Careers

10 Free or Low-Cost Online Platforms to Help You Polish Your Skill Set

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Could you use a little help polishing your skill set? Who couldn't?! No matter whether you're applying for your first part-time job or you're in the twilight of your career, it can be helpful to access some tools that help you thrive.


A recent article in The Atlantic explores the reality of problem-solving generalists replacing specialized workers. This, coupled with automation, increases demand for employees and job seekers who can acquire new knowledge and skills quickly, thrive in ambiguous situations and learn from failure to address emerging issues.

Agile and lifelong learning is an absolute must for professional success, and there's no better time than now to love learning as academic and non-academic institutions alike allow for easier access to educational materials online. If you are curious about a topic but not ready to spend lots of money to learn about it or you simply seek personal and professional enrichment, a plethora of eLearning platforms offer free or low-cost options to explore different topics and polish a number of soft and hard skills. Below I've listed ten of those.

Coursera

Ever wonder what it's like to take courses at Johns Hopkins, Stanford or Yale? Because Coursera partners with institutions across the US -- and the world -- you don't have to wonder anymore. The platform introduced me to MOOCs (massive open online courses) six years ago, and as a learner, I reveled in the knowledge I could gain at my own pace and at no expense. Coursera remains a popular eLearning platform, with many courses still free and some available in different languages, and it's perfect if you want to explore various fields. When you are ready to dig deeper into a topic, Coursera allows you to pursue certificates or degrees through its partners. Choosing to do so means you'll need to pay a fee and engage with the material as well as your classmates to take full advantage of the learning.

edX

Another eLearning platform allowing access to high quality education from top-ranked higher ed institutions across the globe is edX. Course subjects cover anything from computer science to art and writing to human rights and psychology. Some courses are self-paced and others are timed. Although certain courses require payment, you could audit much of what's offered for free. When auditing, your access to course materials is timed, so pay attention to deadlines. If using edX to advance your career, you could pursue a MicroMasters program. To do so, you apply through the university that offers the program, and if accepted, can complete it in lieu of a traditional master's degree. Industry leaders including IBM, Bloomberg and pwc recognize the achievement.

FutureLearn

Another option if you are looking to quench your thirst for academic knowledge and boost your employability is the FutureLearn platform, which brings courses from respected universities and specialized organizations from across the globe. Its content comes in three forms: short classes, in-depth programs or online degrees. A free account gives you access to courses for their duration and for two weeks after they end. For additional benefits, you can choose to upgrade a course for a fee, and if you are interested in unlimited access for all courses, you can opt into the unlimited plan, which is a bit pricier at over $200 per year, but discounts are often available.

Alison

Whether it's learning foreign languages, acquiring knowledge in arts and sciences, getting insights about personal finance or learning how to fix your car, Alison is the online platform to help you cover all your educational and skills needs. Those interested in traditional education and those pursuing careers in the skilled trades can both find something on this platform. Courses are free and are divided into three general categories: certificates, diplomas or learning paths. For access to courses and materials without ads and for discounts on certificates, you may consider a premium account for the approximate monthly cost of $9.

CreativeLive

If you are interested in flexing your creative muscles, you may want to check out this educational platform, which broadcasts live content 24/7. Courses are divided into multiple subcategories across five main categories: photo and video, money and life, art and design, craft and maker, and music and audio. To access content for free, you can log in at any time and see what's streaming or coming up in the category of your interest. Otherwise, you will need to pay for on-demand access to specific courses.

CodeAcademy

If you aspire to design a career path in computer science, web development or data science, gaining programming and coding skills is a must. To learn about and master Python, SQL or JavaScript, check out the courses offered through CodeAcademy by creating a free account. To upgrade to a Pro status for access to members-only content, guidance and real-world practice, you can do so for $15 per month. The projects you complete could be what you need to show employers your skills and the value you can bring.

LinkedIn Learning

A favorite of mine, the platform gives access to practical courses to help you polish both technical and soft skills. Although this is a subscription platform, you can access some courses for free, and in general, parts of each class are always available for free. Courses consist of short videos as well as additional materials to help you practice what you've learned. A Q&A section allows you to engage with the instructor and others completing the course. Opt into the one-month free trial for access to all courses and check with your alma mater, as many institutions now offer access to the platform as a perk for students, alumni and employees.

Skillshare

If you need guidance in designing your first website, making your signature drink or starting your memoir, as well as engaging in a host of other practical projects, this is the platform for you. Although courses are video-based, learning happens through interactions, not lectures. With a free account, you can access 1,800+ courses, but for $8.25 a month ($99 annually), you can choose from close to 30,000 unique courses and will be able to download content for offline use. To check out the Premium option, sign up for the two-month free trial.

Udemy

As the largest eLearning platform, Udemy features 100,000 online courses taught and attended by people from 190+ countries and available in 60+ languages. Its target audience are professional adults, and if you have an employer (or are an employer) interested in training an entire team (of five or more people), you can opt into Udemy for Business. Although most Udemy courses are offered for a fee, frequent discounts and specials allow free or paid access for as low as $10 per course.

General Assembly (GA)

Craving experiential education to help you leverage technology and increase your marketability to employers? This could be the platform for you. Offering both online and in-person courses across 20 campuses, GA focuses on the most in-demand digital skills like web development, data analytics and JavaScript. The platform boasts meaningful relationships with 10,000+ hiring partners, which allows users to join a large network of industry experts and alumni as well as access to learn the most relevant skills for the ever-evolving tech world. Although this is the priciest option on the list, I'm including it as the platform offers scholarships and partners with nonprofits to encourage underrepresented populations to enter the tech workforce.