Even if your present job seems relatively secure, and you are enjoying your work, it’s always a good idea to think about alternatives. Circumstances change, in ways that can’t always be predicted – after all, who could have foreseen the Covid-19 pandemic? Career progression is not assured – your comfortable niche could turn out to be a rut. And if you are feeling bored or frustrated with life under lockdown, a free online course is a great way to achieve a sense of purpose and to start thinking positively about your future.
Assessing your skills, and considering how they could be developed for use in a different context, is an exercise that can be of great benefit. Fortunately, you don’t have to do this alone; there is help to be found in the form of online career development.
A good place to start is with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These free online courses, available internationally, are a great way to learn new skills and advance your career. A MOOC is an online learning platform, usually offered by a well-established university. Although they have been around for less than ten years, they are already hugely popular; in the last three years, over 25 million people from all around the world have enrolled. Instead of attending lectures and seminars, students complete the course using materials and resources posted online. Courses can have thousands of students, and interaction between then is a key part of the learning experience, with online forums and discussion boards creating a lively online learning community.
MOOCs are available in a very wide range of subjects; everything from quantum computing to the science of brewing can be found online. Courses with immediate relevance to career development include project management and marketing analytics.
Most MOOCs don’t lead to qualifications, but there are a few that do (usually with a fee for the certification process). One way you can really score with a MOOC, though, is by demonstrating your commitment to learning and acquiring new skills, whether you are applying for a promotion within the company for which you already work, or are trying for a new job at a different company. If you are making a change in your field of work, a MOOC can help you to acquire some of the fundamental knowledge you’ll need at the interview, such as the language and jargon used in the organisation.
MOOCs are not without drawbacks; the drop-out rate is high, perhaps because students don’t get one-to-one tuition, so need to provide their own motivation. But recent research by Harvard Business School showed that of those who completed courses, 72% reported career benefits and 61% educational benefits. A third of respondents who described themselves as ‘career builders’ said they has achieved a positive outcome such as finding a new job or starting their own business.
Another route to online learning is via the Open University. This well-established organisation specialises in providing distance learning at undergraduate and postgraduate level, but also provides free online courses via their OpenLearn programme. Around 1,500 people study with the OU across Ireland.
A good example is the OpenLearn free course in Business Communication. Designed to help you develop your business writing skills, this eight-hour course takes you step-by-step through the process of writing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), with advice on selecting key information from a case study text, making concise notes, choosing an appropriate structure and using language effectively.
OpenLearn course range in length from a couple of hours to 24 hours or more. On completion, for some of them you will receive an Open University digital badge which can be displayed, shared and downloaded as a marker of your achievement.