By: Julia Bellotti
Every winter, I find myself with extra time to dedicate to learning something new. In the fall, I’ll pick out one professional development skill and one fun skill to learn. In 2018, for example, I took a course on Tableau (a data visualization software) as well as learned how to etch glass. In past years, I’ve attended a User Experience Design Bootcamp, taken a Python course, as well as learned how to make drink coasters and use a wood-burning tool.
The first step to learning outside of a school environment is to know what type of learner you are. Can you follow an online class with no set schedule? Do you need to attend a course in person? Would a virtual class with peer tutors be sufficient?
Next, pick what you want to learn! Is there something you’ve wanted to try? Is there a skill your company recommends you learn? The sky is the limit. If you want to learn it, I guarantee you someone has put together a tutorial or course on it.
Based on those two answers, you’ll then need to narrow to something that fits your time and budget. Your options:
Types of Classes
There are many types of classes to choose from and you should pick whichever one best fits your learning style and daily life. There are MOOCs, which are massive open online courses. Online resources like Coursera and EdX host thousands of MOOCs. Your course could have over 1,000 students from many countries in the same session. Courses can be self-paced, or follow a strict weekly schedule, the length of which will vary depending on the course. Courses will typically include a series of videos with accompanying transcripts, follow-along-with-the-instructor “class” work, homework, and quizzes. Some courses will set up Facebook and/or Slack groups for students to talk with each other and for peer tutors to assist if you’re stuck.
If a MOOC doesn’t sound like it’s the right fit for you, you may want to try an online workshop, tutorial, or self-paced course, such as the courses you’ll find on Lynda or Codeacademy. Lynda features courses on tech development, business, design, web, photography, and marketing, and Codecademy focuses on, you guessed it, coding. Lynda’s videos and follow-alongs can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 128 hours, with many falling in the 1-8 hour range, while Codecademy’s courses run at your own pace. There may be forums for help, but you won’t have an instructor or peer tutors or feedback loops like you might during a MOOC.
Finally, there are in-person classes. These might be one-off classes, such as Home Depot’s class on making a nightstand, or they may be 8-week long (or more) courses such as a language class. Many more “hands on” activities can be found as in-person classes, such as woodworking, flower arranging, sign language, cooking, fitness, or sewing.
How to Pick the Right Course
Ultimately, you have to figure out what will motivate you to complete your learning. Is your company paying for it? Is this a skill you really want to learn? Many of the MOOCs offer a paid option for the course where you’ll get a certificate of completion afterward provided you passed or reached a certain grade. When I signed up for my first MOOC, I purposefully chose to pay $49 and get a certificate at the end instead of just completing the course for free. I knew that putting money toward it would motivate me to complete it (and it did). You need to figure out what motivates you and choose an option for your class that best fits YOU.
If you don’t know where to start, I recommend checking out Class Central, which is a repository for almost all MOOCs. You can search and sort by starting date, class rating, or browse trending and popular courses. A simple chart breaking down popular online resources is below:
Home Care, Crafts, and Daily Life (In-person):
If you’re looking to learn a home care, craft, or daily life skill, I highly recommend checking your library and local adult education center first.
Your local library is a resource that any people forget about. My library offers everything from sign language to Python to Zumba to financial planning and more, and they’re all free. Check out what your local library network offers; it’s a great way to attend a free in-person class for a variety of topics. Many cities and counties also offer continuing adult education classes. These could be a cooking class focused on knife skills, floral arrangements, a foreign language, or taxes just to name a few. Registration typically opens up once or twice each season. While these classes typically cost a nominal fee, it can be a great way to learn in person and meet other members in your community interested in the same topics.
The following nationwide stores also offer classes for their local communities. Clicking on each of the links will bring you to the store’s event page:
Learning a new skill, professional or not, is immensely satisfying. Technical skills or professional classes can be added to your LinkedIn profile and resume. Daily life skills will likely save you money and time whether you’ve learned how to do your taxes, arrange flowers for an upcoming wedding, or cook more efficiently and creatively. Have fun! Let us know what skills you intend on learning next, or what classes you’ve completed recently!