The Best Free Online Courses Everyone Should Take This Year

The Best Free Online Courses Everyone Should Take This Year
Photo: Gorodenkoff, Shutterstock

The days when you graduated college, started a career, and never looked back are long behind us. Lifelong learning isn’t just a catchy phrase — it’s an essential aspect of survival. Even a cursory glance at the last few decades reveals how fast things change, not just in terms of your actual job, but in the way we even go about working, collaborating, and measuring success.

There’s a good chance you’ll change careers at some point in your life — according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, people change jobs an average of 5.7 times when they’re under 24 and about twice on average when they’re older than 45. And as we weather the “Great Resignation,” that pace is likely to pick up, which means you need to keep both your hard and soft skills razor-sharp if you’re going to make it in the future.

Fortunately, there are tons of resources to help, including a wide range of free online courses that can help you stay current. Sites like Coursera, Udemy, and edX all offer a robust list of free courses, many sourced from top colleges and universities (including Ivy League schools, if you think that matters). These courses are entirely online and can usually be taken at your own pace, and they include skills that just about everyone is going to need in the coming years, no matter your profession.

Take this free course for logistics and project management

Anyone who’s worked professionally in the last few years knows that just about everyone is expected to be a bit of a project manager. And mastering logistics and project management skills doesn’t just benefit you professionally — our personal lives are also getting more chaotic by the minute, and remote work means we’re juggling everything from morning meetings to afternoon laundry all on the same schedule.

To get on top of everything, a course like “Introduction to Project Management” at The University of Adelaide is ideal. One hundred per cent free, this course will give you the fundamentals of project management and teach you how to apply them in both your work and personal life. This includes how to prioritise, how to figure out the scope of any project, and how to work out manageable schedules and realistic costs.

Take this free class for problem solving and decision making

Managers love people who can solve problems on their own. Being a problem solver requires confidence and the ability to be decisive — but it has to be coupled with experience and understanding. On the flip side, the feeling that you’re under-qualified and making terrible decisions constantly is universal.

A free online course that can help you is “Effective Problem-Solving and Decision-Making.” This course will help you to develop critical thinking skills, which are the foundation of problem-solving. It will also train you to identify the mental roadblocks that can cause decision paralysis, risk analysis, and other skills useful in assessing problems and developing solutions.

Take this free class for programming and computer science

You don’t necessarily need to be an expert computer programmer who can whip up an app over your lunch hour, but increasingly you do need to understand the fundamentals of how these tools are conceptualized, developed, and deployed — if only because you’re increasingly likely to interact with a development team at some point.

A solid introduction to computer science will give you a great foundation for the future we’re all already living in. Harvard University’s “Introduction to Computer Science” is a great choice. It offers an overview of both the conceptual skills involved (including algorithmic thinking, abstraction, data structures, software engineering, and web development), along with a dip of the toe into practical skills like programming languages and development platforms. After this course, you’ll be able to follow along when folks begin discussing resources necessary to develop software tools.

Take this free course for mindfulness and happiness

You should never underestimate the importance of soft skills, and one of the most crucial is your own mental health and happiness. This has become even more vital as more of us find ourselves working, sleeping, and living in the same constrained space all the time. It’s easy to contract Space Madness when you never leave your apartment (or put on pants).

Happiness and mindfulness aren’t lucky accidents — there’s a science behind them. The University of California, Berkeley offers “The Science of Happiness,” which will educate you in Positive Psychology, an emerging concept that will teach you practical strategies for nurturing psychological and emotional well-being. In an increasingly remote world, ensuring your mental and emotional health will be more important than ever.

Take this free course for machine learning

If you can’t beat them, join them. We’re not exactly at Skynet levels yet, but it’s estimated that in the next few years, automation driven by artificial intelligence will eliminate as many as 85 million jobs.

There’s no clearer sign that skills aligned with AI and machine learning will be absolutely essential to everyone’s professional and personal future. After all, chances are that we’ll all have to interact with AI in some way.

Stanford University offers “Machine Learning,” a broad introduction to the field that will give you a solid understanding of data mining, pattern recognition, the different ways AI can learn, and best practices. As machines become smarter and AI tools more prevalent, we all have no choice but to become smarter as well — if only to keep up.

These courses are all free in terms of money, but you will have to invest your most valuable resource — your time. If you want to stay afloat in the uncertain future, though, the benefits are well worth it.

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