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Monday, May 27, 2024

Online Courses That Are Actually Worth Taking

There has never been a better time to learn—not only is the web awash with educational platforms, but if you're still working from home, it's an easy way to make productive use of your nonexistent “commute” time.

Websites such as Udemy, FutureLearn, EdX, and Coursera offer practical, skills-based courses for free or very low cost, with some carrying actual qualifications for an additional charge; some are taught in collaboration with universities, while others are from independent experts. LinkedIn and Alison have short courses on everything from marketing to the basics of Instagram, and sites such as Masterclass and Skillshare get the best of the best to teach everything from acting to writing, with one-off course fees or subscriptions starting from $15 a month.

You may not have to go it alone, either: If there's a course that could help in your job, an employer might pay for it. Some employers offer a subscription to one of the above services or a catalog of such classes as a benefit; in that case, it's a smart move for HR or team leaders to curate a selection that is relevant and high quality in order to help employees get started without feeling overwhelmed.

Skills Your Job Really Needs

This is the slightly boring section, where you know better than I do what you need. After all, I don't know what you do for a living—but I'm sure it's very interesting and you've very good at it.

Whatever your role, there is undoubtedly a key “hard” skill that will help you do your job better: Digital marketers should learn at least the basics of SEO, recruiters may want to consider taking diversity training, and anyone with a budget to manage would do well to become known as the local master of spreadsheets. Those looking to climb the corporate ladder would be wise to take management training of some sort, if only to have a ready answer to questions about your suitability for promotion.

There's plenty of free or cheap qualifications to be had when it comes to technical or business training. On Coursera, there's professional certificates for Google-specific skills, from IT support to UX design, with similar courses offered by AWS and Microsoft, among others. Udemy has a host of programming introductions and masterclasses, IBM has its own Skills Academy, FutureLearn has a class from HR organization CIPD about line management, and EdX has a long list of business courses from Harvard and more.

Strategic Expertise

That said, don't feel limited by the skills you need for day-to-day work. Instead, educate yourself on the areas of strategic importance for your employer.

Are the higher-ups at your company obsessed with AI? Learn more than they know, with classes about how AI can be used in business decisionmaking or the ethics of AI. If you can get through Andrew Ng's Stanford machine learning class on Coursera, you'll know more than the entire C-suite combined.

Are they on a mental-health push? Get the skills that mean they turn to you for insight, be it training in empathy or mindfulness for performance. Is your boss considering going net zero? Become her go-to sustainability expert by learning about green HR and corporate ethics.

Communications and Other Soft Skills

Don't be the person dropping typos in Slack or confusing colleagues with poorly written emails. Recruiters always cite communications and other “soft” skills as the most-in-demand attributes regardless of industry or role, so get good at them.

That will not only help you in your current role, but when job hunting too. When your would-be future boss asks about your qualifications, don't just talk about your role-specific hard skills, but show how you've studied other soft skills such as negotiating or team building or personal productivity.

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Courses don't need to be directly applicable to the world of business, either. Take an online writing course with Roxane Gay or stand-up comedy class from Judd Apatow—your boss isn't likely to ask you to craft a personal essay or do improv in the office, but these sorts of courses will help you write more clearly or gain confidence for meetings.

Some skills go without saying or listing on your CV. Over on Masterclass, essayist David Sedaris has a session on how to tell better stories, a talent that will help at an interview, at work and down the pub. And RuPaul offers advice on authenticity and self-expression—what better soft skills could you possibly want?

Woke for Work

You should take diversity training to find out your own biases, become a better person, and treat those around you more fairly—but there's more to educating yourself than unconscious bias training.

So while Coursera, for example, hosts classes on workplace diversity and inclusion, it also offers programs teaching anti-racism as well as the history of Black Lives Matter, sexuality, and gender identity.

The University of Alberta's free online Indigenous Canada course is one Coursera's most popular classes, and it got an unexpected boost when Schitt's Creek star Dan Levy signed up to learn. It's genuinely intriguing—you'll get more out of it than you would rewatching the sitcom, charming though it is, for the 18th time.

Grow Yourself

There's more to life than work—but you'll unquestionably do better in your career if you become a life-long learner. That doesn't have to be as dull as it sounds, as classes don’t need to be directly applicable to work, instead choose anything that catches your eye.

For example, Masterclass has big names offering insight into the worlds that made them famous. So rather than watch another episode of Queer Eye, sign up for Tan France's style course; forget bingeing more Master Chef, and take Yotam Ottolenghi's cooking class.

If your job isn't doing it for you anymore and you're thinking of joining the Great Resignation, consider taking steps towards a new career. Skillshare has classes that teach you how to make a living at portrait photography, breaking into the illustration industry, launching an Etsy shop, and managing your bookkeeping as a freelancer. And if you're not quite ready to take that leap, you could begin by signing up for a class to help you find purpose—or go one further and take the School of Life's program about how to find the meaning of life. Figure that one out, and maybe the rest will follow.

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