The best free online courses for IT-professionals as a quarantine passtime, or for whenever

Presented by Sennheiser

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At the time of writing, the first few weeks of Covid-19 lockdown have gone by for a large part of the workforce. Slowly, financial uncertainty can start to mix with boredom – a strange combination that is new to most of us.

We sincerely hope that you are not negatively impacted by the crisis. But realistically, some of you will be feeling its effects as companies let employees go or opt for shorter hours.

And while the prospects for IT-professionals will most likely not get too bleak, it is wise to use this downtime for education and further training. Maybe there is a field you have been interested in for a long time, but never managed to dive into, given your busy schedule and ever-urgent project deadlines?

Or maybe you’ve even considered making a substantial career shift? Either way, we’ve collected some of the most popular and reputable education programs for IT-professionals. The best part: they’re free!

How to find the right online course for your quarantine

When it comes to free resources online, there really is no shortage of options! Basically, online courses for IT-professionals fall into one of three groups:

  • Courses by reputable universities that are made available to the public online. These may include coursework and might offer the option of obtaining a certificate at the end of the course.
  • Courses by private companies, created as part of their marketing or branding strategy and to support people in their network. These can provide amazing value and will often be more product specific and tackle topics in-depth in which the company is a thought-leader.
  • Courses on platforms that collect their material from different sources and offer free trials or free audits (course without accreditation) and usually offer certification for an additional fee.

Naturally, our selection below contains some of the most popular choices from each of those categories. But here two things to consider when diving into free trainings:

  • Accreditation: Many of the courses offer optional accreditation, which usually involves paying a fee of varying cost. However, some institutes offer entirely free courses and free certificates. Make sure to check before signing up.
  • Reputation: If you want to complete a course to venture out into a new career or argue for a raise, the reputation of whoever offers the course matters. If you’re simply looking to broaden your horizon and take a course out of personal interest, reputation might be secondary.

The most important step: Define your goals and objectives

In order not to get lost in the jungle of amazing online training offers, define your goals first. Sure, let the platforms and institutes inspire you, maybe even find a course you didn’t even know existed! But don’t waste time on education that doesn’t benefit you later.

Honestly, there's pretty much any course out there you could wish for. Be very specific about what you want to get out of it first, shop around after.

Get into the swing of working from home – two courses to start off with

Just in case you’re new to this whole home office thing, you might want to get some info on how to stay productive at home.

LinkedIn training on working remotely (Link)

LinkedIn offers a great free course on remote work. It covers videos on productivity, the mental adjustment to working from home and how to manage remote teams, as well as a deep dive into tools like Zoom and Skype.

University of California on learning how to learn (Link)

This course can be found on the platform Class Central. Auditing the course is free, but the certificate costs money. Within four weeks, you will learn “memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.”

The best platforms for free online learning

Starting off, here are some super popular online platforms offering courses for IT-professionals. The advantage of these platforms in general is their usability. In comparison, the sites from MIT or Stanford might seem a bit… old school.

The downside is the cost. The service of collecting all these courses for you to take has to be financed somehow. However, many sites offer free trials and free audits. See details below.

Coursera (Link)

The platform offers courses from 147 different institutions. These include universities, like Harvard, Penn or Stanford, or companies, like IBM and Microsoft. You can audit most of the courses for free, but some do require you to pay. Also, accreditation costs money.

Some of the sections include data science, computer science and IT, but also business and economics. So, you’ll most probably find what you’re looking for here! You can earn an entire degree or take a smaller course, for instance the Sound and Music Engineering Course by the University of Rochester, or a course on Digital Transformation. Or, you can learn how to reason and argue, with the Think Again course by Duke University – if you’re most interested in working on your soft skills.

Codecademy (Link)

This platform has a narrower target group: programmers. If you’re not interested in coding, you can happily skip this section. The free account includes all courses and certifications. With a pro account (free trial available), users get access to additional training, peer-to-peer learning and projects as well career and skill paths (basically a suggestion of courses that go well together for a certain goal).

As the name suggests, this is the place to learn programming and markup languages. No matter what language you’re interested in, Codecademy will likely have at least an introductory course for it. And if you’re good at sticking to your own schedule, and know exactly what you want to learn, you might get very far with the free membership.

Additionally, the site offers a free scholarship for people affected negatively by the Covid-19 crisis.

Udacity (Link)

Normally, you don’t get very far on Udacity without hitting a paywall. However, the platform launched a “Quarantine Special”, offering anyone a free membership for the first 30 days. This isn’t enough time for most courses under normal circumstances. But if you suddenly have loads of free time on your hands, you might just be able to power through one of the courses in time.

The course categories include data science, programming cloud computing and artificial intelligence. If you’re more interested in business topics, the online marketing courses might be for you. What differentiates this site from others is the job-focus and real-life projects. Depending on how you like to learn, this very practical approach might be for you.

Alison (Link)

Alison offers free courses across IT, science, business, lifestyle and many more categories. The courses are not, like on coursera, taken from other institutions, but developed natively for the platform.

Alison follows industry standards in their courses and offers diplomas and certificates. However, the reputation of Alison isn’t built up to the same standard as other organizations just yet. Therefore, we would recommend using their service either for specific topics that you cannot find elsewhere, or to deepen your knowledge out of personal interest (without needing a reputable accreditation source).

Courses by top universities online

Isn’t it fascinating that you can earn an entire degree online, and from an Ivy League University at that? Some of the courses offered online mirror the content that is taught on premise 1:1.

Essentially, the difference between taking a course directly through the online learning platform run by the university and taking it on Coursera are thoroughness and usability. Coursera and other platforms offer great usability and tend to cut the courses into more bite-sized sections. Whereas the university platforms require a great degree of self-management and intrinsic motivation to learn.

We’d recommend checking out the following online programs from the most reputable universities in the world if you’re dedicated to learn:

Free courses by large tech companies

The third and final category are courses offered by private companies and organizations. There are a couple of good reasons why you might want to take these types of courses:

  • You’re interested in working with a certain type of technology in the future, for instance because it would make you more valuable to your current employer, or because it would open new career possibilities elsewhere.
  • You’re already working with certain programs (e.g. Microsoft Power BI) and want to deepen your knowledge to become more successful at it.
  • The courses are broad enough to cover a topic of general interest (e.g. machine learning, as presented in this course by Google) and you’d like to take advantage of the free and usually well put together information.

These companies offer interesting trainings for IT-professionals:

Microsoft Virtual Academy

The Online-Learning platform offers individual modules or entire learning paths. Dive into Microsoft Azure, SQL Server, Visual Study or other topics and become a certified Microsoft expert. If you end up finding the online paths a bit hard to get though, Microsoft even offers classroom training through their partner network (these, however, aren’t free).

Google Data and Tech courses

Google's online learning opportunities are vast. You’re not limited to Google applications, but can dive into courses on Python, machine learning and more. Other courses, like the BigQuery course revolve around Google’s own products. Thus, you find a great mix here and can be sure to get some of the most user friendly coursework out there.

LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn offers many shorter courses through its learning platform, which can be completed in just an afternoon. The platform isn’t free, but offers a 30-day trial. How about taking some courses on IT project management, for instance?

Final words and bonus course ideas

Increasingly, we start hearing voices discussing the mental health effects of social isolation and quarantine. Having to limit social interactions, spending weeks within one’s own (often tiny) living quarters – it’s not like that doesn’t weigh on us humans.

So, don’t take quarantine as an obligation to become smarter, better, faster. Sure, give yourself a head-start for the post-corona economy, but try to have some fun as well. For instance, TED offers bite-sized classes on anything and everything. Like this small class: Which is stronger: glue or tape?

Or how about broadening your horizon with courses on happiness or zen buddhism? Maybe not directly applicable to a career in tech, but potentially life-changing nonetheless. Stay safe and stay healthy out there!

Last but not least: Sennheiser Trainings

Sennheiser just announced a series of webinars for their customers, partners, and everyone else free of charge. You can learn about a wide range of topics, from RF and microphone basics, to roundtable discussions with sound engineers, as well as a chance to put your questions to our application engineering team.

Want to know how to help your company to emerge from the crisis stronger than ever, and with a head start? Visit the Sennheiser webinars to find out how easily SpeechLine Digital Wireless can be integrated into your network infrastructure or how the ceiling microphone TeamConnect Ceiling 2 creates a meeting atmosphere that renders expensive business trips unnecessary. More information and links to a variety of different webinars can be found here.

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