How to Take Advantage of Online Learning

by Ellen Lee on October 12, 2012

Maybe you need help creating an appealing Facebook page for your new company. Or you want some tips on cold-calling customers. For small businesses, online classes have become a cost-effective and flexible way for owners and employees to receive the training they need.

Today, many of the courses offered online are taught by renowned scholars, best-selling authors, and top business executives. Better yet, many of these classes are free. You can also learn at your own pace, on your own time. Online collaboration tools mean that, in some classes, you can interact electronically with your teacher and fellow students, much as you would in a traditional classroom setting.

Businesses large and small spent about $67 billion on training last year, according to Bersin & Associates, showing just how important it is for professionals to keep their skills current with their evolving industries. Online courses have become an accessible way to receive training, from learning how to design a website to brushing up on accounting.

Not all online lessons are created equal, of course. YouTube offers everything from MIT university lectures to basic “how-to” videos, some better produced than others. You can also access online university courses through iTunes U.

For more comprehensive coursework, you may want to turn to a dedicated online learning website. Here are three that are making waves:

1. Udemy — Udemy offers more than 4,500 online courses, many of them aimed at entrepreneurs and taught by experts in their respective fields. Among them, it includes a series of 10 short video lectures by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, then an executive at Google, discussing the process of developing a new product. Others range from tutorials on online marketing and advertising to a primer on using QuickBooks. Some are free; others cost anywhere from $9 each to more than $200 each.

2. Lynda.com — Lynda.com offers a curated library of more than 6,600 hours of online video courses, aimed mostly at those in business, technology, and design/creative fields. Through a subscription model ($25 to $37.50 per month), students can access as many online courses as they want. Its corporate clients include Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Costco.

3. Coursera — Coursera has partnered with 33 of the nation’s top universities, including Columbia, Stanford, and the University of California Berkeley, to publish some of their courses online for free. Small-business owners may not need a class on Greek and Roman mythology or an introduction to astronomy, but they can take advantage of its finance, business, technology, and math courses.

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