The internet age opens up infinite opportunities for self-starters. Learning career relevant skill sets is no longer confined to the walls of a classroom or on the job training. The meteoric rise of university tuition coupled with the ever evolving pace of change in the workplace creates a need for easy access for knowledge building.

There are a plethora of effective ways to develop skills via online resources. I recent years, massive online open courses or MOOCs have become one of the most popular educational tools around the globe.

In 2012, Stanford professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig opened “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” in a MOOC format and over 1.6 million students from 190 countries participated. This was the first MOOC to truly earn the “massive” letter of the acronym.

MOOCs typically allow for free access or a very low fee to participate. These courses are delivered online and usually combine lectures, videos and reading material to teach the content. Most MOOCs also incorporate an interactive piece for learners to ask questions, engage in discussions and receive feedback from instructors.

Advantages of MOOCs

  1. Courses are typically free or extremely low cost. Coursera, the most popular MOOC platform, charges a subscription fee for some classes up to $79 per month. Compare that with tuition for an advanced degree or even a university extension class that can run up to $1,000 per course.

  2. MOOCs offer unprecedented convenience for learners with real life commitments such as work, travel and family obligations.

  3. The world’s top universities from Stanford to the University of Tokyo offer MOOCs. Some even offer certificates via the MOOC format that can serve as effective resume builders.

  4. MOOCs are open to participants around the globe thus allowing learners and instructors to gain world-wide exposure.

  5. The format can be offered as part of a blended program offering additional information to that already taught in a classroom setting.

Machine learning

This Stanford MOOC offered through Coursera provides a broad introduction to machine learning, data mining and statistical pattern recognition. Each course runs about 2-3 hours and reviews linear algebra, Matlab and logistic regression then dives into neural networks.

Machine learning has already become a pervasive force in modern computing and will affect nearly every industry. Technologist or not, this MOOC will help establish the foundations of machine learning and its real world applications in fields such as robotics, medical informatics and data mining.

Excel skills for business

Spreadsheet software remains one of the most ubiquitous forms of software in industries worldwide. Learning intermediate Excel skills can be dispositive for almost any job. This Coursera MOOC offered by Macquarie University of Sydney, Australia teaches the fundamental Excel skills for business.

This course builds on basic Excel knowledge and aims to equip learners with the skills to work with large data sets and to build meaningful reports. Data is integral for business intelligence. The ability to mine, interpret and tell a story with data is invaluable for any position.

Programing languages

Three of the top twenty Coursera courses center on programing languages. This three part course offered by the University of Washington offers an introduction to the concepts of programming. Each part develops on the previous and builds to more advanced content.

This course series equips learners with both theory and programing specifics required to design programs. It assumes learners begin with some knowledge of programming but can be suitable for beginners. This series can help those looking to pivot in their careers and take advantage of the abundance of opportunity in the programming field.

Financial accounting

Offered by the University of Pennsylvania, this MOOC builds on the basics of financial accounting to help learners understand the basics of reading, analyzing and understanding financial statements. Ultimately, participants will be able to make more informed decisions based on financial information.

Financial literacy is not only important in the field of business but also for personal financial wellbeing. Those interested in personal investing should understand how to interpret the financial information published by publicly traded companies.

Strategic leadership and management

This is a series of MOOCs offered by the University of Illinois. Learners who complete this series can earn a certificate to share with prospective employers. This series aims to develop leadership and business skills for immediate impact.

Participants in the Strategic Leadership and Management certification will learn how to manage people, organizations and how to formulate and implement strategy. It incorporates lectures, reading as well as hands-on projects that cater to each learner’s specialization.

Introduction to negotiation

Negotiating comes naturally to some, but for most is a little bit awkward and uncomfortable. Even if your job doesn’t directly require negotiation skills, we all negotiate in our careers whether it’s negotiating salary for a new position or negotiating with a customer or supplier.

This Yale University MOOC provides a strategic playbook for becoming a skilled negotiator. Learners will build a framework for analyzing and shaping negotiations. They will walk away better able to interpret, predict and influence behavior of those they face in competitive interactions.

MOOCs remain a relatively nascent form of learning. Off the bat, most employers won’t be impressed by a line on a resume listing a completed MOOC. However, if the learner can demonstrate the knowledge gained from the course and how it tailors to a specific job opportunity, then MOOCs can certainly aid in career advancement.