It’s hard to overstate the profound effects of COVID-19 on our day-to-day lives, especially the ways in which the economy has adjusted to the necessity of “staying home” during a pandemic.
The latest numbers saw nearly 10 million Americans filing for unemployment in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with millions shifting to a work-from-home model in efforts to flatten the curve.
External to this data is the pandemic’s obvious psychological toll — with bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and other activities unavailable during this stressful period, many of us have struggled to find new ways to blow off some steam, especially when options are limited to activities you can only do at home.
While you wouldn’t be faulted for playing video games or revisiting the extensive, genre-spanning filmography of Jake Gyllenhaal from the comfort of your couch (at least that’s what I’ve been up to), there are definitely more productive ways to pass time. Our current quarantine presents an excellent opportunity to engage in some helpful professional development, with numerous cheap or free online classes available during coronavirus.
As such, if you’re looking to make the best of sheltering-in-place through career-focused self-improvement, check out these four options:
1. Improving Your Workplace Proficiency
With so many companies undergoing adjustments, and likely worrying about maintaining workflow as their teams shift remotely, taking a class on management or productivity can help ensure your goals are continuously met throughout this pandemic — and that you can hit the ground running when it’s over.
“Some of the most important skills to look for right now are in management — expectation setting, communication, performance management, and remote employee engagement,” says workplace productivity consultant and human resources professional Julie Lynch of Uncommon Consulting.
Taking the necessary steps to ensure everything continues running smoothly (and moreover, that stuff gets done) can better guarantee your team’s productivity during these turbulent times. Plus, taking a course on improving your own professional skill set can help bolster your own longevity within your company.
“Undertaking courses, webinars, and self-study programs now can help individuals both develop confidence for the long run and make an immediate impact to their current employment, and potentially their job security,” Lynch adds.
“Letting your manager and human resources team know you are taking advantage of this time to learn, and demonstrating the results of that learning can make an important difference when it comes time for organizations to make tough decisions about their workforce.”
Resources and online classes for individuals seeking to build their workplace proficiencies include:
- Online learning platform Udemy, where many classes are free
- LinkedIn Learning, where a $30 monthly subscription can provide access to an array of materials geared toward professionals
- Learn@Forbes, which offers similar options but for a starting price of $200 per course
- Self-study tools from the Harvard Business Review, which start at $50 per topic.
2. Building Media and Marketing Proficiency
With the global economy heading toward (or perhaps already knee dip in) a recession, it’s more important than ever that your company hones its capacity to win new business — or at the very least expands its online presence given that face-to-face interactions are likely still months away.
Social media usage has seen an uptick in recent weeks — Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram have respectively seen a 40 percent increase in activity among the 18-to-34 demographic, according to web analytics firm Kantar.
With this surge in user activity, brands and companies have sought to expand their digital marketing efforts. It also represents an opportunity to expand your professional knowledge of social media beyond going live on Instagram or live-tweeting spoilers from the Schitt’s Creek finale.
“We’ve seen an uptick in our online enrollment, specifically in courses related to online digital marketing, social media, and personal branding,” says chief digital training officer Allison Chaney of online learning platform Bootcamp Digital. “Many of our clients have noted that they are taking advantage of downtime, or more time at home, to sharpen skills or get a new skill set.”
Expanding your arsenal of digital skills can help in retaining you or your company’s competitiveness in a saturated bear market.
Besides Bootcamp Digital (courses start just south of $100), you can take advantage of a free option from WordStream’s PPC University or Skillshare’s “Introduction to Social Media Strategy” (pricing begins at $15 a month).
Similarly affordable, HubSpot has significantly discounted its Starter Growth Suite, which includes tools and resources for marketing, sales, and customer service, to $50 for the duration of COVID-19 while continuing to offer free, helpful e-books and webinars to digital marketers.
All of these courses will provide you with a resume-boosting (and industry-recognized) certification, and can endow you with skills tailored to our contemporary media landscape.
3. Expanding Your Tech Savvy
If I had a dollar for every time some aspiring tech bro told me to “learn to code,” I’d likely have enough money to pay for a full-time course at General Assembly (which can exceed $15,000 for an immersive offering).
Personal gripes (and hindsight) aside, learning or improving your tech skills not only lends added utility to your employer, but also strengthens your employability, which can provide some necessary comfort if you’re worried about impending layoffs.
Demand for software engineering has grown steadily over the last few years, with concentrated growth among security and front-end/back-end engineers, according to a report by job search site Hired.
While there’s no predicting how this job market will change in response to a widespread economic slowdown, having some form of coding experience can help make you a desirable candidate in a competitive field.
Thankfully, you don’t need a surplus of cash to expand your technological know-how during coronavirus — in fact, you can often learn for free.
Those looking for more in-depth (and similarly affordable) options can turn to Code Academy; for $20 per month, subscribers can obtain instruction in data science and web development, learning languages like Python and C++.
The aforementioned Udemy is also offering a “Coding for Entrepreneurs” course for $10, and Harvard University is broadcasting its “Introduction to Computer Science” course on remote-learning platform edX, which you can audit for free or take (with assessments) for $90.
4. Exploring Academia
Most of our nation’s higher learning institutions have since shifted to an online-learning system, hosting classes and discussions on web conferencing apps like Zoom much to the chagrin of attendees.
Though this is undoubtedly a blow to college students, especially those in their final semesters, this shift has opened up a variety of cross-disciplinary classes on nearly every subject, from art history to biometrics.
While not as skills-based as other online offerings, taking advantage of free university lectures can expand your understanding of your chosen career field.
It’s not every day that you’re provided the opportunity to survey an Ivy League course gratis, and though some may see this offering as less tangible than an online certificate in a new trade, the professional benefits shouldn’t be underestimated.
“Now more than ever is the time to utilize online resources,” says chief executive officer Grant Aldrich, founder of remote learning website Online Degree. “Taking relevant online courses while you have the spare time can give you a competitive edge over other employees, as well as over other applicants for future jobs.”
Some courses require payment in order to receive certification, but the lectures can be viewed (remotely) for no cost. Regardless of how you approach any educational endeavor during COVID-19, taking a college course online can serve as a refresher for rusty skills, or better yet, enable you to view your field in a new light, leaving you better equipped to handle any professional challenges both during and after this global event.
Free Online Classes and Resources During the Coronavirus Pandemic: The Bottom Line
It’s up to you on how you choose to handle any COVID-related downtime, and while there’s no shame in bingeing Netflix, this indoor period represents a huge opportunity to best prepare yourself for a rapidly changing world. Signing up for a free online class during coronavirus can strengthen your skill set and prepare you well for a shifting economy.
Whether you choose to earn an online certificate geared toward improving your professional capacities, or to take a more open-ended approach via the virtual classroom, such self-improvement demonstrates to your current employer that you have well-utilized this time indoors — plus it may very well give you a leg up on the competition when it comes time to find a new position.
Take the next steps now to ensure you can put your best foot forward, whenever we’re finally allowed to leave our homes.