As universities and schools shut their doors in most countries as the Covid-19 pandemic spread, online learning platforms rushed to increase their offering of training courses at different levels for students, academics, health workers and creative arts professionals.
Al-Fanar Media has created a brief guide to the most prominent international and Arab educational platforms that we believe will be of most interest to young adults and college students, and that offer free or affordable educational content.
Some offer courses that lead to university-approved certificates, while others offer professional certificates. Many offer courses for personal enrichment, as well.
We made sure to include a number of platforms that offer courses in Arabic.
Later, we plan to add a feature that allows students to rate each learning platform and share their experience in its online classrooms so that other potential students can judge how they can benefit from the platform’s courses.
You can also check our earlier special article offering a selection of courses dealing with aspects of Covid-19 that some platforms put online for healthcare providers and other interested learners soon after the pandemic hit.
We welcome our readers’ feedback on their experience using this resource. Please leave us a comment in the Comments section below or write to us at: [email protected].
The need for a platform that bridges the gap between theoretical and practical aspects of business administration was the impetus behind the establishment of this online business school, based in Cairo.
The platform’s founders wanted to simplify spreading knowledge about business to the Arab public through what they say is the first online academy specialising in teaching business administration in Arabic.
The platform provides a large number of courses in fields such as entrepreneurship, marketing, sales, and accounting, as well as customer service, information technology, soft skills, and real estate marketing. It also offers courses in quality management, economics, law, and conversational English.
E3mel Business Academy was started in 2013 as a free Facebook page. In 2016, it turned into an online business management academy that offers paid courses.
In addition to skills training and development courses, the academy offers programmes that lead to diplomas, professional master’s degrees and professional doctorates in the various branches of business management.
E3mel Business Academy also provides certificates that are accredited in several countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to students who complete its courses and programmes. Its credentials are also recognized by the Entrepreneurship and Business University (EBU), which is licensed in the United States.
Nafham (Arabic for “we understand”) focuses on helping pupils in grades K–12 in several Arab countries by providing simplified lessons on the curricula in each grade.
The platform’s 23,000 video lessons cover the curricula in Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates through free, illustrated lessons between five and 20 minutes long. So far, about one million Arab students have benefited from its videos, the platform says.
Besides videos related to school curricula, Nafham also offers a number of general educational courses suitable for all learners on topics like the basics of grammar and morphology, mathematics, and scientific research.
“Ask and Answer” is one Nafham service that lets students ask for questions in various subjects and hear answers in a way which promotes interactive learning.
Yanfaa’s founders say it is the “fastest growing educational platform in the Arab world.”
The platform relies on a single subscription for all its content. Once you subscribe, you can start any of the various courses on offer. These include courses in drawing and design, filmmaking, content writing, information technology, animation, human resources, and languages.
Nadrus.com is part of the nonprofit Omani Society for Education Technology, which acquired the Dubai-based platform in 2019.
The platform’s courses are partly free and partly paid. There are courses on computer maintenance, network security, graphics, marketing, e-commerce, programming, sewing, music, photography, self-development, and languages.
Nadrus.com aims to bridge the gap between formal education and the skills the labour market wants. News reports at the time of the acquisition said Nadrus.com served over 200,000 Arabic speakers.
The self-learning platform Almentor is the world’s “biggest Arabic library of video-based courses,” its creators say.
Established in 2016, Almentor seeks to develop and provide users with soft skills and professional skills to help them develop their capabilities.
The platform offers paid courses and short videos developed by experts in fields like marketing, motivation, human resources, business management, sports, entrepreneurship, corporate communications, and digital media.
In an interview on the platform’s site, Ihab Fikry, founder of Almentor, said that the platform has over four million learners and has succeeded in meeting their need for continuous online learning and skills development. Almentor believes learning is a “lifelong journey,” he said.
Fikry said the platform was present in more than 10 countries in North Africa and the Middle East and wanted to expand into other regions to become “the bridge that connects the Middle East and the rest of the world.”
Kaya is a free global education platform for people working in the humanitarian sector. It provides online and live learning on topics from the basics of humanitarian work to technical areas and programming, as well as tools for developing soft and professional skills. The full course catalogue can be found here, and users can learn more about the platform here.
Kaya was established by the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, a nonprofit organisation that is part of Save the Children, acharity registered in the United Kingdom. Its mission is to train aid workers to be ready to respond to crises in their countries.
With the spread of the novel coronavirus, Kaya has published a number of courses about Covid-19, including a “Covid-19 Learning Pathway” that is frequently updated with new trainings to help humanitarian workers respond to the public health emergency.
Kaya is available in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. Its courses last from a few hours to a few weeks. Some offer direct certifications from Kaya.
You can use Kaya via computers and mobile devices. The mobile application allows users to download courses so they can continue learning offline, and then upload their progress to their profile once they are back online.
Edraak is a non-profit educational platform based in Jordan that offers free online courses in Arabic. It was launched in 2014 by the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development and has worked with edX, an affiliate of the Massachusetts Institute at Harvard University, which strives to make high-quality education in Arabic accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
Edraak offers courses on two platforms: continuing education for adults, and K-12 education, with resources for teachers, parents, and school-age learners. Courses on the K-12 platform are aligned with curricula in the Middle East and North African region.
Rwaq, the Arab Open Learning Platform, is based in Saudi Arabia. It offers free, high-quality academic material in Arabic in a variety of disciplines provided by distinguished academics from all over the Arab world.
The platform is geared towards all types of learners, including college students looking to improve their knowledge in their field, employees eager to explore a new subject, and people who simply enjoy learning on their own.
The company believes in the value of open online courses such as those provided by Coursera and edX, and it wants to make Rwaq a model for this approach in the Arab world.
While it acknowledges and supports Arab initiatives that seek to translate translate Coursera’s content into Arabic, it aims to do more. “We believe that the Arab world deserves to have its own educational platform, in which Arab learners meet with scientific and practical experts who speak directly to them without the need for translation,” it says.
Rwaq hopes to fill a gap in local expertise. Fouad Al-Farhan, a co-founder of Rwaq, told Wamda Entrepreneurs in 2013. “Skills necessary for entrepreneurship, like digital marketing, for example, are completely different here. … We need content that relates to this market.”
Rwaq offers “unofficial” certificates upon completion of some courses. official certificates can only be granted by an accredited academic body in Saudi Arabia, it explains. “We hope that we will soon be able to find the appropriate legal status so that we can issue this type of certificate.”
The platform invites university professors and others with expertise in a certain subject to help them create courses. It also allows universities, scientific societies, and other educational organisations to become academic partners by creating their own pages on the platform.
While Al-Farhan stopped blogging after setting up Rwaq, he was among a group of intellectuals and journalists who were arrested on unspecified charges in November 2019 in a Saudi crackdown on people accused of criticising the government. He was released 10 days after his arrest. Earlier in his career as a blogger, he was jailed for four months in 2008 after being warned about his support for an activist group.
FutureLearn was founded in 2012 by the Open University to deliver online courses in collaboration with other universities in the United Kingdom. Similar to Coursera, the platform now offers online courses, programmes, and certificates from more than 80 partner institutions around the world.
The courses are in more than a dozen subject areas, including business and management; creative arts and media; healthcare and medicine; history; information technology and computer science; language; law; literature; psychology and mental health; science, engineering and mathematics; study skills, and teaching.
While the platform is a for-profit enterprise, many of its offerings are free for students who take a course without seeking a certificate. To earn a certificate of completion, students can either pay for a single course or pay a monthly fee to continue learning.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, FutureLearn has added a number of courses dealing with related public health and mental health issues, as well as courses for educators.
One free course, “How to Teach Online: Moving Online Post-Pandemic,” was designed by Future Learn experts to help teachers transition their courses from face-to-face to online.
Another course, “Managing Covid-19 in Primary Care,” was developed by St George’s, University of London. Access to course materials is free to auditors; learners who want a certificate can pay a course fee or subscribe.
edX is a nonprofit organisation founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012. It offers over 3,600 online courses in dozens of subjects given by more than 160 partner universities and companies. Students can view most edX courses free by registering, but if they want to access graded assignments and receive a verified course completion certificate, they have to pay a fee.
In addition to individual courses, some of edX’s partner universities offer complete online bachelor’s and master’s degrees on the platform, as well as certificates and online modules that form parts of degree courses, for which students can earn academic credit. The platform also offers professional skills courses that award certificates. All of these options have tuition costs.
Like Coursera and FutureLearn, edX expanded free access to its programmes in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Its Remote Access Program gave students at participating universities free access to courses and programmes from all edX partners, not just their own universities.
Coursera has been one of the most popular online learning platforms for nearly a decade, offering thousands of online courses that anyone can take free. Through its partnerships with more than 275 leading universities and companies, it also offers nearly 40 online degrees -and dozens of programmes leading to professional certificates or credentials that can be applied toward a university degree.
The company also offers a subscription-based university platform called Coursera for Campus that allows member institutions to integrate Coursera courses into their degree programmes.
In March 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 campus closures, Coursera announced that it was temporarily making Coursera for Campus free for higher education institutions that had been affected by the pandemic. The offer was valid worldwide except for countries where Coursera is prohibited from doing business under U.S. export controls. In the Arab world, those countries include Syria.
Coursera was founded in 2012 by Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, who were then professors at Stanford University.
Skillshare is an online learning community that offers thousands of short video courses for people seeking to gain specific new skills or hone their skills in creative fields such as design, writing, illustration, filmmaking, and photography. It also offers classes in related business and technology subjects, such as marketing and web development.
Skillshare, a New York-based company, is not affiliated with any colleges and does not offer any academic credits or certificates for course completion. Most of its classes focus on teaching one specific practical skill rather than a broad set of skills. Classes last 20 to 60 minutes on average, the company says, and are broken down into short lessons of two to eight minutes that students can watch at their own pace. All Skillshare classes include a project that gives students an opportunity to practice what they have learned and interact with others in the class.
Class creators include both professionals and amateurs, but prospective students should be aware that there is no application or approval process for teachers. Anyone who thinks they have expertise in a certain subject can create a course on Skillshare. The company describes its teachers as “day-to-day founders, entrepreneurs, and professionals who are passionate about what they do.”
Skillshare offers some free video lessons and also has monthly and annual subscription plans. The website does not publish information about costs but asks students to create an account to see current membership pricing in their region. Business Insider reported in June 2022 that after an initial free trial, a monthly membership cost $32 per month and an annual, premium membership cost $168 (roughly $14 per month). There are also team plans for companies that want to sign up groups of workers to use the platform.
The non-profit Khan Academy was launched in 2008 with a series of educational videos that Salman Khan, then a junior hedge fund analyst, posted on YouTube to help his young cousins who were struggling with mathematics.
Today, the popular e-learning website offers 10,000 lessons to students in all grades and most major areas, including mathematics, science, computer programming, grammar, history, art history and economics.
More than 18 million people around the world use the website every month studying in more than 40 languages, including Arabic. The website also contains educational content to support teachers, coaches, and parents, and offers free preparation lessons for the SAT and nearly a dozen other tests for college and university admissions.
Hsoub Academy is the educational division of Hsoub Company, which provides Internet services to Arabic-speaking users. The company was founded in 2001 and operates the two largest independent Arabic platforms and the largest advertising network in the Middle East and North Africa.
Hsoub Academy offers comprehensive online training courses in topics like programming, web design, and mobile applications. Students who enroll in a course start from scratch and go step by step to gain proficiency in a particular skill.
Students can get a certificate of course completion. The company promises that students who successfully complete the course will be able to get a refund if they do not find a job or self-employment within six months.
Udemy is an online learning platform where anyone can build a course. The company describes itself as a market that brings together people who are experienced in a subject and those who want to learn about it.
Classes on Udemy are primarily practical and career-focused rather than academic, although students can find courses that expand their knowledge of an academic subject. The company says it currently offers 204,000 video courses, with new additions published each month.
Since Udemy is a virtual classroom that allows anyone to teach, it is not always possible for its courses to compete in quality with those offered by universities on platforms like edX and Coursera. However, many Udemy course creators actually are professors, graduate students, or professionals who are experts in their field.
Udemy hired professors to create free courses in a section its website called the Faculty Project, but the page is not as active as it used to be and currently only has seven courses, most of which offer two to six hours of instruction through a series of short video lectures.
Paid courses may be considerably longer. One economics course, for example, offers 84 hours of on-demand video lectures. Prices vary from course to course, but many appear to be in the range of $15 to $30.
Most courses are taught in English. Some are also available in other languages, including Arabic, but it can be difficult to find them.
The company was founded by Eren Bali and Oktay Caglar in January 2010 and is headquartered in San Francisco, California. Like Coursera, Udemy is blocked from doing business in Syria because of U.S. export controls.
Tabshoura Plus is part of the Tabshoura Project, an initiative launched by Lebanese Alternative Learning (LAL), a nongovernment organisation that supports everyone’s right to education through digital technologies.
The project also provides kindergarten and middle school platforms that support the Lebanese school curricula. Tabshoura Plus provides training courses in art, environment, civic awareness, learning difficulties, and other subjects.
The courses are designed in a simple, interactive way, making the platform especially suitable for children and teenagers. However, the topics and quality of coursework could be of interest to any age group, particularly those who work with children in education, and social and humanitarian fields.
Among this platform’s appreciated features is that users, who have limited or no access to the Internet, can access the platform offline through “Tabshoura in a Box,” which uses Raspberry Pi technology to allow the creation of a local wireless network which can connect up to 30 devices.
LinkedIn Learning, formerly known as Lynda.com, offers courses on programmes related to careers, technology, creative and technical skills, and self-development skills rather than academic subjects.
The courses are of high quality and are provided by companies and expert trainers, but there have been criticisms that most of the courses are for beginners, and users must be premium LinkedIn subscribers.
Hala Mkhallalati contributed research for this article.