Online learning is more accessible than ever and can help you get ahead in your career, find freelance side hustles or start a new job altogether.
There’s no time like this unprecedented present to upgrade your knowledge base, sharpen your proficiency level or gain experience in a totally new field.
Here’s our selection of the best picks from the plentiful — and affordable — offerings online.
The best online certification programs to take in 2020
1. Best free online course: SMstudy Digital Marketing Associate Certification
If you want to survive in business today, you’d better have a strong digital marketing strategy. This roughly two-and-a-half-hour course, delivered through a series of 28 videos, covers the history of this field, marketing activities through the use of electronic devices, managing websites and mobile apps, promoting a company’s products and services through online channels that meet marketing objectives and more.
2. Best for Spanish: Business Spanish Certificate
If you want to learn Spanish fast, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Continuing Studies program has the class for you. Offered twice a year, this class is geared toward business professionals who need hands-on skills for their current posts, those wishing to expand their career prospects or pursue roles in international business, or undergraduates readying themselves for a competitive global market. The course takes one year to complete, with a curriculum in two parts delivered via video conference. Subjects covered include writing professional emails, scheduling face-to-face meetings, cultural differences in job searches, common vocabulary in professional settings and more.
Raring to start a website from scratch? For anyone interested in creating rich, multiplatform apps and websites, this course, delivered online by a senior software engineer for Nordstrom, is perfect. You’ll be able to code hyperlinks and basic animations, do simple styling with CSS and learn design principles tailored to how sites interact with devices like tablets, smartphones, cameras and GPS units.
4. Best for machine learning: Certificate in Machine Learning, University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education
Artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay. Take a deep dive with this eight-month, three-course certificate program about teaching machines to teach themselves. Perfect for software programmers, statisticians, experienced applied mathematicians and data scientists, the curriculum includes coverage of TensorFlow (an open-source software library used by big tech giants like Google, Snapchat and Twitter), learning models for tasks like forecasting and predicting, and advanced machine learning applications.
5. Best for real estate: Commercial Real Estate Certificate, Cornell University
This platform is the place to be if you’re a professional with financial or operational responsibility for real estate, investments or financing, or if you’re interested in working for real estate funds, REITs, real estate developers or real estate advisory firms. You’ll learn how to plan a feasible development project, create a real estate development project, schedule, budget and process for managing risks and resources, structure private equity and debt financing and more, all in just three months. Topics include an overview of the development process, project planning and management, investment and financing decisions, property valuation, property management and the cycle of tenancy and real estate asset management.
6. Best for interior design: Designer Society of America Residential Interior Design Qualification Certification (RIDQC), New York Institute of Art & Design
This course is expressly designed for those who wish to start their own business or take their passion to the next level. Delivered through videos, expert lessons and design projects, this course covers the principles of color theory, furniture styles and fabrics, lighting, floor and wall treatments, drawing a floorplan, measuring and drafting, working with clients and portfolio development.
7. Best for photography: Photography and Video Certificate, Pratt Institute
If you’ve got an eye for taking pictures and want to become more proficient or go pro, this series of courses will help you master your skills. Classes include Video Editing, Fashion Video Production, Introduction to Photoshop and Photographic Lighting.
8. Best for social media: Fundamentals of Social Media Marketing Certificate, University of Delaware Professional and Continuing Studies
Every brand must have a social-media strategy to survive. In this eight week course, students learn best practices, monitoring, listening, engagement, content curation, campaign planning and execution, and tools and resources for measuring results on platforms like Pinterest, YouTube and Facebook. To take the newfound knowledge into the real world, students conduct a project for a real organization.
9. Best for data science: Data Analytics Certificate, Cornell University
Don’t be intimidated by the words “big data.” This course is aimed at those gathering data, analyzing it to make recommendations and seeking to gain functional literacy in critical business analytics. It’s broken into three courses (Understanding and Visualizing Data, Implementing Scientific Decision Making and Using Predictive Data Analysis) and offers career path-oriented courses focused on this interdisciplinary, high-paying field.
10. Best for general business skills: Business Foundations Specialization Certificate, Wharton
Before you can become the next big thing in business, you’ll need to hone certain fundamental skills. Delivered in five courses spanning four to six weeks each, this program is ideal for business students, small business owners, midlevel managers and career changers. The courses include marketing, accounting, managing social and human capital, corporate finance, operations and a business foundations capstone project, through which students prepare a strategic analysis and proposed solution to a business challenge for their company or organization.
The best general online courses to take in 2020
1. Best for Excel: Everyday Excel Part I, Coursera
If Excel is something that scares you, this course can help you conquer your fear of the popular spreadsheet program. Aimed at beginners, in just 24 hours you’ll be able to explore the program, tackle data management tasks, develop column charts, pie charts, edit worksheets, columns and rows, and format cells. The instructor, Charlie Nuttelman, hails from the University of Colorado Boulder and teaches multiple courses on the platform.
2. Best for writing: How to Succeed at Writing Applications, FutureLearn
Whether it’s college admissions or a new job you’re trying to score, there is an art to successfully writing applications. This free, three-week course is delivered by the University of Sheffield career office, and the lessons concentrate on helping you excel at creating résumés, cover letters and personal statements. Employers and admissions tutors also weigh in on what they’re looking for when reviewing these documents.
3. Best for French: Elementary French, Carnegie Mellon University Online Learning Initiative
If the closest you get to speaking French is ordering a croissant, try this beginner class. High-quality video lessons cover the language’s origin and personality. Students study dialogue and grammar in categories like family, home, work, meals, restaurants and shopping.
4. Best for English: English for Career Development, Coursera
Non-native English speakers can increase their job prospects with this 40-hour course created by the University of Pennsylvania. The syllabus does a deep dive into the job search, application and interview processes while building vocabulary language skills to meet professional goals. It will also provide steps to produce a professional-looking résumé and cover letter. This valuable course is free of charge, funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of English Language Programs.
5. Best for accounting: Financial Accounting Made Fun: Eliminating Your Fears, edX
If tax returns seem like a foreign language to you, or you actually avoid accounting concepts and activities, try this free, four-week course. Learn to interpret financial statements, make better operating decisions, evaluate business performance and forecast profits and cash flow.
6. Best for digital marketing: Digital Marketing Course: NYC, GeneralAssembly
According to this education platform, 3.2 billion people frequent social media, and e-commerce sales are expected to reach $4.5 trillion by 2021. This entry-level course is designed for junior marketers and those interested in exploring a business-tech career. It’s also ideal for designers, copywriters and sales folks seeking to collaborate better with their marketing counterparts. Subject matter covers channels and tactics behind effective campaigns and concludes with a real-world capstone portfolio project. For the $3,950 fee, you’ll receive over 40 hours of instruction, feedback and guidance and a certificate of completion.
7. Best for graphic design: Illustrator-Basic, Goskills
Professional designers worldwide use Adobe Illustrator for digital graphics, illustrations and typography. If you want to break into this field, or simply take your at-home and personal work to the next level, give this beginner-friendly class a try. Its 41 video tutorials cover the fundamentals, and its instructor is an art director and designer with experience working for Nickelodeon, Major League Baseball, Spike TV and more.
8. Best for typing: Touch Typing Mastery, Udemy
Are you a one-fingered, hunt-and-peck typer? Have you always want to quicken your ability at this lifetime skill? Quick, accurate typing is a valued job skill and can improve your efficiency and time management. This course includes 12 lessons plus practice lesson notes, and with persistence, you’ll be able to type rapidly and typo-free without looking at the keyboard.
9. Best for Python: Programming for Everybody: Getting Started with Python, Coursera
Not the reptile, but one of the hottest computer programming languages today. This course covers the basics of constructing a program in Python, requires no prerequisites and prepares students for advanced learning in this language. The class, taught by a professor from the University of Michigan, takes roughly 19 hours to complete.
10. Best for learning from a pro: Gordon Ramsay teaches Restaurant Recipes at Home, MasterClass
Want to impress at your next dinner party? With this course, Ramsay will take you through a number of recipes, with premises such as the demystifying of cooking fish and the science of soufflé. Across this streaming platform, you’ll find myriad expert lesson series, from famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, magicians Penn and Teller and baller Stephen Curry. Video lessons (roughly 26 per course) lasting 10 minutes on average make up the more than 85 lessons which are available here, with subjects from business and acting to music and sports. Course delivery comes through ROKU, smartphone, PC, AppleTV and other streaming media players. Annual membership is $180, which grants unlimited access to existing and newly launched selections.