If anything lives up to the original ideals of the internet it is the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that use the power of technology to give everyone access to amazing educational resources.
There are a wealth of great business courses for you to take – from quick, casual video lectures to accredited courses from established universities – giving you access to some of the leading experts in their respective fields.
What Does an Online Business Course Involve?
Most online courses consist of a mixture of live streamed lectures and seminars, prerecorded video lectures, written materials, quizzes and exams. These are usually backed up by open forums for discussion and assistance. Some courses have set start dates while others are available to start with at any time and at your own pace.
There are lots of great courses that are completely free, but those that offer diplomas or college credits can run to hundreds of dollars. Still, many online business courses can be audited free of charge and require you to pay only if you wish to receive a certificate of completion.
But before you spend money on a highly-structured and demanding course it’s important to think carefully about how much time you have to dedicate to studying and what you wish to achieve.
For Those Seeking a Quick Introduction
If you’re running a business in the US you probably already know all about the excellent guides and services provided by the Small Business Administration. You may not know that the SBA also offers a roster of 60 short online business courses covering a whole range of topics specifically tailored to the small business owner.
The courses are not intended to be in-depth but instead offer a useful and practical primer on subjects that owners will inevitably face in the course of planning or running their small business. There are great introductions to key topics, such as Strategic Planning, How to Write a Business Plan and Legal Requirements for Small Businesses. You can also take on courses on more focused topics, like cybersecurity, disaster planning and recovery, and government contracting.
Duration: 30 minutes per course
Study style: Self-paced, flash video with transcripts
Educational requirements: None
System requirements: Adobe flash player – this may cause difficulties if using an Apple iPad
For the Determined Entrepreneur
If your interests align less with the traditional small business and more with the dynamic online startup then you’re in luck. There are a plethora of online learning materials available from some of the biggest names in the field.
Good places to start are the free online courses from Udemy and Udacity. Both offer highly popular introductory courses from Silicon Valley insider Steve Blank, a respected entrepreneur and startup guru.
It might be a good idea to begin with Udacity’s How to Build a Startup: The Lean Launch Method. The course gives great insight into Blank’s methodology through lecture videos, exercises and projects. The course, ‘Build. Measure. Learn. Lean Startup SXSW 2012’, which is available through Udemy, is less structured but includes contributions from The Lean Startup author Eric Ries.
The best part? Both courses are completely free.
Duration: Udacity – four weeks/six hours per week, Udemy – approximately six hours
Study style: Self-paced
Educational requirements: None, although the Udemy course may require some background understanding
System requirements: Udacity – Google Chrome/Firefox browser, access to YouTube. Both offer Android and iOS apps
For the Ambitious Student
If you’re looking for more depth from your online business course, and you don’t mind paying, then look no further than this Business Foundations course from one of America’s leading business schools. Brought to you by one of the biggest names in online education, Coursera, this course essentially mimics the first year of Wharton’s prestigious MBA program.
The Business Foundations course consists of four courses – Introduction to Marketing, Introduction to Financial Accounting, Introduction to Operations Management and Introduction to Corporate Finance. You can take any of the courses individually or take all four courses as part of what Coursera describe as a Specialization.
If you decide to take the Specialization you are required to complete a Capstone Project, where you apply the lessons learned to a real-life business scenario.
Duration: Four-week courses, 3-8 hours per week. Next start dates are in August/September
Study style: lecture videos, quizzes and discussion
Educational requirements: None required
System requirements: None
Cost: $ 95 per course + $ 215 for the Capstone Project (required if you want to complete the Specialization)
For the DIY Online Marketer
Running a successful online business is almost impossible without a good working knowledge of internet marketing. Luckily this is one of the most popular subjects for online business courses.
Whether you want an introductory overview, or prefer to focus in more depth on topics like SEO, social media marketing, Google Analytics or public relations, you won’t have to try too hard to find exactly what you’re looking for.
HubSpot is one of the best destinations online for marketing knowledge and their certification courses are a great place to start on your marketing education.
Their Inbound Certification is a free marketing training course that provides a fantastic grounding in the all of the fundamentals, including SEO, content creation, social media, email marketing, and online sales.
Duration: Self-paced – 12 classes and 75-minute certification exam
Study style: Lecture videos, slides and study guides
Educational requirements: None required
System requirements: None
Cost: Free with sign-up
Finding the Perfect Online Business Course for You
If none of the above courses suit you, don’t worry! There are loads of great online education providers offering thousands of courses in every conceivable subject.
Coursera – One of the biggest selections of free courses around, spanning a wide range of subjects. Visit Coursera.
Udemy – A platform that provides tools to allow anyone to create courses on any subject. Looser and less structured than other sites. Visit Udemy.
Udacity – Another for-profit educational platform with a particular focus on programming. Mixture of accredited and vocational courses. Visit Udacity.
edX – Offers free academic courses and classes from some of the world’s top universities, including Harvard, Berkeley and MIT. Visit edX.
SlideRule – Not a provider but a hub for discovering online courses, with clear information and advanced search tools. Visit SlideRule.
Have you taken an online business course? Tell us how it improved your business or pass on your tips and recommendations in the comments below.
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