Nick Dennis is a Traverse City native, and co-founder of Binary Trail. After years traveling and living away from the area, he decided he wanted to start a business and Northern Michigan was the place to be. When Nick is not building things on a computer, he likes to spend his time exploring outdoors, playing basketball, and learning new skills.
Build Real Job Skills Online

How To Build Real Job Skills Online

In the last decade, online education has grown from an interesting experiment to a $100 Billion dollar industry. Innovators (like Salman Khan) discovered that they could educate millions of people using video, text, and interactive elements online. Today, some of the biggest universities in the world offer online courses. Yet, most people don’t realize they can get a world-class education online—right now, for free or very cheap—with a little planning.

While it’s possible to learn nearly any skill online, the professional world does not yet have a standardized way to evaluate this type of learning. Employers are often focused on traditional metrics, like diplomas and work experience. Online education is an amazing supplemental education, but in most industries it’s not the only thing you’ll need to succeed.

The good news is that this is changing. Several online schools offer their own accreditation programs for a fraction of the cost of a college degree. Coursera has ‘Specializations’, and Udacity offers ‘Nanodegrees’ in very specific subjects. While participation in all class activities (like graded homework and tests) can cost a few hundred dollars per specialization, access to the lectures is usually free. It’s legit, too: in most cases these class activities are offered through prestigious institutions like Stanford, University of Michigan, and Princeton. The classes are taught by actual professors who already teach these courses in universities.

[LINK: Here’s What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That Are Seen as Official]

As the online education industry grows, businesses experiment with different platforms. To stay competitive, different online courses almost always offer something for free. You can expect free introductory content, a free trial, or only a charge for accreditation/testing.

Getting Started

First, know what you want to learn. You won’t find much value in signing up for a bunch of courses and trying them all at once. Spend time researching what options are out there for the topic that interests you. What seems like the best starting point? Beginner’s lessons are generally easier to find for free. This free content is often used to attract you to the paid content.

Sign up for only one online school trial at a time. You can stagger your trials, and get months and months of free content on nearly any topic you want. If you sign up for something that requires payment information to start your trial, mark Your calendar so you remember to unsubscribe before you get charged.

Choose a logical sequence to your courses. Some courses are extremely challenging: expect the same amount of effort as taking the class at a university. If you jump immediately into several advanced topics without learning the basics, it can be easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed. Take your time, do your research, and learn at whatever pace is best for you.


What are my Online School choices?

Khan Academy

Khan Academy

Arguably the first online school to make a big splash, Khan Academy is free for everyone. Khan Academy started as Youtube series by co-founder Salman Khan. He created these videos to tutor a family member across the country. It has grown into an educational tool used by over 10 million people a month. Khan’s videos have been translated into 65 languages. It runs on donations and provides classes ranging from 1st grade math to calculus and entrepreneurship.

Courses: Focused on math, economics, and finance, but also has content on science, politics, and others.


Coursera

Coursera

Coursera is a for-profit online school that currently has 15 million users. Working with some of the top universities in the world—Duke, Princeton, University of Michigan, and Stanford—Coursera provides high quality courses and certifications.

Courses: Over 1500 courses. You’ll find almost any course you would find on a college campus, with a similar difficulty level. Coursera classes generally follow a strict schedule. Coursera might have the best selection of science courses, but it’s also a great place to learn business, computer science, engineering, and other subjects.

Cost: Coursera offers ‘Specializations’ which amount to a series of around 4-6 courses, each lasting for several weeks, and generally cost $400-$600. However, for almost any course you can watch all the lectures and basic coursework for free. Paying for s specialization provides access to graded projects and certification.


Udacity

Udacity

Udacity started as a series of free computer science classes offered through Stanford University. These days, it is a full-fledged online school with 1.6 million users. Cofounded by Sebastian Thrun, a former Google VP and founder of Google X, it has become known for it’s self-paced, in-depth computer science content.

Courses: Udacity is focused on developing specific workplace skills. These are mostly programming and software engineering related.

Cost: Similar to Coursera’s specializations, Udacity offers ‘Nanodegree’ programs, which include all the education content, testing, and certification to demonstrate competence in a subject. It is $200-$300/month to enroll in a nanodegree course. However, they offer many of their courses for free, and you can try a 7-day free trial of any nanodegree.


Lynda.com

Lynda.com

Lynda.com has been the industry leader in software and technical training for designers. The site offers thousands of video courses on nearly any design/art subject.

Courses: Lynda.com courses are focused on creative business skills. This includes graphic design and technical art skills, but it also includes programming, business, marketing, audio/video, and much more. Currently there are over 4,500 courses on the site, each lasting several hours or more.

Cost: Lynda.com costs $25-$50/month, but offers a 1 month free trial.


Team Treehouse

Team Treehouse

This is possibly the best for beginning web development and programming skills. Treehouse has a fun interface. They use videos and coding challenges to teach coding skills.

Courses: Focused primarily on programming. Treehouse also includes courses on web design and business.

Cost: $25-$49/month, 7 day free trial


edx

Ed X

With partners like Harvard and MIT, EDx.org offers free classes for high school students, college students, and adults. Similar to Coursera, you pay only if you want the certification that you completed a course at the end.

Courses: EDx has over 900 courses covering most of the spectrum of college level courses.

Cost: Courses are generally free to take, and the optional certificate at the end usually ranges from $50-$99.


Code School

Code School

As the name implies, Code School focuses on teaching the skills to go from beginner to pro in programming.

Cost: Code School has about a dozen classes you can try for free, then it costs $29/month for access to the rest of the content.


Other Sources

Books and Audiobooks – For ‘general theory’ and timeless information, nothing beats books. Anyone can get a library card and have access to an endless amount of quality info. In fact, many libraries offer programs that give access to some of the sites mentioned above in this blog. Audible.com is an amazing audiobook app that offers 1 free audiobook with signup, no strings attached.

YouTube – Believe it or not, the same site you use for funny cat videos is a great source of short educational videos. Sorting through bad videos to find high-quality content can seem a little daunting at first. The trick is to be very specific about your searches. Pay attention to the number of views and ratio of positive to negative reactions. You may want to sort your search to only include uploads from the last year, or videos with many views. While YouTube isn’t great for in-depth courses or advanced topics, it’s great for short, simple instructional videos. It can be the perfect starting point when digging into a new subject.

Blogs – Again, it takes a little effort on your part to figure out what blogs are worth your time. Tools like Feedly can help you search for blogs that other people read. If you spend time reading about a subject, you will get a sense of what sources are trusted and reputable.

Did we miss any of your favorite online educations resources? Share in the comments!

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