Technology allows anyone—even busy professionals—to learn a new skill. So, if you’re going to turn off the TV and use your downtime to make yourself more employable (or possibly even raise your salary), consider using one or more of the many easy and cheap learning tools available online to add web coding, financial know-how, or foreign-language fluency to your personal asset portfolio. We chose a few of the newest online-learning options offering quality, variety, and affordability (from free of charge to about the cost of a nice bottle of wine). While most are not currently recognized as US-accredited educational institutions, it’s up to you to determine what your new skill(s) might be worth. Dive in—and prepare to show off.
Name: Coursera (coursera.org)
Platform: Internet browser
What You Can Study: College-level courses in subjects such as law, biology, computer science, and finance
How You’ll Learn: Professors conduct courses at the same time as their regular classroom sessions. Video lectures, crowd-graded problem sets, and discussion forums are frequent.
Time Frame: Strict: Profs administer classes over five- to 12-week periods, with important deadlines along the way.
Cost: Free (may change if/when courses qualify for university credit)
FYI: Coursera has the support of 62 well-respected universities, including Stanford and Duke.
Name: Duolingo (duolingo.com)
Platform: Browser, iPhone/iPad and Android devices
What You Can Study: Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Italian, with more languages being added
How You’ll Learn: Interactive online learning, no video lectures. Progress through game-like levels by practicing
grammar, vocabulary, and translating.
Time Frame: Anytime: Mini-lessons take five to 10 mins to finish.
FYI: While learning a foreign language, students help translate the web.
Name: Codecademy (codecademy.com)
How You’ll Learn: Start programming from the very first lesson.
Time Frame: Anytime: Brief sections take only a couple of minutes at first, but last longer as lessons advance.
FYI: Codecademy is the favorite educational startup of many in the tech scene.
Name: iTunes U (apple.com/education/itunes-u)
Platform: iTunes U app (all Apple devices)
What You Can Study: College-level courses designed by universities, high school teachers, and other qualified individuals
How You’ll Learn: Often, all lectures, PDFs, PowerPoints—and even exams and solutions—are accessed in a single download.
Time Frame: Anytime: no due dates, but no structure, either
FYI: iTunes U takes advantage of university offerings already online.
Name: Udemy (udemy.com)
Platform: Browser, iPhone/iPad app
What You Can Study: Courses, in the thousands, run the gamut; reviews separate the interesting from the monotonous
How You’ll Learn: Basic classes offer five- to 30-min video lectures; more advanced classes offer worksheets and handouts.
Time Frame: Anytime: Many classes offer more than 30 hours of instruction.
Cost: $5-$250/course (w/ most less than $100)
FYI: Instead of learning a new skill, you might try teaching one. A quarter of approved teachers have made at least $10,000.
Name: lynda.com (lynda.com)
Platform: Browser, mobile site, iPhone/iPad app
What You Can Study: Business/tech/design subjects include 3D animation and WordPress; best for learning new types of software
How You’ll Learn: Detailed videos last from 45 mins up to several hours. The exercise files used are available through a premium subscription.
Time Frame: Anytime: Five- to 15-min sections allow for concept pinpointing.
Cost: $25/month; $37.50/month for “premium”
FYI: Several major companies use lynda.com to train employees: Ernst & Young, Microsoft, and the New York Times, to name a few.