The best online course & learning platforms, 4 of 5

Continuing on in this series of posts, here are a few more platforms that earn a top recommendation from me:

Linux Academy (grade: A) | Linux Academy is one of a handful of platforms that specializes in training for cloud computing and has a number of courses for Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s Azure, and Google’s GCP (Google Cloud Platform). Also true to their name, they have courses on the Linux OS as well, and on a variety of topical areas like DevOps, containerization, and big data. Suffice it to say that Linux Academy has the subject of cloud computing well-covered.

If your interest is in learning the cloud services from one of the major providers, Linux Academy is easily one of the best platforms for doing so. Although most of the content is only accessible via paid subscription, they also have a limited number of free courses that are very comprehensive and taught by very knowledgeable instructors, and if you do choose to pay for a subscription, they provide access to a VM-like server environment that makes it easier to follow along to anything involving a command line. The primary downside to Linux Academy is the pricing which is a bit high, so I’d recommend waiting until they do a sale, which usually happens twice a year – once in the summer, and another around Black Friday.

Scrimba (grade: A) | Scrimba is a relatively new platform for learning web development that’s made a name for itself by offering a number of free (as in $0) courses covering a wide variety of different web technologies. In fact, it’s amazing just how many courses on the platform are free – which is most of them!

The great thing about Scrimba is that they’re a great example of showing that free doesn’t have to mean low-quality, poorly-done courses, because a lot of their courses are done really well and taught by very knowledgeable developer-instructors. As I’ve mentioned before, an instructor being a professional developer doesn’t necessarily make that instructor an effective teacher, but in the case of Scrimba, I haven’t seen any instructors who I’d call incompetent teachers (in contrast to Udemy for example, which I’d say has way too many incompetent developer-instructors).

Most of the courses on Scrimba that I’ve seen are screencast-based video courses, which is certainly the typical format for most video courses teaching web development. It’s a very standard format for a lot of online video courses these days, but it can also make for ineffective pedagogy unless the instructor takes full advantage of the screencast, which I haven’t yet seen any instructors on Scrimba actually do. Specifically, the vast majority of courses on Scrimba start out with the instructor speaking over a blank window showing their IDE (which is usually VS Code) and getting to the coding relatively quickly. This starting approach might work for some topics, but on complex ones like React, Angular, and Vue that involve a lot of concepts that might be new to a lot of people, it’s certainly not the best one. So while these (and other) courses certainly try to be approachable for first-timers, they’re inevitably better for those who’ve already had at least one pass at the material instead of being totally brand new.

That said, Scrimba is still a great platform for developers at any level, and even the few paid courses on the platform are worth doing as well.

Upskill Courses (grade: A-) | Upskill Courses is one of the more unique learning platforms, as it combines a number of free and paid (via subscription) individual courses on a small variety of topics pertaining to web development, ranging from CS topics like data structures & algorithms, to React and Vue.js, to general JavaScript, and full-stack development using the Ruby on Rails framework.

The platform itself started as an offshoot from founder Rob Dey’s initial course on Udemy that went by the name “The Essential Web Developer Course” which is no longer hosted on Udemy. This is a full-stack course that teaches HTML, CSS, JS, and Ruby on Rails, making it one of the few free online full-stack courses teaching this whole particular stack, and it remains a very solid course for learning Ruby on Rails as well. It’s actually a testament to the platform that this course is available in its entirety for free – and in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better free course anywhere else that teaches these topics!

It’s a bonus that the platform offers a bunch of other free courses as well, all of which cover need-to-know topics for those just getting into web development, including HTML, CSS, the DOM, debugging, and problem solving via data structures & algorithms. While it can be a bit more difficult to justify paying for a subscription to access the paid content, the free content alone on Upskill Courses makes it a great platform, and one that shouldn’t be missed, particularly if you want to learn full-stack web development via Ruby on Rails.