Online Courses to Improve Freelancer Toolbox
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More Than Words: Online Courses to Improve Your Freelancer Toolbox (and Stay Competitive)

These days, it’s usually not enough to be a professional wordsmith. Clients prefer talent who can also edit video, build slideshow decks, conduct audio or Skype interviews, handle SEO and SEM… perhaps even build websites and apps. While there’s much to be said for specializing, we also recommend constantly updating your skills that are ancillary to actual content writing. This might look like a free two-hour “Pinterest Basics”, or an entire certification course that takes you through a tech-heavy curriculum or a real-world business case study.

Is it uncomfortable, time-consuming and potentially costly? Yes. But for anyone working in digital or mobile, things like SEO and SEM, Google Analytics and date-driven content are essential to understand. Here are some of the best companies providing online courses that help freelancers — and all professionals, for that matter — stay competitive in the job market and win more freelance jobs.

If you’re looking to brush up your media skills, please also check our roundup on top content marketing courses for working professionals.

Where freelancers can take online courses to stay competitive

1. Lynda.com: Find foundational digital marketing courses.

Online Courses to Improve Freelancer Toolbox

For more than 20 years, this online education platform has facilitated professional and personal improvement through video tutorials. As one of the foremost names in distance learning, the site has enterprise solutions for government and academic clientele, but many of the courses are geared toward individuals. A free trial is not only available, but enthusiastically promoted. The pricing model is unlimited courses with a monthly subscription of $19.99 or $29.99.

Sample courses: Train to be a digital marketer with “foundation” courses in SEO, lead generation, growth-hacking and Google Analytics. Transition to project coordination with basic project management, business writing and a Gantt Chart course. Study web development and programming, or feed your creative spirit with courses in photography and graphic design.

2. Udemy: Discover more specialized and granular offerings.

Online Courses to Improve Freelancer Toolbox

Udemy is truly a distance learning platform in the sense that it gives would-be students and would-be instructors a place to connect, and allows the instructors to set their rates and curriculum for potential students. The system for creating courses is drag-and-drop, meaning people with a basic understanding of WYSIWYG CMS can become Udemy instructors.

More than a thousand courses on Udemy are free, but the specialized learning comes at a price. Even so-called “free” courses like “Become an Android Developer From Scratch” really just tease the paid curriculum.

Sample courses: The whole spectrum of specialized skills is at your fingertips — from a complete Python bootcamp for would-be developers to “how to start an Amazon store”  to Adobe InDesign essentials (a great  option for writers with a visual eye who want to become full-service creative consultants). With tens of thousands of offerings and a relaxed barrier of entry to instructors, this platform also gets some pretty far-out offerings, like “Training Games for Dogs” and “Body Language for Entrepreneurs.” Paid courses supposedly start around $100 but are typically deep-discounted so you can get your first for $9.99

3. General Assembly / GA Dash: Ramp up your tech skills.

Online Courses to Improve Freelancer Toolbox

Through a combination of online and on-campus courses, short-and long-form curricula, this educational outfit serves up tech skill-building to the time-crunched. Its students are professional entrepreneurs and FT business professionals looking to  ramp up their practical tech knowledge for a definable result. While most people who come to General Assembly are in some tech or tech-ancillary field, there are verticals that cater to different mindsets and career paths.

Sample courses: Marketing and Career Development verticals run the gamut from super-condensed, aspirational short courses to boot camps to flex-time courses with a clear career acceleration goal. One popular part-time on-campus course (with a dozen courses nationwide) is Product Management — a common vertical career move for many marketing and communication directors,  and one that’s often confused with brand management or project management. Digital marketing, HTML and data analysis classes are all available online and part-time.

Short-form courses are like a sampler tray of all that’s buzzy, interesting and potentially lucrative in tech — if you discover something you love, you’ll have to enroll in a longer course. The most famous of General Assembly’s tantalizing free samples is GA Dash, a free online course in basic web development: specifically, HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.

4. Coursera: Achieve specialized certifications.

Online Courses to Improve Freelancer Toolbox

With its Stanford University-founder pedigree and early partnership with multiple universities, including Princeton, Yale, University of Illinois and Duke University, this online education startup has more credibility than many platforms that have been around longer than 10 years. It offers approximately 2,000 courses, where some competitors offer more than 50,000. And, it offers specialized certifications in many of the most lucrative, in-demand career categories. Also, due to substantial initial venture capital investment, this site is able to offer many courses for free.

Sample courses:  The main categories are Data Science, Business, Computer Science and Social Sciences — the last being a departure from most online learning platforms. However, Social Sciences courses seem to be mostly supplemental and quite short on-demand classes, unlike meaty Computer Science offerings, such as “Data Structures and Algorithms” or “Architecting with Google Cloud Platform,” both of which are six-session commitments.

There are many courses on this platform that seem to offer a shortcut to career acceleration, if you can handle the rigorous requirements. For those who love learning in a more esoteric sense, there are some delightful course offerings like the four-week “Journey of the Universe,” presented by Yale, and “Fashion as Design,” given by the Museum of Modern Art.

5. Thinkful: Accelerate your tech career with personal mentors.

Online Courses to Improve Freelancer Toolbox

For those of you who have thought long and hard about leaving behind a career based on “soft skills” and subjective qualities, and transitioning purposefully into the tech arena, this mentor-centric online school is highly regarded by many. The company positions itself as a “career accelerator,” with instructor hours supplemented by one-on-one time with a personal mentor and a career coach.

There are a lot of things to like about Thinkful. It aims to disrupt the traditional classroom setting. From the outset, it focuses as much on professional development areas like networking and interviewing as much as it does on technical skill instruction. And its focus on one-on-one instruction is great… for those who can afford it. Amongst professional tech circles, the word-of-mouth is, Thinkful doesn’t just offer an empty promise of career placement. The program will truly help students find a job.

Sample courses: The very least expensive offering is basic front-end web development for $500/month. However, most courses run for six months and cost more than public universities: $8,550 for “Full Stack Flex” developer training, or $7,990 to train in data science.

Lena Katz

About Lena

Lena Katz's credits as a development producer, casting producer and locations manager include cable TV (WEtv, Revolt, HGTV), and digital-first productions (WhaleRock, mikeroweWORKS, Tastemade). She worked directly for major brands including Suzuki, Hormel and Brown-Forman. Learn more about her company at Variable Content.

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