Online learning has increased in popularity in recent years. But during the pandemic, not only has the number of people taking online courses risen, course offerings have soared. With an online course, the benefits include a flexible learning schedule, often lower cost and ability to learn from anywhere.
The sheer volume of online learning platforms available can be dizzying, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. There are free and online paid courses and tutorials, all kinds of leadership development programs, and classes at local universities.
The first step is figuring out what your motivation is for taking a course. Are you looking to pick up a new skill? Develop a skill you currently have? Position yourself for a promotion? Bring new ideas to your team? Is what you are considering a “hard skill” or a “soft skill”? Are you looking to have an interactive experience of sharing ideas and a heavy emphasis on networking? Are simply you looking to consume and digest information to apply to your role?
How to Choose an Online Professional Development Course
- Decide if you need a certificate of completion
- Stick to your budget
- Use the courses not only to learn, but network
Here is a breakdown of learning earning opportunities for senior level professionals that are worth the money (or even better, are free).
Accredited colleges and universities.
Lots of big name schools offer classes and certifications without full enrollment, often in specialized topics. For example, Harvard Business School offers classes in things like disruptive strategy, leadership principals, global business, negotiation mastery, and sustainable business strategy. Classes are typically 4-8 weeks and require 4-8 hours a week of work. At the end, you receive a certificate.
You can also access more than 2,500 courses from 140 accredited institutions through Edx. Founded by Harvard and MIT, the courses are thoroughly vetted. You can enroll in the paid track and earn a certificate of completion, but you can also choose to audit any course for free, which gets you access to all course materials, but no graded assignments and verified certificate. There is an option to switch from audit to paid before the course ends if you change your mind. Future Learn has a similar concept.
Online education platforms.
It seems like the number of online learning platforms is endless. Udemy offers upwards of 130,000 courses, most to be used as learning tools and not offering any kind of certificate of completion; Udacity, a tech-heavy platform known for it’s nanodegree programs; Coursera offers 4,300 courses taught by instructors from top companies and universities; and Master Class offers courses taught by world-famous experts and celebrities.
Free online learning options.
The best place to start searching for free and low-cost options are through professional associations and organizations. These groups often offer different kinds of training and courses for their members. But they are also a great place to find vetted resources and people within the organization are typically quick to point you in the right direction if you need help.
You may also be able to learn some soft skills through a particularly good Ted talk. We recommend Julia Dhar: How to disagree productively and find common ground, Tamekia MizLadi Smith: How to train employees to have difficult conversations, Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation, and Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action.
You can also often learn about topics – particularly tech topics – for free right from the source. For example, Google offers an “Analytics Academy” for beginners through advanced learners and on several sub-topics regarding analytics. Also founded by MIT grads, Hubspot offers all kinds of free and certified classes in hundreds of topics especially useful for marketing professionals.
Online learning offers networking opportunities.
Besides the coursework, the other benefit is that these courses offer a unique networking opportunity. With most in-person events being canceled these days, online is now the best place to meet new people. But connecting in on a conference call or being part of a webinar with hundreds – or thousands – of participants doesn’t exactly scream networking.
However, in a class it is likely you will have classmates from around the country, and sometimes around the world. Making connections with like-minded peers interested in the same coursework as you can be invaluable. Make sure to regularly engage on the discussion boards, and be ready to share information, resources and experiences. Some larger classes may have breakout groups for certain topics or discussions, and that is also a great place to network.
Check out our top tips for virtual networking in today’s world!