For those who want to sharpen their professional skills, learn new ones, switch professions or launch a business, additional education can be the key to career success.
The challenge is that traditional continuing education classes, certificate programs and courses at brick-and-mortar universities can be pricey and time consuming. That's why online classes and schools — which offer cost-effective and versatile alternatives for learning — have been a game changer.
Are you ready to learn a new subject, skill or earn a degree? Then here are some things to consider when exploring online classes.
"We support learners at every stage, whether entering the job market, changing fields, seeking a promotion or exploring new interests," says Anant Agarwal, Founder and CEO of edX, an online learning platform that was started by Harvard and MIT. "As a global nonprofit, edX is transforming traditional education, removing the barriers of cost, location and access," says Agarwal.
Online class offerings are vast, with options to study everything from literature to nutrition. However, the most popular online courses tend to be the ones that can directly impact a career path, paycheck or skill set. Students have the option to take individual classes, get professional certificates or go for a full online master's degree.
"There are training programs from top universities and companies that help learners become job-ready. Some prepare learners to pass an industry certification exam, while others help them get the experience needed to launch a career in a specific field, such as IT support," says Tattersall.
"Other certificates are designed to help learners get the experience needed to launch a career in a field like information technology, data science, healthcare, graphic design, marketing or journalism," Tattersall adds.
Coursera and edX report that career-focused subjects such as data science, computer science and business classes boast the highest enrollment.
For Manea, the ability to take the course on her own schedule was a huge perk. Although it was on her schedule, she was still able to communicate with teachers and students throughout. "You interact with the other students and teachers in the discussion forums where you can ask questions and seek clarification."
Jon Deng has tried both options and prefers synchronous classes. During his final months in the military, Deng took online classes to prepare for a new career as a software engineer. He did an intensive coding boot camp that met six hours a day for 12 weeks.
For him, the collaborative assignments and teacher interaction were key. "It's a long stretch to completely learn a new skill and change careers, and it's even harder if you're in a room by yourself all day. Make sure you have an in-person support network and are making connections with your teachers and classmates," Deng advises.
While online classes are generally less expensive than in-person classes, prices vary. Some platforms offer the ability to audit a class for free, but, while you may get to see all the lectures, you may not have access to tests or quizzes. Others offer a free model to take a class, but charge a fee for a certificate. Others charge per course or offer a monthly subscription fee for unlimited courses.
Certificate classes may cost a few hundred dollars, and a master's degree online starts at several thousand dollars (significantly less than a university where you can expect to pay an average of $30,000 to $40,000 according to educational services company Petersons.com).
Time commitments vary as well, from a few hours to several weeks or months. Deng opted for a balance of free and paid courses when pursuing his degree. "I did a mixture of MOOCs which were generally self-paced and either free or low priced (less than $100). These were enough to learn some basics, but to really ramp up into the career, I felt like I had to do a coding boot camp…. the fee was $12k at the time. The outcomes can vary, but I got a job right out of boot camp so I felt it was worth it," Deng shares.
The ability to take classes on your own schedule and still maintain your current job, the lower cost and the impressive range of courses and certificates could provide you with real value. Plus, many courses are often by professionals in their field, so you may have the opportunity to network for your next job as you build up your skill set.
For those ready to make an impact on their career, an online course or certificate that you can add to your resume or use to help your business, might be the perfect fit.
If you're ready to advance your career or degree, the following are five virtual education programs with a range of classes on offer.
This subscription-based online learning community is ideal for those pursuing a career or side hustle in creative fields. Animation, graphic design, UX/UI development and business courses are just some of the disciplines taught by creative industry leaders.
2. Google Analytics Academy
Practice skills to collect data, conduct analysis and track performance to grow in your current role or prepare for a career pivot down the line at the Google Analytics Academy. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced analytics and measurement tools user, there are classes for all levels and career goals.
3. Class Central
Class Central aggregates top MOOC classes in subjects like computer science, business, humanities and data science along with reviews from students to help you weigh your options. Search for classes based on topic, level or university and receive personalized updates with new opportunities.
4. Rouxbe Online Culinary School
Train to be a professional chef right from your kitchen with a monthly subscription to courses led by chefs and culinary field experts in Rouxbe Online Culinary School. Ready to set yourself apart in the field? Take the plant-based professional certification course with a leading chef.
This learning platform aims to make education and online learning inclusive — whether you're looking to build a career in nutrition, carpentry, finance or video game development. Try one of 1,000 free online courses across nine different categories including humanities, business, marketing and languages.
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