While you can spend years and six-figures earning a business degree like an MBA, it’s possible to get much of that knowledge from the comfort of home at a fraction of the price. While online business courses don’t carry the same prestige as an advanced degree from an accredited college or university, they still help round-out your business knowledge when looking to improve how to manage a business.
If you are going to invest the time and money required to complete an online business course, it’s a good idea to spend some time picking the right course that aligns with your education goals and budget constraints. To help you get started, we reviewed hundreds of business courses to find the best options for a wide range of people looking to level-up their business IQ. Read on to find the best online business courses for your unique needs.
Best Online Business Courses for 2021
- Best Overall: Business Strategy from Wharton - Competitive Advantage
- Best for Starting a New Business: SBA - Business Legal Requirements
- Best for Accounting: MIT - Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting
- Best for Finance: Harvard - Leading with Finance
- Best for Marketing: University of Maryland - Fundamentals of Digital Marketing
- Best for Business Law: Harvard - From Trust to Promise to Contract
Best Overall : Business Strategy from Wharton - Competitive Advantage
Get an all-around education on business strategy from one of the best business schools in the world at no cost.
Get a crash course in business strategy over six weeks
Learn about topics like value proposition, strategic positioning, and testing new strategies
Course taught by a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Take the course for free (optional $199 fee for a course completion certificate)
Intermediate-level course requires some business acumen
No ongoing enrollment–specific course dates
According to U.S. News and World Report, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is tied for the number one ranking as the best business school in the United States. But while it costs $74,500 per year to attend the school full-time, you can take a business strategy course from the school for free online on the EDX platform.
As the name suggests, Business Strategy from Wharton is all about business strategy. Topics include essential business concepts around presenting your product or service’s value and how to position against competitors. You may already know why your business is a good choice for customers; however, when you’re done with this course, you’ll have concrete steps to turn that knowledge into an action plan that gives your firm a competitive advantage.
This course stands out as a good choice because it teaches essential business strategy topics from one of the best business schools in the world, for free. And there’s only a commitment of up to four hours per week for six weeks. New business owners and veterans with decades of experience alike could all come away with a wealth of knowledge without spending a dime. And it comes from one of the most trusted names in business education in the world.
Best for Starting a New Business : SBA - Business Legal Requirements
This is our top choice because it offers a quick introduction to business registration, taxes, and licensing in a concise and easy-to-understand way from one of the top small business authorities in the United States.
20-minute course covers essential legal topics for business owners
No registration required
The course is completely free
Only a high-level introduction to complex topics
Additional reading is likely required to understand applicable topics better
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers free courses for business owners. The Business Legal Requirements course is a 16-part video course with videos up to three minutes long on business registration, taxes, licensing, and employment.
Each video is simple and easy to understand, even if you don’t have a strong business background. The course covers topics that may not relate to some businesses, such as securities registration and environmental regulations. But the low time commitment makes it worthwhile to learn about how these rules may affect your business.
While these lessons are not extremely in-depth, the price is right, and it comes from a very trustworthy source. There is no better place to learn about government regulations than from the United States Small Business Administration. This free video series concisely explains the steps you need to follow to start a business without taking too much time, so you can quickly get to work building your new company.
Best for Accounting : MIT - Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting
This class is our top choice because it covers core accounting topics that most business owners and executives should understand from one of the most respected universities in the world.
Take a real college class from MIT’s business school
No cost for this course
Learn about the backbone of a business’s financial operations
The full course is a major time commitment
Some 2004 material may be dated
Because your business’s goal is to make money, you’ll want to take the time to understand how your business finances and accounting should work to your business’s best advantage. You can take Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting for free from the archives at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Sloan ranks as the fifth-best business school, according to U.S. News and World Report. This is a real college course recorded in Spring 2004 with MIT undergrads. The course includes lecture notes, exams and solutions, and course assignments.
This course is taught for users of financial and managerial accounting reports, so it’s for general business owners, not accountants. When you’re done with the course, you’ll be in a better position to use the bookkeeping and accounting reports you or your team create every month and year for your business. It is our top choice because of the topics covered, cost, and the reputation of the institution.
Best for Finance : Harvard - Leading with Finance
This is our top choice because it helps business owners and leaders from any industry understand the financial decision-making process to maximize your effectiveness in any role from one of the world’s leading business schools.
Learn online from a professor from Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School
Course material designed for business professionals outside of finance roles
Use case studies to see financial concepts in action
$1,600 course registration fee
Course offered on limited dates
If you want to learn more about business finance to better navigate your current career or to jump into a new career in a finance role, the six-week Leading with Finance course is a solid investment. The $1,600 course works through six modules with instruction, exercises, quizzes, and a final capstone project at the end.
The six modules covered in the course are financial analysis, finance versus accounting, capital markets, creating value, valuation, and capital allocation. Upon successful completion, you’ll earn a certificate from Harvard Business School Online that looks great on your LinkedIn profile in addition to the knowledge you’ll gain.
This course stands out as a great choice because it covers financial topics that empower key decision-makers, and it's delivered by one of the top business schools in the world.
Best for Marketing : University of Maryland - Fundamentals of Digital Marketing
This course covers one of the most important areas of marketing for modern businesses with actionable insights that you can use to increase your online presence and results.
Learn marketing concepts from University of Maryland staff
Take the course for free
Leave with an understanding of what it takes to promote and build a business reputation online
Fee required for a certificate
If you’re interested in building your business’s reputation online, you’ll want to learn about digital marketing strategies that are effective today. A team from the University of Maryland teaches this course covering digital marketing strategy, lead generation, marketing through mobile devices, omnichannel marketing, and more. This course is run on the EDX platform.
This online marketing course is four-weeks long and takes three to five hours per week to complete. You can enroll for free or pay $499 for a certificate. It’s an introductory level course, so you don’t need a strong marketing background for a good experience.
We like this course because it is entry-level and covers a wide range of valuable information in a relatively short time from credentialed experts at a trusted institution. This course can help you get your feet wet in online marketing and leave you with enough info to execute your first online marketing plan.
Best for Business Law : Harvard - From Trust to Promise to Contract
Taught by a respected professor at one of the nation’s top law schools, this is the best law course for business because it covers a topic nearly all businesses encounter on a regular basis with enough depth for you to make informed contract-related decisions.
Learn from a Harvard Law professor
The course is free, or pay $199 for an optional certificate
Learn about what makes contracts valid and enforceable, among other topics
The intermediate level course requires some basic background in business or law
Signing a contract can be a big deal, especially for business owners who deal with employees, vendors, and government entities. This course addresses that and is taught by a highly credentialed Harvard Law professor with more than 50 years of experience at the institution.
From Trust to Promise to Contract from HarvardX (the edX courses offered through Harvard) takes eight weeks to complete with a time commitment of three to six hours per week. It’s intermediate level, which means it is designed for those with a little background in the topic. But that shouldn’t scare you off if you’re a quick study.
We like how this course covers multiple important topics related to contract law that business owners and managers likely need to know about, brought to you by one of the most recognized universities in the world.
By taking courses that fill in your business knowledge gaps, you can get many of the perks of going to business school without setting foot in a classroom or spending any money. Some courses are worth spending on, but there may be good alternatives available for free as well.
Elite colleges and universities sometimes open up their classrooms to the virtual world for free or at a low price, which can give you a more college-like experience without the time or financial commitment.
Courses are a fun and low-commitment way to build your business knowledge. These best business courses can give you a jump start in core topics that could affect your business’s bottom line. From our top choice, a strategy course from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, to more topic-specific courses from other respected universities and sources, any of these could increase your business acumen without breaking the bank.
|Best Overall||Business Strategy from Wharton: Competitive Advantage||Wharton School – University of Pennsylvania||Free / $199 for certificate|
|Best for Starting a New Business||Business Legal Requirements||Small Business Administration||Free|
|Best for Accounting||Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting||Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)||Free|
|Best for Finance||Leading with Finance||Harvard||$1,600|
|Best for Marketing||Fundamentals of Digital Marketing||University of Maryland||Free / $499 for certificate|
|Best for Business Law||Contract Law: From Trust to Promise to Contract||Harvard||Free / $199 for certificate|
What Are Online Business Courses?
Online business courses are digital classes that cover a specific topic. Some online business courses follow a set schedule led by a live instructor, while others are self-led at any time and at your own pace.
Due to the nature of online business courses, some colleges, universities, and other content creators offer free digital courses. Others require a fee to join, which may be worth it for specific topics or credentials.
When you take a course online, you can generally expect video, audio, written content, or a combination that guides you through the learning experience.
Are Online Business Courses Worth It?
Online business courses can absolutely be worth it. As with many free digital products, you sometimes get what you pay for. However, many high-quality courses exist, both free and paid.
To decide if the financial and time commitment is worth it for you, read the course description, syllabus, topics covered, and reviews from any prior students. Sticking with reputable platforms and institutions can also help you ensure you choose a quality course that’s worth your energy.
What Are the Most Useful Business Course Topics?
The most useful business course topic is the one you know the least about. If you are brand new to business, consider starting with courses on marketing, finance, accounting, and business strategy.
Depending on your business or goals, you may want to take niche courses as well. Courses relevant to your industry or role are likely available in addition to the general topics covered here.
What Do Online Business Courses Cost?
Online business courses can vary widely in cost. Many courses are available for free. Others may offer a free version or require payment for certification at the end of the course. But on the high end, you may find courses that cost many thousands of dollars.
Paying for online courses can be worthwhile, but take care to not overpay for a course that won’t deliver the value you’re seeking.
How We Chose the Best Online Business Courses
To choose the best online business courses, the Investopedia team reviewed dozens of courses across a range of online platforms. Winners covered important topics with a depth-level appropriate for a wide range of small business owners as well as managers and executives at businesses of any size. In addition to course topics, the source of the instruction was very important to the selection process with a focus on highly-reputable, accredited institutions.