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Real-world experience is the world’s best teacher, but there’s a wealth of knowledge online to help teach ourselves what we don’t have the opportunity to learn from a mentor or navigating life itself. With the help of online courses, we can apply some structured guidance to how we approach our interpersonal interactions, entrepreneurial pursuits and even the way we think. These hyper-focused, organized lesson plans can help us hit refresh and streamline our paths to success.
The following list of online courses covers a range of subjects, some but not all of which have a direct tie to running a business. From AI to VR to happiness to time management, entrepreneurs need to master a wide range of skills.
Related: Are Free Online Courses Worth the Time and Effort?
Most of the courses below come at an cost (often low), though some offer free temporary access to videos and other materials. Read on for an overview of 15 of the best courses out there for entrepreneurs who are lifelong learners.
1. Learning How to Learn
The popular Coursera class “Learning How to Learn” gives a glimpse into the learning styles and tricks that artists, musicians, writers, mathematicians, scientists, athletes and other experts swear by.
The course, which takes 12 to 16 hours to complete, dives into brain science to explain to students what’s really going on when they’re trying to retain new information, focusing on two different learning “modes.” It also details how the human brain “chunks” information, storing it in a way that will make it easier to retain later. Plus, it dispels common misconceptions people have about how they learn best.
Overall, the course is designed to help anyone, at any level, studying any subject, change their approach and be more successful learners. Even if you think you’ve mastered a subject, you may have more to learn about how to apply that knowledge, which this course can also help with.
2. Intro to Artificial Intelligence
Whether or not you already work directly with AI in your job or company, chances are you interact with it indirectly in your personal and professional life. For a crash course on AI and its applications, head to Udacity for Intro to Artificial Intelligence.
Over a four-month span, students learn the basics of machine learning, as well as how statistics, logic and planning come into play with AI. From there, they move onto the applications lesson segment of the course, which provides insights into image processing, natural language and processing robotics.
This online learning program is based off a course offered at Stanford University, taught by Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, CEO of the Kitty Hawk Corporation and founder of Google’s self-driving car project, and Peter Norvig, director of research at Google. There is a prerequisite for the course, however: a background in probability theory and linear algebra.
Instead of letting robots take over the world, why not learn how they work and how we can control them? There are a variety of online courses that will teach you the basics of robotics, such as how to build them and their history, anatomy and more. FutureLearn’s Begin Robotics explores the history, anatomy and intelligence of robots.
3. Content Marketing Essentials
Online learning platform Udacity offers a whole program devoted to digital marketing, and Content Marketing Essentials is one of its components. The creator of the course, marketing software company Hubspot, has developed the syllabus to help students plan a content marketing strategy and measure its reach and effectiveness.
The first lesson segment involves planning content to best communicate a marketing message. Next, the program dives into content creation through storytelling, curation and other techniques, followed by distribution, promotion and tracking.
In addition to creating and deploying the content, this crash course also provides tips for designing the user experience (UX) of a website where content lives, to make it resonate more with readers. Lastly, the course provides real-world examples of careers in content marketing and gives prospective hires and hiring managers alike a sense of what makes a successful job candidate in the field.
4. Google IT Support Professional Certificate Specialization
If you’re running a small operation with a team of folks who each wear a lot of hats, the Google IT Support Professional Certificate Specialization might be an effective way to acquire tech support skills for your company.
Google and Coursera announced their partnership on the program earlier this year, initially offering scholarships to cover costs of those interested in preparing for entry-level IT work. Since then, they’ve opened the five-course program to the public -- and it’s applicable to all aspiring in-person and remote IT professionals, not just those looking for a foot in the door at Google.
The certificate program, which takes about eight months to complete at eight to 10 hours a week, involves “video lectures, quizzes and hand-on labs and widgets.” Students learn the fundamentals of IT troubleshooting and customer service, operating systems, system administration security and more.
5. The Complete Crowdfunding Course for Kickstarter & Indiegogo
Udemy, another online learning marketplace, hosts a vast range of courses for entrepreneurs at all experience levels. But for those seeking funding to get a product off the ground, the Complete Crowdfunding Course is a great place to start.
The four-hour course provides a “step-by-step approach to growth hack your crowdfunding campaign,” from the lead-up to the campaign launch to the follow-through after it ends. It helps students decide whether a crowdfunding campaign is right for them, shares tips for the market research and pre-sell process, helps you track your campaign with analytics tools and more. It also shares valuable insights into the Kickstarter and Indiegogo algorithms.
As one user points out in a testimonial on the landing page for the course, the information provided “could be useful not only while making and/or preparing to make your own crowdfunding campaign but while building any kind of audience in general.”
6. How to Come Up With Killer Business Ideas: Complete Workshop
If you’ve been slogging away at a job that doesn’t fuel your passion, and you dream of starting a side hustle or quitting to try entrepreneurship, the first thing you need is a great idea. If you have a concept in mind and want help shaping it into a viable business, start with this workshop on How to Come Up With Killer Business Ideas.
In this seven-hour course, instructor, experienced VC and Sprintkick founder Evan Kimbrell reassures students that some of today’s most successful businesses “started with an idea that was terrible,” and that their founders experienced “failure, ridicule and frustration.”
Getting from “terrible” idea to wildly successful business requires a set of skills, which Kimbrell outlines. These include assessing the marketability of an idea, spotting market inefficiencies and implementing cutting-edge business models. The course covers goal-setting, testing and more and is a fit for aspiring entrepreneurs or “veteran entrepreneurs who want to master the skill of idea generation,” according to its description.
7. Productivity and Time Management for the Overwhelmed
It might seem counterintuitive to think about carving out time for a course titled Productivity and Time Management for the Overwhelmed when you’re already feeling overbooked, but consider it an investment.
It only takes two hours to complete, and its description acknowledges how busy its prospective students are with the warning: “schedule time to take the course with your full attention.”
The course diagnoses inefficiencies in how students manage their time and helps them construct a plan to boost productivity. It helps anyone who’s overwhelmed take control of both their mindset and their energy level, as well as develop new daily habits and strategies that jibe with their personality. It doesn’t just encourage learners to stop procrastinating, but it examines why they may be doing so by addressing “silent killers” of productivity, from “waiting for things to be perfect” to “the myth of multitasking.”
As one student writes in a testimonial, the course is “A good reminder of things you probably already know … and a good reminder that knowing is not the same as practicing.”
8. Why Ethics Matter: Ethical Research
This six-hour ethics course on digital education platform FutureLearn can help any entrepreneur seeking to reduce bias in their work. If you or one of your employees is conducting research, perhaps trying to tap into a new market or talent pool, this course will challenge your approach and help you yield fair results.
First, it asks students to reflect on their personal morals, shaped by their life experiences. Then, it touches on historical events that have played a role in establishing what constitutes ethical conduct in today’s world. It even presents case studies that show ethical research in action.
When the course is complete, students will have a foundation in how to build an ethical framework for research, applying key principles of common codes of ethics in their own research pursuits. This course is available free of charge for up to four weeks of access.
9. Critical Thinking
Entrepreneurs are some of the best problem-solvers out there, but everyone has room to brush up on the critical thinking skills necessary to fulfill societal needs and improve efficiency.
Clocking in at just one hour and six minutes, the Critical Thinking course on Lynda.com can benefit anyone. It reminds students that the most effective thinkers are those who make conclusions for themselves, rather than leaning on others. Critical thinking requires self-reflection and information synthesis, and this course shares strategies for how to get to the root cause of a problem, define it, break it down into smaller increments, ask the right questions -- including the “five whys” and “seven so-whats” -- and more.
The course also incorporates tools for learners who want to pass on what they’ve learned to others, such as members of a team, and help them become better critical thinkers as well.
10. Body Language for Entrepreneurs
Whether you’re leading a meeting, negotiating with partners or making a media appearance, it’s crucial that you master Body Language for Entrepreneurs.
This course teaches “nonverbal communication to increase your income and influence as a business owner” in a variety of scenarios including networking, public speaking and delivering an elevator pitch, in order to nail not just what you say, but how you say it. On the flip side, students can apply the strategies they learn from this course to get a better read on prospective hires, potential clients and others.
As the course description points out, “93 percent of our communication is nonverbal,” and it’s visible in your online presence, during your interactions with customers, as your connect with colleagues and in just about every other professional scenario involving another human being.
11. Intro to Virtual Reality
Like artificial intelligence, virtual reality is a fast-emerging technology with a range of business applications, many of which have yet to be realized. At Entrepreneur, we’ve profiled businesses that employ VR to assist with everything from employee training to store design.
In partnership with Google’s VR division, Udacity offers a free, two-week Intro to Virtual Reality course that outlines the basics of the technology. It covers optics, displays, stereopsis, tracking and major hardware platforms, and it walks each student through the creation and deployment of their own VR application using the Unity development platform.
From the history of VR to the importance of creating a comfortable experience -- one that achieves “presence” for the user -- the lessons in this comprehensive course will make VR less abstract to anyone looking to learn more about the buzzy medium.
12. The Science of Well-Being
The Science of Well-Being is a 15-hour course that defines what makes people happy and how they can achieve happiness for themselves. It was created by Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University who teaches “Psychology and the Good Life,” the school’s most popular course, according to The New York Times.
With a foundation in psychological research, the 15-hour course explores common misconceptions about happiness, how biases influence well-being and how to overcome them, and ways in which re-evaluating one’s expectations can help.
From there, the course describes how students can build new habits to increase their happiness. Santos uses the term “rewirement” for this process of shifting one’s mindset and harnessing the environment and support network around them to improve their well-being. Over four weeks, she guides students through implementing a new wellness strategy as the final assignment for the course.
13. Blockchain for Business: The New Industrial Revolution
Confused about what blockchain is, let alone how it might apply to your business? Blockchain for Business: The New Industrial Revolution may be for you.
Over five and half hours, this course breaks down how blockchain technology works and today’s conception of the potential impact it could have on society. By the end of the course, you’ll have a firmer sense of what “mining” is, what “decentralization” truly means and how blockchain is shaping the future of everything from currency to contacts -- really any kind of transaction or exchange.
It provides some examples of how large corporations -- including UBS, Allianz, London Stock Exchange, IBM and Kodak -- in a range of industries -- from finance to retail to logistics -- are already using blockchain to improve security and efficiency, as well as what developments are on the horizon and what the challenges the tech will face in scaling.
14. Introduction to GDPR: General Data Protection Regulation
Has Facebook’s data privacy reckoning over the course of the spring gotten you concerned about how you’re handling your customers’ information? Did all of the privacy emails ahead of the GDPR deadline make you wonder whether your company should have sent one?
This six-hour course addresses the changes under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect on May 25. It’s a tool for any business leader who aims to learn “how to handle data in the digital economy safely, securely and respectfully,” according to its description.
Data is the byproduct of individuals’ interactions with companies, and although GDPR only applies to businesses with European users, it’s a best-practice framework for any company that wants to be responsible with personal data. The course walks learners through the history of data regulations, the aspects companies need to navigate to comply with the law and what it looks like in practice for any company strengthening data protection.
15. Managing in Difficult Times
When the going gets tough, leaders have to step up. And the way managers comports themselves during those times is the true test of their leadership ability. The hour-long course Managing in Difficult Times provides an overview of how to weather any obstacle or lull, despite low morale.
For one, preparedness is key. This course explains why foreseeing and accounting for tough times is crucial, despite a leader’s need to balance this instinct with optimism. Then, when those difficult times inevitably come, it’s up to the leader to react in a way that keeps the team on track, productive and willing to carry on.
From empathy -- seeing things through an employee or team member’s eyes -- to cost-cutting to seizing opportunity even when things seem bleak, this course is designed to make leaders more self-aware and ready to take responsibility for and overcome challenges.