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Building skills through online learning

Online learning has been around for some time, arguably since the world wide web was created, as we had access to all sorts of new information and could educate ourselves. However, the reliability of this information could not always be trusted, and many people would apply a healthy dose of scepticism to anyone who acquired information and education through online means. This over the years changed as more and more online education platforms appeared and, in some cases, aligned themselves with bricks and mortar institutions for credibility. However, just like many areas in life that have changed due to the pandemic, online learning has gained a stronger foothold in the education industry, with many schools and colleges having to change to an online approach to continue to reach their students. 

Not every subject is going to be suited to being taught over the internet but in areas like coding and IT, practical skills like cooking and writing, media skills like design and photography, business skills like marketing and sales and so many more, online is a legitimate and in some cases a superior way of acquiring new skills compared to the somewhat restrictive methods of schools and universities. It can be hard to know where to begin with so many options out there, and there are many ways that platforms will present their classes, so doing research and asking yourself what exactly it is that you want to achieve will go some way in helping you find the right platform, right course, and right skills that you want to develop. Below I will outline what to look out for and how to apply yourself to online learning for best results. 

  1. What do you want to learn?
  2. What site will you learn from?
  3. What exactly do you hope to achieve on completion?
  4. How to gain that new skill?
What do you want to learn?

So, you have decided to take an online course to learn a new skill. So where to start? Picking a topic is the logical place as this will help with the next step, choosing where to learn. 

Are you learning a new skill to upskill in your career? Many companies are now allowing their employees time to enhance or learn a new skill to keep pace with changes in the industry or new methods of doing business. For example, with digital marketing. Many marketers who have been working in the industry for decades have had to learn how to develop their skill set for online using social media platforms and SEOs, as the overwhelming majority of marketing takes place here now. So online learning is perfectly suited for upskilling a current career. 

Or maybe you are self employed and want to try and get your business to grow by learning more skills. This can be anything from the aforementioned marketing to web development to create a website or design to create your own brand. Learning these skills for yourself means that you can save costs and also have new skills to add to a resume should you need to change careers. 

Or perhaps you want to learn for pleasure. You recently purchased a new camera and want to learn how to use it. Or you are worried about your health and your family’s health, so you want to learn about personal nutrition. Online skills are not just about developing careers or businesses but are also for personal growth and enjoyment. Many people take multiple courses simply for the joy of learning!

What site will you learn from?

When you have chosen what you want to learn it is then time to find somewhere to learn from. And there is no shortage of options! There are thousands of online education companies and sites out there, so much so that it can be off putting for a beginner. However, it can be quickly narrowed down based on what subject you have chosen, what qualification you want (if any) upon completion and how the classes and homework is presented. 

Many companies will specialise in one subject area and associated subjects. For example, a site that teaches coding will likely teach all relevant coding languages, but nothing related to design or marketing etc. This does not necessarily mean that they are the best site to learn coding from but likely it means that the course structures and even course tutors are going to be the same as you move from subject to subject, in short there will be more consistency. 

Other companies will take an approach that covers a huge range of topics that are broken into different facilities. This can be great in that you can be learning about one subject and hear about another that will help develop your skill set even further and choose to study that as well. However, it can be frustrating if you only had one subject that you want to learn, and there may not always be consistency in educators moving from course to course. 

And on that topic, educators are also vital to your experience and enjoyment on a course. A lot of companies will allow anyone to submit a course to their sites. These educators spend money to submit a course idea, and if approved can then create and upload it to the site and receive a cut from the number of students that apply to the course. The biggest issue here is that there is no guarantee that the person teaching is the best person for the role. It is recommended to choose a site where the educators are qualified, hired by the company and/or have years of experience in that industry/subject. You can be much more confident in an educator’s ability this way. 

The approach to teaching can vary slightly from site to site but is generally going to be through video presentations and slideshows. What does separate these presentations is the level of support that you are offered during and after a class. Some sites will leave it entirely up to the student, which may suit you, but it is unlikely that you will go through a course without any questions, so having a support option is a valuable bonus.

What exactly do you hope to achieve on completion?

This is an important question to ask yourself, as it will help to set your expectations from the course you are about to embark on. Most online courses will offer some type of cert on completion of a course, but the value of that cert varies dramatically from site to site. Even sites that have aligned themselves with major institutions do not offer the same level of certification that the bricks and mortar college will. And there is logic in that, you cannot expect to have the same level of qualification from spending 4 weeks on a course compared to someone that has studied for 4 years. That said, a qualification from an online course is still an asset to your personal and ongoing development. It largely depends on the subject and the length of time that is required to complete it. This time is not just from watching the video presentations but may also include assignments, essays and readings that must be also completed alongside the course. 

Now, the qualification may not matter to you at all. For example, if you are studying photography or a practical skill, it is unlikely that you will need a qualification, yet can be nice to have as an achievement, nonetheless. 

Regardless of what the qualification means to you, my advice is for anyone to focus on what you learn. That is the value of a course, not the piece of paper that you get at the end. It is the skills that you learn and can apply lesson after each lesson that matter and will help you to achieve your goals

How to gain that new skill?

So now that you have chosen your course, picked where you will learn and outlined your goals, how can you ensure that you achieve success? Remember, no matter where you decide to learn, the onus is on the student, not the teacher, to apply themselves to reach their goals.  

The first thing to do is to make time for yourself to complete the course. This can be easier said then done but the whole point of online learning is convenience. The excuse that ‘I don’t have the time’ is only going to impact you. All you need to do is make at least 2 hours a week available to be able to complete at least 2 lessons. This will vary depending on the length of the lessons, but you will also want time to complete any assignments and homework that is assigned. To make this time, it simply means rather than mindlessly watching Netflix or scrolling on social media, sit down and watch a lesson. You will find this more enjoyable and much more fulfilling than the former. 

It is also important to remember that binging lessons is not recommended. Whilst it is easy to do this with a TV show, education requires your full attention, and you will find that you quickly burnout watching too many lessons or that you forget half the information that you have just watched. So, pacing yourself is the way to ensure that you get the most from the course and from yourself.

Remember to do the assignments. Not all assignments will be necessary to complete to obtain a qualification but rather are a way to apply your newfound skills. This is especially important if you are studying anything practical. This way if you find that you are still struggling to apply your new skills you can rewatch a lesson or contact your course support. 

And on that point, do utilise the support that is available to you. This again will vary from course to course but likely will be someone that you can email that will point you in the right direction. With most courses there are also supplementary materials available, such as notes and references, that will expand upon points raised in each lesson. 

Don’t worry if you fall behind. It is not the end of the world. Life does get in the way sometimes and your attention will be elsewhere. It does not mean that you cannot return to a course and pick up where you left off. Education providers and educators want you to complete a course and benefit from it, it is in their interest as well, so will often do their best to either pause a course for you, extend your time or simply have the course available to you when you are ready to return.


I hope that the following has provided some insight into how to build skills online and now is the best time to do it. This way of learning is the future of education, and has only been accelerated by recent events, so there really isn’t a better time to learn something new, whether it is for professional or personal reasons. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain! 

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