some will hand out promo codes to enroll in a course for free. They’ll share these for a limited time on social media to get a quick boost. With enough growth, their courses may even trend on Udemy’s own rankings, drawing in more students.

Still, if you follow these steps, more times than not you’ll end up with a high quality course. And if that’s the case, then you’ve found yourself a real deal.

Why aren’t there 100,000+ courses on OpenCourser?

Because not all Udemy courses meet our standard, we hand select which courses end up in our searchable catalog. If we were to add Udemy’s entire collection, it’d be difficult for learners to find high quality courses.

So how do we select courses? Mostly based on the criteria we outlined in the last section. While it isn’t foolproof, we’re comfortable that at least 90% of the courses we’ve added are of excellent quality. We’ve even enrolled in some of them ourselves and have yet to be disappointed.

As of this writing, about 1,000 of our courses come from Udemy, meaning Udemy makes up a small chunk of our library. We’re constantly adding more though. If you think there’s a course that deserves a look or a course you think doesn’t belong, tell us. We’d love to hear your suggestion.

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