Using Online Learning to Enhance Your Career

Online courses can help you find or keep your job.

Posted Jul 01, 2018

Keeping up with the latest knowledge and trends at work can be challenging.  And there’s no more ominous feeling than sensing that you’re falling behind in your skills or are not producing at the rate of your colleagues. How long has it been since you were the initiator of new ideas?  How do you stay current and fresh in your field so you can continue to add value to your workplace?  Online courses might just be the best answer to your situation. 

Online courses are everywhere and one of the best ways to stay sharp, focused, and energized in your field. It always surprises me when I suggest to clients that they sign up for online classes, and I get a blank look or “I hadn’t even thought of that” response. Taking an online class and demonstrating your new knowledge or skill at work might be just the thing you need to impress your supervisors or make your team stand out. You might even use your newfound skills or knowledge to get a different job.

Online courses can also provide you with the skills and knowledge to understand and deal with issues in the workplace. Many workplace issues stem from difficulties with communication skills or emotional intelligence, for instance, and you can learn more about these issues online. And if you’re feeling burned out or uninspired, here's an online course on Positive Psychology. You might even decide to take a course on conducting a job search to find a better position.

(Personal note: If you’re a manager, consider allocating some of your budget to online staff training. We use online courses in my office at Vanderbilt University all the time. My staff and I have taken courses on topics including Excel spreadsheets, Canva, Powtoon, Tableau, WordPress, data analytics, business writing, life coaching, etc. The online learning platforms keep everyone psyched about their work and excited about showing off their latest skills. I’m currently taking Lisa Cron’s course, Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius to help my students write better essays for graduate school and fellowships/scholarships.) 

Another valuable use of online classes is to make up for any gaps in your experience or skills when applying for a job. I have regularly advised liberal arts majors, artists, writers, and other individuals who don’t have a lot of business training (and don’t have the time or interest to pursue a business degree) to take online courses which will teach them basic Excel skills, how to write a business plan, the basics of marketing, accounting, etc. While this will not likely place them in the same category as someone with an MBA, it will allow them to acquire the basic knowledge and terminology to discuss the topic intelligently in the job interview and beyond. For self-employed individuals, these business skills are invaluable.

So how do you get started? Here are 5 easy steps:

1. Start with a list: identify what you want or need to learn. Determine if you are at a beginning stage or need more advanced guidance. It can be frustrating to sign up for a class that’s too basic or too advanced.

2. When you find your topic on an online platform, see if you can preview one or two classes. This will help you determine whether you like the instructor’s voice and style of teaching. Since you’re doing this for personal or professional enrichment, not as a requirement, there’s no reason to tolerate a poorly designed course or a weak presenter.

3. If you need college credit, Google your topic to see what colleges/universities offer online courses in your field. The Class Central website is also a helpful resource. Check the program carefully; many online degrees require at least a short time on campus at some point in the process. Not surprisingly, online college credit is going to be more expensive than other online options. 

4. Check with any professional associations you belong to; many offer webinars or online learning options. You might also find a certificate program related to your field that would enhance your resume and opportunities to move up.

5. Check out these platforms (in alphabetical order):

Alison. Offers over 1000 free classes on everything from building your language skills to graphic design.

Coursera.  Always wanted to take a course from Harvard? Well here’s your chance. Coursera offers almost 3000 free online courses from institutions like Johns Hopkins, The University of Chicago, and Stanford. If you want a certificate of completion, the prices are reasonable—usually around $40-50. In some cases you can obtain a more formal certificate or even a degree through Coursera; this will, of course, be more expensive. But you’ll still have the convenience of taking the course online in your own time.

LinkedIn. If you already have a LinkedIn account, you might want to investigate LinkedIn Learning. The courses are not free, but they do offer a one-month free trial. LinkedIn recently acquired another online learning platform, Lynda

Skillshare. Skillshare focuses on quick learning, with many courses taking less than an hour to complete.  They offer over 22,000 classes in a variety of topics. You pay a monthly or annual fee for access to all courses. 

Udemy. Udemy offers over 65,000 courses ranging from highly technical fields to yoga. You can find just about any topic of interest. Udemy charges by the course, so look for special sales—they often run specials where most courses are sold for about $10.

I hope you have fun searching through these various online education sites. It's hard not to get inspired about the many topics they cover. Taking an online course might just be the ticket to a promotion, a new job, or a more fulfilling life.

©2018 Katharine S. Brooks.  All rights reserved.