Skill Up

The saying is "spring cleaning," not "spring cluttering," right? That may be the case for your closet, but it shouldn't be the case for your toolkit. Whether you're looking to bulk up your expertise in a completely unfamiliar area or you're trying to build on knowledge that you've amassed over the years to level up from proficient to expert, the best time to start building is now.

We live in the digital age: that is fact, that is key. Here are a few resources - some uncovered by a few quick Google searches and others recommended by friends and colleagues - that can help you skill up this spring and for the rest of 2018 - it's our year, people:

1. Coursera

The world is literally at your fingertips thanks to this online learning platform. Coursera offers a depth and breadth of academic coursework across a multitude of disciplines. Whether you're looking to take a one-off course on Agile Software Development taught by an adjunct professor and created by the University of Minnesota or you're looking to earn a full IT Support Professional Certificate from Google, Coursera has you covered.

From a cost perspective, Coursera operates across the full spectrum. The course catalog does include some lectures and other video content/non-graded material at no cost to users. Some courses also offer a trial period with a cost to complete. Coursera even offers financial aid to qualified applicants, since as I mentioned, the platform does host a number of certificate and degree programs. So, if you're looking to brush up on a few skills without the formal feedback mechanism that a full course would offer, you can always start with non-graded material and go from there.

2. Udemy

Udemy is an online learning marketplace with an extensive course catalog. One thing I liked about their website at first glance is the "Top Courses" section at the bottom of the homepage. Courses are not only categorized by popularity, but they are also accompanied by some pretty friendly price points. Seeing offerings such as a "Graphic Design Bootcamp" for $14.99 and an "Illustrator CC Masterclass" for $14.99 certainly peaked my interest.

Udemy also offers a free demo of their platform for those interested in investing in the platform on behalf of their entire organization. And as far as free courses go, it doesn't seem like you can filter for them, but a scroll through the search results for a given topic can apparently lead you to a few. If all else fails, keep your eye out for promotions ($10 per course seems to be a popular offering).

3. Khan Academy

My engineering friends are probably either cringing or cheering joyously for this one. Khan Academy was quite popular when I was in undergrad, and this particular online learning platform doesn't appear to be losing any steam. Though the site is known for (and fairly front-loaded with) STEM coursework, it does also host courses in Arts & Humanities and standardized test prep.

Khan Academy also offers courses for free dollars and zero cents. This blessed organization is a not-for-profit, and their motto is literally "For free. For everyone. Forever." It's just beautiful. You can browse courses by subject directly from the home page and narrow into your desired area of focus from there with a personalized study plan that you develop along the way. Great resource for academics (and folks wishing to brush up on some elementary concepts before foundation-testing exams like the GMAT).

4. CreativeLive

Turning on signals, changing lanes. While both Coursera and Udemy do offer courses in design and other creative disciplines, I wanted to dig up at least one learning source that's specifically designed with the artistically-inclined in mind. CreativeLive at its core is on the more interactive end of the online learning spectrum. They offer free on-air broadcasts on a variety of topics, video recorded classes and associated materials, and connections to podcasts, event postings, and other inspirational material.

The on-air broadcasts are free and they broadcast different courses throughout the full 24-hour day. So, whether you're a night owl, an insomniac, or a time-zone changer, you'll never be stuck waiting for business hours to catch a course. There are also instructor-led courses that you can invest in for a fee. And fret not: the "On Sale" and "Under $30" filters are primed and ready and budget-friendly.

5. Skillshare

This online learning platform seems to be the most networking-based and peer-to-peer friendly of those that I've listed so far. Skillshare offers courses across the full spectrum from creative to business to technology and back and they also offer online workshops designed for small groups.

In true #forthepeople fashion, Skillshare offers a free month of unlimited access to classes for new members. Once your trial period runs out, you can still take advantage of the free courses offered by filtering on "Free" during your search through the class catalog. Skillshare even shows how many other students are taking advantage of a given course, so you can truly see which classes are popular and even which students are signed up for them. If privacy is your policy, then this may not be for you, but the ability to reach out to folks who are already working through the course to ask questions or even work through assignments sounds like a great perk.

6. Lynda (LinkedIn Learning)

A LinkedIn based learning platform? 'Nough said. At first glance, Lynda appears to be pretty tech/STEM friendly based on their developer, business, and web subject matter areas. The platform also hosts courses in photography and marketing, both at the individual and at the corporate/organization training levels. Because the site is connected to LinkedIn, the insights from your LinkedIn page are factored into your personalized learning plan.

You can also work through a free one-month trial with Lynda and that trial gives you unlimited access to the courses available and mobile access to your course materials. After your trial, you can opt for one of two payment plans to maintain your unlimited access: monthly payments of $29.99 for a monthly subscription or monthly payments of $24.99 to lock your access down for 1 year.

7. Language Exchanges

I had a conversation with a co-worker at happy hour recently about a language learning cafe in Europe. I don't know if I'm the only one that's new here, but I found it to be such a valuable, novel concept that I hadn't heard of or seen (or thought to look for) in the States. In practice, language exchanges involve groups of folks (technically, you only need 2 people to tango) who partner up in order to practice a given pair of languages in conversation.

For example, if I wanted to learn Mandarin, I would partner up with someone who wanted to learn English and whose native, or first, language is Mandarin. We would then split our total conversation time in half, spending equal amounts of time chatting in each language, so that both parties would benefit from each session. I truly believe that immersion is the best way to learn a language, and this method allows you to immerse yourself in the true conversational culture of a language or dialect without the cost of global travel. Conversation Exchange and My Language Exchange are two websites that seem to connect those who'd like to meet in-person (Ux warning for my design lovers). You can also check out this list of free language exchange websites or conduct a quick Google search of in-person language exchanges or meetups that might be coming up in your city.

I'm personally excited to start taking more advantage of all of the free academic resources that are out there. Please feel free to share any that I may have missed!


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