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Best Courses Guides

8 Best COBOL Courses to Take in 2023

Here is a guide with the best online courses to learn and master COBOL, the programming language that is the beating heart of businesses worldwide.

COBOL is no ancient relic of the past, gathering dust on the shelves of computer history. Nor is it hung up in the past either, unable to catch up with the newfangled programming fads of its younger brothers and sisters.

COBOL has, in fact, been the beating heart of the business world for over 60 years. It is the silent giant secretly running the mission-critical operations around us. Banks? Insurance? Governments? Though they may slap a sleek modern interface in Java on the frontend, it is all COBOL on the backend handling the world’s most important transactions and records.

Don’t let myths surrounding COBOL’s age fool you. It is very much alive and relevant in the business world, especially in decades-old industries and companies. If you want to join their ranks and keep the ancient heart beating, read on more to find the best free and paid online courses to learn COBOL.

Click on one to skip to the course details:

Course Workload In Brief
1. COBOL Programming with VSCode (IBM) 16 hours Best free course for beginners
2. Mainframe COBOL (Vijay Kumar) 10 hours Best free comprehensive video series
3. COBOL Essential Training (LinkedIn Learning) 3–4 hours Best introductory course for programmers
4. IBM Mainframe Developer Professional Certificate (IBM) 50–100 hours Best free specialization to get employed
5. Learn COBOL in One Video (Derek Banas) 2–3 hours Best free course for curious people who want a taste of the language
6. Mainframe: The Complete COBOL Course From Beginner To Expert (Sandeep Kumar) 10 hours Best for anyone with basic mainframe experience
7. Murach’s Mainframe COBOL (Tom Taulli) 6 hours Best introductory course for new programmers
8. COBOL Fundamentals (Tom Taulli) 2–3 hours Best alternative to 3.

What is COBOL?

Common Business-Oriented Language (or COBOL for short) is a programming language specifically developed for business applications. It was created in the 1950s to revolutionize the business world in the same way that programming languages like Fortran had already changed the way scientific and mathematical research was conducted. Just like Fortran, it was designed to be readable by being similar to English, while also being highly flexible.

Sixty years later, COBOL is not dead, despite what others may want you to believe. There are over 220 billion lines of COBOL code in operation, which represents approximately 80% of all actively used code, and around 1.5 billion lines of new COBOL code are written each year. COBOL transactions are executed 200 times more than Google searches every single day, which shows that COBOL has made its impact for the years to come.

COBOL is the heart of many large volume data processing industries like banking, insurance, and government systems. It powers mission-critical business applications such as credit card processing, payroll, insurance claims, and medical records. It can be said that COBOL is to business as Fortran is to STEM.

However, there is currently a shortage of programmers skilled in COBOL, as many of the experienced COBOL programmers from the 1970s and 1980s are retiring. This has led to a demand for programmers who can review and update existing COBOL code and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. Right now, COBOL developers coming into the field can expect a median entry-level salary of $93,000, according to the Lightcast Job Postings Report.

Despite its age, COBOL is still a critical programming language that is expected to remain in use into the foreseeable future. It is continually updated to incorporate modern programming paradigms and best practices. If you are interested in becoming a full-stack developer in large enterprises with critical systems, you can be sure that they’re using COBOL and that you will need to be proficient in it as well.

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Best Courses Guides Methodology

I built this ranking following the now tried-and-tested methodology used in previous Best Courses Guides (you can find them all here). It involves a three-step process:

  1. Research: I started by leveraging Class Central’s database with 100K online courses and 200K+ reviews. Then, I made a preliminary selection of 36 COBOL courses by rating, reviews, and bookmarks.
  2. Evaluate: I read through reviews on Class Central, Reddit, and course providers to understand what other learners thought about each course and combined it with my own experience as a learner.
  3. Select: Well-made courses were picked if they presented valuable and engaging content and they have to fit in a set of criteria and be ranked accordingly: comprehensive curriculum, affordability, release date, ratings and enrollments.

Course Ranking Statistics

Here are some aggregate stats about the ranking:

  • Around 700 people are following the COBOL topic on Class Central.
  • All of the courses in this ranking except for two are suitable for beginners.
  • 7 of the courses in this ranking are free, free-to-audit, or have free trial

Without further ado, let’s go through the top picks.

1. COBOL Programming with VSCode (IBM)

My first pick for the best COBOL course is IBM’s COBOL Programming with VSCode.

This open-source course is the result of a collaboration between American River College, IBM, and its clients under the Open Mainframe Project. The project provides a set of training materials and labs for Enterprise COBOL on IBM mainframes running z/OS.

In this free-to-audit course, you’ll build a working understanding of COBOL programming. It describes how to work with COBOL using modern tools like Visual Studio Code with Zowe and ZOpen Editor extensions. By the end, you’ll be able to write, test, execute, and debug basic COBOL programs.

This course is not only offered on Coursera. It can also be found on YouTube (free) and Pluralsight (paid). If you want to use IBM’s mainframe for the courses, you can register here.

What You’ll Learn

You’ll start this course with the fundamentals of COBOL programming, the most important ones being the structure and syntax. Then, you’ll set up your VSCode environment and become familiar with the different divisions and numbered columns in COBOL code, as well as reserved words that have specific meanings in the language. You’ll learn how to create data names that can hold specific data types and values, and how to perform operations with them. You will also understand the order in which COBOL code is executed and how to control the flow of program execution using branches and loops.

As you progress through the course, you will delve into more advanced concepts such as file handling, program linkage, and generating reports. Finally, you will practice using arithmetic and conditional statements, as well as intrinsic functions provided by the COBOL language.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 16 hours long. You’ll learn by watching the lecture videos, answering the practice quizzes, and lab exercises. Upon completion of the course, the instructor recommends that you explore the other learning materials and exercises available on the Open Mainframe Project GitHub.

Institution IBM
Provider Coursera (and others)
Instructor Jeff Bisti
Level Beginner
Workload 16 hours long
Enrollments 8K on Coursera, or 112K views on YouTube
Rating 4.7 / 5.0 (154) on Coursera, or 3K likes on YouTube
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

  • The course has 38 bookmarks on Class Central.
  • You can find the GitHub repository for the project here.
  • The Open Mainframe Project maintains a forum as well as a Slack channel.
  • This is a fantastic compliment to the IBM z/OS Practitioner path for the IBM Mainframe, which is the 4th course in this ranking.
  • The course is also partially translated to French.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

2. Mainframe COBOL (Vijay Kumar)

My second pick for the best COBOL course is Vijay Kumar’s Mainframe COBOL series.

In this series of free video tutorials, you’ll learn about mainframes and how they are used in conjunction with the COBOL programming language. You’ll be given enough understanding of COBOL programming language to be able to explore the deeper aspects of the language and mainframes on your own.

You should be familiar with software programming to take this course.

What You’ll Learn

The course begins with an introduction to the mainframe: large, powerful computers that are often used for critical applications and high-volume data processing. To tame these formidable beasts, you’ll first need to understand how they work and behave.

Next, you’ll learn how to communicate with them and command them using COBOL. Starting with batch and online processing, you’ll gain the programming knowledge required to implement such business applications. You’ll learn the structure of a COBOL program and how it is divided into segments, as well as programming statements and expressions like variables, data types, conditionals, loops, subroutines, and more.

Moving to the more advanced aspects of COBOL, you’ll see how the language can be used to read and write different types of files (including sequential, indexed, and VSAM). You’ll find this function handy when you use COBOL to interact with databases like DB2 and IMS or searching and sorting through tables to retrieve important information, which are some practical examples of using COBOL to solve business problems.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 10 hours long. You’ll learn by watching the lecture and tutorial videos.

Channel Kumar IT Channel
Provider YouTube
Instructor Vijay Kumar
Level Beginner
Workload 10 hours
Views 32K
Likes 311
Certificate None

Fun Facts

  • Vijay Kumar is a mainframe developer with over a decade of experience. His channel shares the knowledge he has gained in the form of videos, teaching mainframe concepts and languages like COBOL, JCL, VSAM, CICS, DB2, PL/I, TSO, interview questions, SDLC Process, real time practices, use cases, and more.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

3. COBOL Essential Training (LinkedIn Learning)

My third pick for the best COBOL course is LinkedIn Learning’s COBOL Essential Training.

COBOL is alive and well!

This course with free trial teaches the basics of COBOL programming to new and experienced programmers. You’ll set up a working development environment and learn the language’s data types, control structures, file organization and processing methods, tables, and strings. The course also focuses on reviewing and updating existing code rather than writing new COBOL programs, as most COBOL developers are doing today.

No prior programming experience is required to take this course.

What You’ll Learn

After setting up a development environment in VSCode on Windows, you’ll get a fresh start into COBOL by writing a “Hello World” program, and obtaining input from the user to give you an understanding of COBOL syntax. You’ll also learn about COBOL’s data types, including literal and figurative constants, as well as its control structures such as making decisions with conditional expressions and repeating chunks of code with perform statements.

Handling files and strings is also a common operation in COBOL, and you’ll use this in conjunction with tables to generate tabular data from an input file. You’ll then cover advanced topics such as direct access, relative, and indexed files. Finally, the course will cover troubleshooting techniques to help you identify and fix errors in your code.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 3–4 hours long. You’ll learn by watching the lecture videos, doing the chapter quizzes, and completing code challenges to help you practice what you’ve learned.

Provider LinkedIn Learning
Instructor Peggy Fisher
Level Intermediate
Workload 3–4 hours long
Enrollments 66K
Rating 4.7 / 5.0 (216)
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

  • Peggy Fisher is a programmer and content manager at LinkedIn Learning. She has experience in programming languages such as Java, Arduino, and C++, and has also worked on creating courses on COBOL and discrete mathematics.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

4. IBM Mainframe Developer Professional Certificate (IBM)

IBM Mainframe Developer Professional Certificate on Coursera is a more comprehensive series of courses on COBOL and Mainframe development compared to the first course in this ranking.

You’ll cover the history and evolution of COBOL in this specialization that consists of free-to-audit courses. You’ll learn about COBOL programming basics, TSO, ISPF, mainframe data management and software development techniques, and more. Upon completion of the course, you’ll have the skills and portfolio necessary to start a career as a mainframe programmer.

No programming skills or knowledge of mainframes is required to take this course.

What You’ll Learn

  • Course 1: Introduction to Enterprise Computing
    • You’ll identify and explain different architectural families of mainframe systems along with the functions of an operating system.
  • Course 2: IBM COBOL Basics
    • Briefly covers the history of COBOL, before teaching basic programming concepts like syntax and semantics by covering variables, data types, arithmetic and logical operations, and program structure.
  • Course 3: IBM COBOL Core
    • Adds on to what you’ve learnt by teaching you how to control the flow of a program, generating and handling tables, and numeric usage.
  • Course 4: IBM COBOL Software Development Practices
    • Introduces core practices, systems, and methodologies associated with IBM COBOL software development, including maintaining code that other developers have written.
  • Course 5: IBM COBOL Data and File Management
    • You’ll learn the process of working with data and files in COBOL, including reading and writing. You’ll also learn the best data types for your needs and how to use relational databases in a mainframe environment.
  • Course 6: IBM COBOL Basic Testing and Debugging
    • Covers a quintessential part of development— debugging and testing. You’ll describe common errors that can appear when working with COBOL and how to fix them.
  • Course 7: IBM COBOL Software Development Process
    • A solid foundation in Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) core concepts and technologies will be covered, including: life cycle and systems analysis, design and structured coding, and more.

How You’ll Learn

There are 7 courses in this Professional Certificate, with the specialization taking 6 months to complete if you study 4 hours or less every week.

Institution IBM and LearnQuest
Provider Coursera
Instructors Jeff Bisti and Erik Herman
Level Beginner
Workload 50–100 hours
Enrollments 1.3K
Rating 4.3 / 5.0 (75)
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

  • Jeff Bisti is an EcoSystem Architect at IBM Systems, with a focus on enterprise systems and hands-on experience with z/OS and Linux. As an IBM Z trainer, he is responsible for creating training material and designing content for people of all skill levels.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

5. Learn COBOL in One Video (Derek Banas)

Learn COBOL in One Video is a very short course focusing on introducing programmers to essential COBOL concepts and syntax. By the end of this free course, you’ll have a taste of what the language is all about.

Programming experience is required to take this course.

What You’ll Learn

COBOL has a unique structure and syntax that you won’t find in modern programming languages due to its long history. You will start by exploring the main divisions of a COBOL program, including the identification, environment, and data divisions. You will also learn how to declare data names (variables) and adhere to the strict naming conventions.

Next, you will learn how to perform mathematical operations and use conditional statements and loops in your code. You will also gain an understanding of subroutines and linkage, which will enable you to create powerful, calculation-intensive programs.

Additionally, the course covers how to work with files in COBOL, including opening, reading, and writing to them. You will also learn how to create reports and tables (both unidimensional and multidimensional) in COBOL. Finally, you will learn how to sort records, merge files, and perform other data operations in your COBOL program.

How You’ll Learn

This course has 2–3 hours worth of material. You’ll learn by watching the lecture video and following along with the instructor as he codes.

Provider YouTube
Instructor Derek Banas
Level Beginner
Workload 2–3 hours long
Views 200K
Likes 4.8K
Certificate None

Fun Facts

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

6. Mainframe: The Complete COBOL Course From Beginner To Expert (Sandeep Kumar)

Mainframe: The Complete COBOL Course From Beginner To Expert on Udemy is a great introduction to COBOL for mainframe programmers. By the end of this paid course, you’ll be able to clear job interviews for COBOL positions.

To take this course, you should know the basics of TSO/ISPF and JCL.

What You’ll Learn

You’ll cover the following topics in this course:

  • COBOL’s background and history,
  • Accessing the mainframe,
  • Variables, constants, and data types,
  • COBOL program structure,
  • Basic commands in TSO/ISPF (arithmetic operations, conditional processing, iterations, and calling subroutines)
  • Tables (including searching, sorting, and string handling)
  • File handling
  • DB2 concepts

How You’ll Learn

This course is 10 hours long. You’ll learn by watching the lecture videos and following through with the code examples provided in this course.

Provider Udemy
Instructor Sandeep Kumar
Level Beginner
Workload 10 hours
Enrollments 11K
Rating 4.4 / 5.0 (2.3K)
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

  • Sandeep Kumar is a programmer with over 12 years of experience in a variety of programming languages, including Python, Java, PHP, Perl, and JavaScript. He has also worked on Mainframe technology such as TSO/ISPF, JCL, VSAM, Cobol, DB2, CICS, and IMS, and is also an IT consultant in areas such as Big Data and Cloud Computing. and has experience in website development. He is currently the founder of a training company in India that offers online courses in IT and other subjects.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

7. Murach’s Mainframe COBOL (Tom Taulli)

Murach’s Mainframe COBOL is a paid course with free trial based on the popular book of its own namesake.

This course teaches everything you need to know about COBOL to get employed. You’ll cover COBOL tools for the mainframe and the PC, COBOL syntax and semantic features, and how to use COBOL for databases and transaction systems. By the end, you’ll have a solid foundation to get started developing COBOL applications.

No prior experience with programming or access to a mainframe is required for this course.

What You’ll Learn

In this course, you will begin by gaining an understanding of COBOL’s history and its use with mainframes, which will provide context for why the language is written as it is today. Hence, you’ll become familiar with mainframes functions like batch processing and online transaction processing.

After establishing a foundational knowledge of COBOL, you will set up a COBOL environment with the necessary tools and IDEs to connect to mainframes, such as ISPF and TSO. You will then delve into the language’s syntax, including its structure, statements, data and procedure divisions, and how to use mathematical operations, loops, and conditionals. This knowledge will help you maintain COBOL code.

As you progress through the course, you will also learn about creating tables and reports for business specifications, working with copy members and subprograms, and using sequential, indexed, and VSAM files. In the final portion of the course, you will learn how to use SQL to interact with databases and develop CICS programs for online transaction processing.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 6 hours long. You’ll learn by watching the lecture videos and participating in the course exercises.

Provider Pluralsight
Instructor Tom Taulli
Level Beginner
Workload 6 hours
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

8. COBOL Fundamentals (Tom Taulli)

If you already know how to program, the same author of the previous course has made the COBOL Fundamentals course just for you. You’ll learn the basics of this language and will be able to create your own applications by the end of this paid course with free trial.

To take this course, you should have some understanding of computer languages.

What You’ll Learn

You’ll start this course off by discovering the core concepts of COBOL. You’ll explore the typical features of the language and its structure, (variables, loops, conditionals, functions) and how to use mainframe development systems like TSO and IPF.

Then, you’ll learn important business functions specific to COBOL, such as creating sophisticated tables and reports, setup data in a program (sequential, index, vSAN), and work with different types of file (including those used in transaction systems like CICS and databases). You’ll also figure out how to search through tables and handle strings.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 2–3 hours long. You’ll learn by watching the lecture videos and code demonstrations.

Provider Pluralsight
Instructor Tom Taulli
Level Beginner
Workload 2–3 hours
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

  • In college, Tom Taulli started a company that sold Windows software for exam preparation, and later founded other companies, including Hypermart.net, a mid-1990s version of Shopify that was later sold to InfoSpace.com.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

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Elham Nazif

Part-time content writer, full-time computer science student.

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