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BY Jill L. Ferguson

7 Types of Online Classes You Can Take to Advance Your Career

By Jill L. Ferguson

online course

Photo credit: Pixabay

 A few years ago, you couldn’t open a newspaper or listen to NPR without hearing about online classes, or more specifically, about Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs).

Universities around the world, from the Ivy Leagues to community colleges, created online classes that are available to anyone who wants to enroll and do the work free from traditional classroom restraints. Cathy Davidson, of the City University of New York, claims that the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory at CUNY taught the first-ever MOOC — well before the acronym was invented — during the 2006-2007 school year, with more than 100,000 students.

MOOCs can generally be audited for free online, or they can be taken for credit by paying a fee. And online classes can be taken in anything and everything, from how to better understand your household pets to how to become a vegetarian or vegan to subject matter that you studied while obtaining your MBA.

But let’s face it — taking a class online is only helpful for career advancement when you can demonstrate to your employer how the knowledge or skills obtained in the course could apply to your job. So this month, we've divided the following online courses into the seven essential categories that could help you advance your career.

1) Understanding People and Hiring

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business offers a wealth of courses in business fields and beyond. Their “People Analytics” online class can teach you the secrets to recruiting and hiring the best employees by learning how to analyze soft skills data in candidates.

Or you could take Yale University’s “Introduction to Negotiation” to learn how to uncover people’s interests and persuade others with fair and valid arguments. (This may also come in handy when you’re asking for a raise.)

2) Marketing and Social Media

Marketing and social media are such key 21st century skills. Possible online programs to take in this area could include: University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business’ “Intro to Marketing,” “Northwestern University’s Social Media Marketing,” or a slew of advanced social media and SEO tactics from the professors (including Eric Enge, who wrote “The Art of SEO”) at the University of California, Davis.

Another option: Cornell University’s “Networks, Crowds, and Markets” class offers a generalized look at the tech world, our social circles, and our economy, helping you to understand the ties between them in a way you can use to your advantage.

3) Finance and Economics

If you want to get in-depth into the world of corporate finance, UPenn offers “Introduction to Corporate Finance,” where you’ll learn all about risk-return tradeoff, the cost of capital, interest rates, and more.

Or you might consider working towards a certificate (bachelor and masters level) in accountancy at National University. Joseph Hoey, associate provost at National University, said his nonprofit “has been providing meaningful, market-relevant programs to adult learners since its founding in 1971. The graduate certificates in accountancy and project management are geared towards working adults looking for career advancement in high demand areas.”  

4) Stronger Computer Skills

And because you can never rock too many computer skills, Brown University Professor Philip N. Klein’s offers a MOOC called “Coding the Matrix: Linear Algebra through Computer Science Applications” that will help you tap into your inner nerd.

Or if that sounds a bit too advanced, Coursera has dozens of courses that fit the categories of mobile and web development, algorithms, computer security and networks, or design and products that are taught by instructors from universities around the globe.

5) Data Science

Data science has become a crucial part of many jobs. Microsoft offers a professional program certificate in the discipline. Courses in data science include understanding statistics and probability, as well as machine learning and data analysis. If doing a whole online degree program seems like too much of a time commitment, you can also learn how statistics play a central role in data science approaches through Columbia University’s “Statistical Thinking for Data Science and Analytics.”

6) Project Management

The University of Adelaide (in Australia) offers a six-week “Introduction to Project Management” online class taught by five instructors. Or if you want to go more in-depth, National University’s School of Engineering and Computing offers both a bachelor and masters certificate in project management, too. The graduate degree program includes five core courses on subjects like risks, contracts and legal issues, and project financial management.

7) Foreign Language

In today’s increasingly globalized (and competitive) society, knowing another language could be the difference that sets apart you from a pool of otherwise equally qualified candidates. The foreign language online program at Oregon State University, as an example, incorporates of-the-moment technology and interaction with live speakers to help you learn one of several new languages, including Chinese and American Sign Language, and you could even get a bachelor degree in Spanish, French, or German.

However, when looking at your online education options for foreign language programs specifically, be aware there are plenty of shady for-profit “universities” out there that would love to take your money. When choosing an online college (or online program through a brick-and-mortar school), make sure the institution is accredited, uses a legitimate faculty, and has distance learning support services. Otherwise, you may just be better off on Rosetta Stone.

And now… the fun stuff!

Isaac Asimov called self education “the only kind of education there is.” After all, we’re students of life, are we not? Here a few fun online degree programs and classes that may have less of a direct impact on your career, but could be worth exploring nonetheless. Because pursuing new knowledge still adds to our overall higher education, yes?

  • “Understanding Memory: Explaining the Psychology of Memory Through Movies”: Hosted by Wesleyan University, the class’s instructor, Professor of Psychology Emeritus John Seamon, recently published a book of similar name exploring the human memory as illustrated by cinema. This five-week online class is a deeper dive.
  • “Game Theory”: If you’ve ever seen “A Beautiful Mind,” you have at least a little familiarity with this mathematical concept. Students will learn about more than just classic strategic games, like chess and poker. This online course, taught in partnership by instructors at Stanford and The University of British Columbia, also studies “conflict among nations, political campaigns, competition among firms, and trading behavior in markets such as the NYSE.”
  • “Photographer Basics and Beyond: From Smartphone to DSLR”: Fancy yourself to be a selfie or Instagram wiz? Learn how to take your smartphone snaps to the next level with this introductory photography course led by Michigan State University.
  • “Wine Tasting: Sensory Techniques for Wine Analysis”: We wish this one was offered as a master degree! Learn all there is to know about wine (and culminate your new knowledge by hosting your own wine tasting!) through this online class offered by the University of California Davis’ John Buechsenstein, member of the college’s Wine Appreciation Faculty. (That’s a thing. We’re serious.)
  • “Demystifying Mindfulness”: This free online class, hosted by Universiteit Leiden in The Netherlands and taught in English, is like the Headspace meditation app times 10. Learn about the history, psychology behind, and execution of mindful living, and prepare to dispel anxiety from your work day.

Of course, the classes mentioned above are only a select handful of the bounty of online education options the Internet offers, and they’re all just one click away. So, what are you waiting for? Help advance your career (or just learn some cool new things) by enrolling in an on-line course today.

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Former professor Jill L. Ferguson is an award-winning author of seven books, including co-author of Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money at Work, and thousands of published articles. She is also an artist, business and higher education consultant, entrepreneur and founder of Women's Wellness Weekends

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