Studying from home has, for years, been a reliable and easily-accessible strategy for those seeking to learn new skills. Whether it’s to level-up at a beloved company, switch to a team with a new focus, or rebrand yourself completely, growing your personal technical skill toolbox is an excellent way to stay confident and motivated throughout your career—and all of the twists and turns it may take.
But what if you don’t know where to start? If you’re at a crossroads with where you’ll take your career next, committing to a long-term investment in your future can seem like a daunting task. Plus, if you’ve never studied online before, you’ll likely find yourself searching for additional resources in terms of structure and guidance.
Enrolling in a free online course—one that you can start and finish in the comfort of your home, without even leaving the couch—is a great place to start while figuring out your next career move.
3 Key Components of a Free Online Course
What makes a free online course stand out? There are three key components that all free online courses should contain in order to deliver the best outcomes to students.
- A structured approach to online learning. Even the most straightforward online courses should offer a structured learning path that will guide students through a step-by-step process. It’s important to maintain a proper layout of concepts that won’t make students feel overwhelmed while keeping them engaged and attentive through clearly-defined benchmarks and organized sections based on difficulty.
- Diverse, hands-on content that keeps students engaged. The bread and butter of any free online course will be in its content: there’s a lot of thinking that goes into creating a workflow of material that provides valuable insights without being overwhelming or repetitive. In order to achieve this, course materials need to tailor to different methods of learning. A successful online course will incorporate a few different kinds of multimedia such as video, images, graphs, and text-based materials and written resources from thought leaders in the space. For example, if you’re an aspiring data analyst looking to learn SQL and Excel, a beginner-level online course should showcase this type of learning by providing hands-on experience through guided real-life exercises.
- Good technology and straightforward navigation that promotes focus. The last thing any student wants to grapple with is glitchy software. Free online courses should be easy to navigate, accessible, and available to run on both desktop and mobile devices.
4 Tips on Getting the Most Out of a Free Online Course
Picking a free online course is the easy part. Getting started can often feel daunting, especially if you’ve never studied online before. The good news is that studying online successfully relies on many of the same principles as studying in a classroom setting.
Here are a few key steps to help you stay focused as you begin studying online.
- Make a schedule and set calendar reminders to study. Just like you might already be doing for work, you can make the day seem a lot less daunting by breaking it up into smaller, focused chunks. Go through your calendar at the beginning of each week and block off hourly slots for when you’ll be taking lessons, studying, or taking diagnostics or progress tests. This way, you’ll be able to keep yourself accountable and let others know you’re busy so they can be mindful of your time and you can avoid accidentally double-booking yourself.
- Emphasize hands-on learning: complete activities and practice while you study theoretical concepts. The best way to absorb complex topics is by completing tasks that will put those topics to work. For example, if you’re studying data analytics or learning SQL, the best way you can learn is by studying real data sets and manipulating those numbers. By doing related activities, you’re also subconsciously testing yourself and your memory to see if you’ve really learned a concept or if you need another refresher.
- Get away from the screen: try taking notes on paper to shift your focus productively. If you’re tired from looking at a screen (let’s face it, we should all be working to minimize our screen time anyway) try taking some notes using pen and paper as you learn. This is a great way by breaking up what you’re looking at, as well as engaging in active listening when you’re watching videos or reading longer-form texts that are information-heavy.
- Create accountability by studying with a friend or getting a mentor. Embarking on an online learning journey is a serious commitment. Make it a bit easier on yourself by creating a system with a friend or mentor that will ensure you stay on track. Set up weekly check-in meetings to keep yourself productive and set goals to work on that are targeted. For example, all Springboard students completing a Career Track program are matched with their own personal mentor, who is available to answer questions and discuss course outcomes during weekly one-on-one sessions.
Springboard Offers 4 Free Online Courses For In-Demand Skills
Whether you’re a designer looking to add a technical edge to your creative skill set, want to give your digital marketing skills a boost, or want to learn more about data analytics, Springboard has put together four quick, introductory-level courses.
- Intro to Python for Data Science. Get your foundational data science skills locked down through this course by working through a real-world case study that uses real data sets. If you have some experience programming in Python, this self-paced course will build your skillset using libraries such as pandas for data science work. After installing a fully featured distribution of Python, you'll learn key aspects of Jupyter notebooks and pandas before tackling a realistic business problem with a real-life data set. Start learning now!
- Intro to User Experience Design. If you’re looking to bring your artistic skills with strategic thinking, this course will give you the opportunity to bring creative design work together with problem-solving, all while focusing on the end-user. The Intro to User Experience Design will teach you the basics of UX design through hands-on projects that will teach skills like research, ideation and sketching, and basic wireframing concepts. You’ll also get some insight into what life as a UX designer is like on a day-to-day basis. Start learning now!
- Intro to Business Analytics. In this course, you’ll build foundational business analytics skills by working through a real-life business case. The learning is structured to take you through a typical day in the life of a business analyst at one of the most renowned tech companies: Airbnb. As you study, you’ll download and work with a real data set, learning about statistics, data wrangling, modeling, data visualizations, and how to make business presentations. Start learning now!
- Intro to Search Marketing. Interested in beefing up your digital marketing skills as e-commerce continues to grow? Our Intro to Search Marketing course provides you with the basics of search engine optimization and marketing: SEO and SEM. Upon completing the course, you’ll understand basic marketing strategies like creating buyer personas and writing compelling value propositions for your company or brand. Some of the more technical skills will include conducting keyword research, and identifying link building opportunities. Finally, the course will provide you with an introduction to writing compelling ad copy for GoogleAds. Start learning now!
The good news? All of our online courses are completely free—and your access will never expire! So you can easily enroll and learn at your own pace as you go. Or, if you’re feeling super motivated on a rainy Sunday stuck indoors, feel free to take a stab at them all.
If you’re ready to take on a bigger commitment in terms of your career, you’ve come to the right place. Springboard’s Career Tracks prepare students like you for today’s careers with skills that last a lifetime. We’ve spent years perfecting our fully online model to meet our students’ needs for a program that lets them learn entirely from home.
We offer online courses in UI/UX design, data science, data analytics, software engineering, and machine learning—all with our one-of-a-kind job guarantee. Each student gets a 6-month runway to secure a role in their industry: if you don't, you’ll get 100% of your tuition back.
All of our courses are self-paced throughout an average of 6-9 months, and every student is matched with a personal student advisor and industry mentor who guides them throughout the program through weekly video calls. Before graduation, our career services team supports the students in their job search, helps prepare them for interviews and networking and facilitates their transition in the tech industry.