Building Skills at Your Own Pace: Online Courses to Improve Your Career

Regardless of whether or not a course generates a paper document to hang on your wall, if it enhances your skills, it is undoubtedly worthwhile.  Some paid courses might give you a certificate of completion, for whatever that is worth, but you should know that some free courses do provide diplomas, too.

With this in mind, there are some rather distinct advantages to learning online, especially when you are also maintaining a full-time job.  Leading among them is the sheer convenience of learning within your own time allowances.  Night school (for example) can affect your work, disrupt your family, and even limit your social activities.

Online Courses - Woman at home computer

For instance, when working at your own pace, you’re free to decide that Tuesday and Wednesday will be your “school nights” with the rest of the week free.  However, if your daughter happens to have a recital scheduled, or your son has a school play on one of those days, you’re free to skip that particular night, or move it to a different day.  Catching up, or merely lengthening your schedule, is entirely up to you.

Here’s another valuable reason to consider online learning:  If you’re one of the many living in a location frequently affected by extreme weather conditions, you can still “get to school” if it is online, with no regard to the conditions between you and the school parking lot.

Furthermore, you’ll even save on gas driving to school, and reduce your carbon footprint; you’ll save on transit costs if you don’t drive; you’ll save the time and frustration of fighting traffic, and then finding and paying for a place to park, meals out, and even laundry (if you’re content to work at home in your pajamas).

The New Normal

Some believe that attending a brick and mortar school of any sort may be going the way of the Dodo.  It’s outrageously expensive and seriously inconvenient.  Unless there is practical work required (e.g., medical interns need to perform physical examinations, police scientists need to know how to take a fingerprint, etc.), then a significant portion of it is often just a social occasion.

Our society has evolved such that video can replace what was formerly direct interaction.  The very word “interactive” evolved because our technology pushed us apart from each other.

Once upon a time, everything was interactive; so much so that we didn’t have a word for it.  You went to a play, or you acted; you listened to live music or you performed; you learned how to dance, or you taught people to dance.  It was only in the late 20th century that we began to spend more time with our machines than with other humans.

We were numbly staring at computer screens, sending texts to someone in the next cubicle instead of talking to them.  Our devices became surrogate people.  Society has come around finally, and we’re starting to accept being interactive as normal again, albeit through our machines.

Just a taste

Here are a few online courses that could seriously alter your future career trajectory:

  1. Data Science A-Z™” (Udemy)
  2. Introduction to Computer Science” (Harvard)
  3. Competitive Strategy” (Coursera)
  4. High-Impact Business Writing” (Coursera)
  5. Writing for the Web” (OPEN2STUDY)
  6. Introduction to Programming in Java” (MIT)
  7. Introduction to C and C++” (MIT)
  8. HTML and CSS” (Codecademy — an excellent choice)
  9. Adobe Photoshop CS6 Essential Tools” (ALISON)
  10. Diploma in Social Media Marketing” (ALISON)
  11. Become a Networking Master” (The Muse)
  12. How to Start a Startup” (Stanford)
  13. Academic and Business Writing” (edX)
  14. Chinese Language: Learn Basic Mandarin” (edX)
  15. German Course for Beginners” (


Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, were invented in Canada in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island.  The objective of a MOOC is to engage with an unlimited number of people through the web where lectures, videos, problem sets, and discussion forums can be delivered to the widest possible audience.

Course materials are always available, on demand so that a genius could complete the course in days or weeks, and a traditional learner could take months or even years to obtain a Ph.D.  Colleges and universities are often “full” with no available space for new students.  This solves the problem.

Some charge fees, but places like MIT offer all of their courses online, for free, under the OCW (Open Course Work) badging.  People might see it as altruistic, but in truth, it is merely practical.  We haven’t enough graduates to fill all the new tech roles that are evolving.  As the last of the Boomers retire, there will be a dearth of qualified employees.  Online education is essential if we are going to keep expanding our knowledge and enhancing our standard of living.

Aside from the advantages mentioned previously, there are unrealized advantages as well.  Take someone who is reticent, or simply shy, and suddenly they can become successful in expressing themselves because they are not overwhelmed by the presence of others.  Many students have reported the ability to focus more thoroughly on the work; they indicate that the distractions of a classroom detract from their learning experience.

Online Courses - Home Office

The Takeaway

Everybody stands to benefit from online learning.  It removes walls and barriers based on wealth, geography, gender, skin tone, religion, or ethics.  When I say “everybody” that is exactly what I mean.  Specifically, I leave you with this thought from Ken Goldberg:

“Our robots are signing up for online learning. After decades of attempts to program robots to perform complex tasks like flying helicopters or surgical suturing, the new approach is based on observing and recording the motions of human experts as they perform these feats.”—Prof. Ken Goldberg, UC Berkley, Roboticist


Fred Coon, CEO

Take your job search and LinkedIn profile to new levels and achieve your career goals with Leveraging LinkedIn for Job Search Success 2015 will transform how you use LinkedIn on a daily basis and create a profile that will WOW recruiters and hiring managers.

Stress-Free Ways of Taking on a New Project at Work

The Origin of Stress

Stress is a state which developed during our early evolution to keep us alive.  When a situation presents a potential threat to our survival, we express the hormone cortisol (made in the adrenal cortex) which helps raise our blood sugar levels partly by suppressing the function of insulin, so that we are ready for action (fight or flight).

It prepares the way for the release of adrenaline if there is an actual emergency.  To maximize available energy, it also turns off our immune system, stops bone-growth, activates anti-inflammatory pathways, making us more vulnerable to disease.

Stress Free Ways of Taking on New Work Projects - Red writing_STRESS

Aren’t all these things bad, you ask?  Not for the brief period that they are meant to be activated, no, they’re just fine.

The problem arises when we are always stressed, constantly producing cortisol, because it makes us weaker and increases our tendency to get tired or sick more easily. Too much cortisol also results in proteolysis, or the breakdown of protein in our bodies (muscle mass), when we can’t keep our blood sugar elevated.

In our modern society, there is little need for stress anymore.  Most of us live relatively safe lives, not hunted by animals, with sufficient food, acceptable medical care, clean water, and proper sanitation.  Frequently unsatisfied with how good our lives are, we often create artificial stress for ourselves with deadlines and pressure.

We deal with stress in different ways.  Some thrive on it; others collapse under the weight; some forbid it.  We must step back for a moment and determine if our stress is making us sick; if it is burning us out; if it is robbing us of our quality of life.

Stress Free Ways of Taking on New Work Projects - Busy female employee at desk


If your boss hands you a new project and says, “Pick your team members and let’s get this show on the road!” you might be a bit nervous.  Before you become hypercritical of yourself, just stop and think for a moment about why you were chosen.

Does your boss want you to fail and then have to explain your failure to bosses higher up?  No.  The most probable answer is that your boss has confidence in you, likely based on previous work or some ability you’ve demonstrated, and fully expects you to succeed.  Stress factor: zero.

Pick Smart People

Maybe it’s a new area for you, and you’re worried about your ability.  Remember, you’re creating a team, so pick people that have the talents required for the project.

You’re not there to do all the work yourself; you are there to manage the team.  You must choose people with different skills than yours; create a talent-range, so all the bases are covered.  A wise person selects people with skills beyond their own because if they are less capable than you, you’ll never accomplish anything better than what you can do right now.  Stress factor: zero.


You can eliminate most worries about a project by speaking to those involved before the project starts.  That includes the team members you’ve selected, of course, but it also includes the stakeholders.  Everyone has constraints, whether they are ability, availability, responsiveness, technique, integration, or something else entirely.

Find out who can do what, areas where individuals excel, who they work best with, and scheduling conflicts.  Identify tasks clearly and delegate appropriately, with milestones for each task.

Consistency and Support

Once a schedule is created, your people must understand the interdependencies, and although it is possible to adjust for slippage, the expectation is that all work will be completed on time.  Don’t forget to make it clear that your door is open, and if something is falling behind, you want to know about it right away.

Emphasize that help is available and you’re willing to commit resources to a problem to get it back on track.  You do not want to know one day before something is due that it’s going to be delayed by four days.  Make sure they understand that you are willing to pitch in if someone is in a tight spot.

Assuming an Existing Project

Being asked to take on a project that is already underway is a good indicator that you are a trusted team member.  It can also be a daunting experience because you’re faced with the task of taking on processes and policies which are already in place.

First of all, don’t jump in with both feet!  Take an hour or two to read through the details of the project.  Review the Project Calendar, Project Schedule, Gantt chart or whatever methodology has been selected, and understand the current status.  Write down questions you need to be answered as you are reviewing (so they’re not forgotten).

Call in someone from the team who is likely to have the answers you need.  Question them to fill in the blanks in your knowledge.  Perhaps speak to more than one person, if warranted.

After you are up-to-speed, consider having a stand-up meeting and invite people to tell you about their current status.  There is no need to issue orders at this point, to establish authority.  Take your time to get comfortable; people expect a certain margin of error before you are integrated.  The only person holding you to an exceptional mistake-free standard is you.  Stress factor: zero.

Stress Free Ways of Taking on New Work Projects - Group of professionals working at laptop

The Takeaway

Team members will support you if you support them.  It’s simply common sense: If you trust your people, they will trust you.

If your team is managing their responsibilities well, if they’re making their deliveries on time, or even early, reward them.  It can be individually, or collectively.  It might be something as simple as sending them and a spouse out for a fancy restaurant meal or letting them leave the office as soon as the work is done.

When people know you’re a “good boss” they will work harder for you; they’ll produce top quality material because they seek your approval and want to encourage you to continue to also be a “good boss”; they will want to keep working for you.  They’re being paid to accomplish tasks, not to sit at their desk until 5 pm, despite having completed all of their work.

Being a good boss leads to a stress-free existence because people will trust you to deal with problems.  They won’t be reluctant to tell you about something going awry.  That means you get a great deal of leeway to deal with problems when they are tiny and easy to fix.  And that makes it all worthwhile…  Stress factor: zero!

More from Stewart Cooper & CoonBoss Redefined: What Makes a Great Modern Business Leader


Fred Coon, CEO

Take your job search and LinkedIn profile to new levels and achieve your career goals with Leveraging LinkedIn for Job Search Success 2015 will transform how you use LinkedIn on a daily basis and create a profile that will WOW recruiters and hiring managers.