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Best COBOL online courses in 2021

Included in this guide:

Fingers typing on a computer keyboard.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The best COBOL online courses make it simple and easy to learn the legacy COBOL programming language through distance learning at home.

Although old, it still remains essential for many systems used by governments and corporations, and the recent pandemic has highlighted the need and demand for more programmers who can code in COBOL.

Surprisingly, a majority of the financial transactions across the world are also powered by COBOL, even though it is a programming language developed in the 1950's. COBOL - that stands for Common Business Oriented Language - is therefore rightly being hailed as the language that wouldn’t die. 

Considering the world’s dependence on the language, there’s a whole lot of excitement and developments around COBOL and if you’re looking to cash in on the gold rush, here’s how you can get started with the best COBOL online courses.

NexGenT - career-focused courses for cybersecurity students

NexGenT - career-focused courses for cybersecurity students
One of the best online cybersecurity courses we've covered comes from the US-based NexGenT. It offers beginner and advanced courses and has a great payment plan: you pay $0 up front any only begin payment once you’ve graduated and your IT career has started. Its self-guided programs and platforms won’t be the best option for everyone but if you’re serious about a job in cybersecurity, this could be the option for you.

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(Image credit: IBM)

1. IBM

Best for getting started

Reasons to buy
+Free +Weekly podcasts
Reasons to avoid
-Runs code on a mainframe

IBM has recognised COBOL as an “important language on the modern mainframe” and has created the COBOL resource Hub for students to get to grips with the language. 

With a foot in the mainframe industry, IBM’s resource center has lots of videos on COBOL. To get started, watch the recording of the A Beginner’s practical approach to COBOL webinar that answers some of the basic questions for those unfamiliar with the language. While you’ll get an overview of COBOL concepts in the recording, the Introduction to COBOL programming language is where you’ll get to write your first COBOL program. 

Furthermore, the company together with the Open Mainframe Project has developed a new COBOL training course that’s also available for free and teaches students to interact with COBOL using the Visual Studio Code IDE.


(Image credit: YouTube)

2. Derek Banas

Best for busy people

Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
-Basic examples

If you have the know-how to setup the development environment for COBOL and can’t wait to get started, Derek Banas’ COBOL tutorial is worth a watch. In a little over 2 hours, Derek claims you’ll learn everything there is to know about programming with COBOL that you’d learn from a 500 page book.

The free video tutorial is hosted on YouTube and has detailed time-stamped bookmarks to help ease the navigation. The video dives straight into writing code and covers all its elements, operators, functions, and more. The video ends with instructions (for both Windows and Mac OS X) on how to download and install Visual Studio Code and then equip it to process code written in COBOL. 

This takes some doing since it requires compiling GnuCobol, which will only run on Windows via Cygwin and on Mac OS X via Homebrew. The good thing about the video is that all of the code written inside is packaged in a cheatsheet that you can download to follow along each of the sections.


(Image credit: LinkedIn)

3. LinkedIn Learning

Best for practicing

Reasons to buy
+Useful exercises+Nice explanations
Reasons to avoid
-Released in 2015

The one-off videos and tutorials and good if you’re in a hurry to get started with COBOL. If you need a deeper understanding of the language you should take the Cobol Essential Training course, whose instructor learnt COBOL in college.  

The course lasts slightly over 3 hours and helps you get acquainted with the basics of the language. What sets it apart from the previously mentioned courses are the set of useful challenges that require you to write programs based on the taught features.

The instructor assumes that you are familiar with programming concepts and principles before taking the course. The content is definitely aimed at someone who has programs regularly and has no trouble following her as she uses complex multi-page programs to explain the COBOL features in each of the sections. 

There’s more to COBOL than what’s covered in the course, however at the end of it experienced programmers will have the confidence to read and COBOL programs. 


(Image credit: Pluralsight)

4. Pluralsight

Best for Mainframe newbies

Reasons to buy
+Nicely explained+Engaging instructor
Reasons to avoid
-Assumes access to a Mainframe-No exercises

A majority of the Getting Started with Mainframe COBOL course deals with teaching COBOL. The content should be fairly familiar to you if you’ve taken any COBOL course, though the instructor of this one has a very appealing  approach. 

The course is littered with useful tips and all through the sections helps you build towards writing a real-world COBOL program. 

The instructor assumes you have programmed before, so while he introduces the basics of COBOL, he’ll use terminology that should be familiar to a programmer. All sample code is available for download. 

Note however that unlike the previous courses that rely on GnuCobol, the instructor of this course assumes you have a mainframe to compile and run them! Another disadvantage is that despite its engaging presentation, the course has no exercises for you to put your newly acquired skills to practice. 


(Image credit: University of Limerick)

5. University of Limerick

Best for learning by example

Reasons to buy
+Wide range of examples+Comprehensive exercises
Reasons to avoid
-Some files not available

By now you should have a fairly good hang of working with COBOL. The Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at the University of Limerick has compiled a comprehensive list of COBOL resources

Two of the best resources are the COBOL example programs, and the COBOL programming projects.

The first gives you access to dozens of sample programs written in COBOL. The sample programs are divided into categories based on a particular aspect of COBOL. 

For instance, selection and iteration has programs that show the use of IF, EVALUATE, and PERFORM operators. Similarly, the Direct Access Files section has programs that show how to process Indexed and Relative files. 

When you’re feeling confident about your COBOL skills, try solving the programming projects without taking a peek at the included sample solutions. The exercises are actually old exam papers that should take about 4 to 6 hours to code.

We' also feature the following best online learning courses:

Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.